How to Beat Writer's Block

At one point or another every writer struggles with finding the perfect words. Everyone has been there, whether it’s re-reading the same phrase over and over again, or it’s staring blankly at the computer screen hoping that some magic will spark. It is indeed an awful feeling when there seems to be no inspiration in front of you, but do not get discouraged, for there is hope! There are many well-known writers who struggle with this as well, and they have some helpful techniques to perhaps cure the problem. I asked three well-regarded Michigan poets if they had any methods or solutions. The first writer I interviewed was poet Sue Silverman, whose book of poetry is called Hieroglyphics in Neon, and who is also the author of two memoirs: Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You and Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction, which was also made into a Lifetime movie. I had asked her the question, “Do you use any strategies or methods to help your writing flow? If so, what are they?” She remarked, “I’ve lost the fear of writing things that I suspected were “bad.” If, say, even if it takes me 200 pages of writing to understand, ‘Oh, that’s what I really meant to be saying,’ then I choose to feel excited about that discovery.” I believe what Sue is saying is that people tend to over analyze their work and come up with what they think is a bad line, when really it may be better than they initially had thought.
I also interviewed writer Russell Thorburn, who is the author of several books of poetry, his most recent being Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged. I asked him if he had ever suffered from writer’s block. His response: “Writer's block isn't the right term. I think a more accurate term is writer's fatigue. A writer is exhausted, too tired to come up with any new ideas or words.” This is very true; there are many instances as a writer when you have been up for hours on end trying to find the “perfect line,” but eventually you become tired and give up. Walking away from your paper can be a challenge, but it may do you some good. Perhaps you can take a few minutes to set your mind on other things, and then you will have a fresh start when you return. Russell advised that a writer experiencing writer's block "sit under a tree, talk with an old friend over the phone, take out a sheet of paper and doodle.” Sitting under a tree or walking by a stream, may even ignite an idea about something that pertains to what you’re writing about. Every writer needs to find some kind of inspiration in order to write an excellent paper. According to Russell, his inspiration comes from every instance in his life, and he talks about never staring blankly at a page: “I have to use what time I have wisely, so I start writing--anything. Even in silence there is a conversation.”
I asked another well-known poet and fiction writer, Barbara Saunier, who has taught at Community for years, what she does when she cannot find inspiration. She said, “When I am stuck, I read the poetry of others, certainly. An even more practical approach for me is to use someone else's poem as a kind of "template" for my own writing.” She also gives some valuable advice as she talks about always carrying something to write on in order to find the inspiration surrounding you: “I also keep small journals by my bed, in my purse and in the glove compartment of my car, too, and sometimes I remember to stick a pencil and 3x5 card in my back pocket when I go out into the fields.” Stepping away from your writing may help, or you may want to take Barbara’s advice and carry a piece of paper and writing utensil wherever you go. It could then allow the things you experience all around you to be put onto paper. There really isn’t any way of avoiding a “writer’s block,” but there are many techniques that you can use to help your writing flow again. Sue, Barbara, and Russell gave some great suggestions, and perhaps some of them will work for you. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own unique style of writing. It is all about choosing the right method that works best for you.

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.