The following is a continuation in a series about writer’s block.
Writer’s block, as I’ve said before, does not exist. It’s like the big scary monster you think lives under your bed. In fact, writer’s block is nothing more than not knowing what to write. When that happens, we get frustrated and angry, which gets us off-track. After working with countless students on this issue, I’ve come up with a great exercise to get you back in a positive mood and writing again. Here’s how it goes …
Grab a piece of paper. (You can work on your computer or phone if you prefer, but I’ve found that physically putting pen to paper is more effective.) Now, close your eyes and take a breath. A big, deep, frustrated breath. Then let it out and think of something really yummy that you ate in the last 24 hours. (Mine always seems to be ice cream.) Now jot down a brief note about it—the flavor, where you had it, etc.
Feeling better? Good. Hold on to that positive feeling for a few moments.
Now let’s turn that upside down. Take another breath, close your eyes, and this time think of something really sad. For me, that might be Trump winning the New Hampshire primary. Yours might be more poignant, like the death of a child or a lost cat. Once you have something, write it down. Is it painful? Heartbreaking? Is your mood plummeting as we speak? I hope so. Because now I’m going to make your happy again.
Take another deep breath, close your eyes, and think of something delicious you’re going to enjoy this evening. Maybe a cocktail or another scoop of ice cream. You could also think about a friend or lover you’re going to see. When you feel happy again, slowly open your eyes.
Now that your mood is brighter, let’s go back and look at the situation we started with: your writer’s block. Imagine how it will feel when you are finally done with your project. Do you feel a smile coming on? Just picture yourself saying, I wrote this! It’s finished! It’s on its way! Now apply those positive feelings and try to figure out what it is that you don’t know about your writing project. No pressure. Just good, positive energy.
Don’t worry. If you can’t yet figure it out, I have another great exercise that may help you along. Just think of a scene from one of your favorite movies and see if you can find it on YouTube. There’s tons of stuff available, so there’s a good chance you’ll find it. Once you do, watch the scene and write down what you think it was about. This will get your synapses firing and is a nearly surefire way to get you writing on your own project again.
If that doesn’t do the trick, get up from your computer and go for a walk, or to the gym. The important thing is to move your body. This will relax you and give you some physical and emotional distance between you and your work. Above all, don’t allow those feelings of anger and frustration to return. Just ask yourself, “What don’t I know?”
Now, if none of these exercises works for you, I have one last, favorite technique: find a screenplay from a movie that you love and simply start retyping it. I guarantee you that once you retype a few pages from Alien or Die Hard, you will start rewriting your own project with new vigor, and at that moment you will finally realize what you need to know to get it moving again.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz