When you set out to write, there’s little more frustrating than a blank page that sits and stares at you, smugly, daring you to write something passable.
It sucks when the words won’t come. Just plain sucks. But part of being a writer is developing strategies to overcome blockages. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to help you develop those strategies by enroling you in my Writer’s Block Salvation School. (Note: WBSS is not an actual school.)
To start us off, today I’m going to teach you one of my favourite ways to kick writer’s block’s ass: free writing.
Free writing is something writers have probably been doing since we first invented the written word. Quite simply, it involves sitting down and writing one continuous stream of words, no stopping, no thinking, no considering what’s next.
Often, what we think of as writer’s block is just an overwhelm from trying to plan out what you’re going to write, and trying to think too far ahead. You stare at the page thinking, how am I going to write these 600/6,000/60,000 words? That’s a lot of words! How am I going to think of them all? Where do I start? What if the start is wrong? What if the next part is wrong? What if I put the chapters in the wrong order? How am I going to end this thing? And so on, and so forth.
By worrying so much, you’re almost guaranteed to shut down your creativity and thus begins the writer’s block.
If this happens to you, you need to change the way you approach your writing. Planning has its place in all writing, of course, especially longer works. But when you over-plan is when things go wrong.
To counteract that, let’s learn to free write!
You can do this on your computer or with a pad and pen—choose whichever you do fastest. (I can type about 100 times faster than I can write, so I will do it on the computer.) Turn off all distractions. Put your phone on silent and turn the TV off.
To help you get going, I’m going to give you an opening line:
The clock struck midnight and the doorbell rang.
Type/write that down. Next, just start writing words. It makes absolutely no difference what those words are. It could be a continuation of the opening line, or it could be something completely different, or it could just be nonsense words. I couldn’t care less if your free writing looks something like:
The clock struck midnight and the doorbell rang. Rang table juicebox lamp lamp lamp I love lamp you love lamp going to the fair eating carnival popcorn making the ferris wheel fall down down down into the depths of despair that’s where I fell down today and it was grand, grander than the most grand piece of bacon you have ever seen, that’s what Tim said anyway.
The above is free writing I just did, with no edits. Notice how it begins with just some words that came to me because I’m at a table with a lamp on it. Nonsense, and boring! Then it morphs into something more resembling an actual narrative. If I had continued, it likely would have become an actual story involving Tim and some grand bacon at a carnival (note to self: write this story).
By letting my hands go, and just writing whatever came to me, I was able to write something that definitely wasn’t planned. And more than that, I had fun doing it! Instead of over-thinking about what I needed to write, or planning how many words I had to complete, I let my creative brain completely take over and just do its thing.
Time to free write! Write that opening sentence down and just go for it—remember you can just write random words or nonsense as much as you’d like! Just keep those hands moving! Try to write for 5-10 minutes, if you can.
Feel free to post your efforts in the comments! Next time at Writer’s Block Salvation School, I’m going to teach you a more advanced free writing strategy that might help if you have something specific you need to write.