Writer’s Block…

I’ve taught enough writing classes to know that we all have writer’s block from time to time. It’s a frustrating experience to have ideas that have been flowing nicely suddenly come to an abrupt halt for no apparent reason. Of course, every writer is different, and there may be individual remedies to bring back the magic,  like standing on one’s head for two minutes, drinking a cup of coffee, looking at old family photos, staring into a lit candle,or banging one’s head against a soft wall. The solutions are probably as varied as writers themselves, but I’d like to share some of the methods that have worked for me in kick-starting my brain to restore some kind of productivity.

When I feel the ideas shrinking, I usually just stop writing. My method of writing is quite old-fashioned and involves spiral-ringed notebooks, dozens of pencils, and a ball point pen before using the word processor on my laptop. There’s something about ideas bubbling in my brain and then flowing physically down my right arm through my fingers and pen or pencil onto the paper that works best for me. There’s an immediacy that I just don’t feel at the keyboard, the sensation that, like blood flowing through my veins, the ideas will reach the paper in an organic way.

The computer screen never feels part of me. There is no emotional connection as there is with pen and paper. I know there are writers who feel the opposite and would be bogged down by using an ink pen. That’s fine. Whatever produces results is what one has to use. I wouldn’t dream of criticizing any method that works for another writer.


Sometimes I brew a cup of hot peppermint tea as a break from any writing that seems to be growing stale. Other times, I may walk around the block with the dog, put on a piece of music to take my mind elsewhere, phone a friend to chat for a few minutes, do a crossword puzzle, or even take a nap. When I return to face the blank page, I may ask myself what I’m actually trying to do and how a reader might see what that is. I pretend to be the reader and wonder if I’m including what is needed to keep interest or to inform. Am I trying to be humorous, informative, objectively descriptive, or all of the above? If I’m writing fiction, I may focus on characters to try making them seem real with a host of details. 

Looking at pictures, smelling scented candles, going on the treadmill for ten minutes, imagining a conversation between two portraits or paintings and always asking “What if…?” can recharge the writing batteries too. A lot depends upon mood and the level of energy at any given moment. There are also times when I simply hurl the notebook across the room and go back to it later. There are marks on the wall in my study to serve as memories of those times.

Maybe the most important thing is to remember that writer’s block comes to every writer once in a while, and the more he worries about it, the stronger that block becomes. Try not to take it too seriously, unless of course, you are in the middle of a timed, college essay in one of those notorious blue books, in which case the most expedient solution, if you are on at least the third floor, is to leap out the nearest window. Otherwise, chill a bit and create an alternative activity to get your mind away from the clog until you can find something that acts as a plumber’s plunger for the brain. Always try to see writing as a pleasure and an opportunity to blow your horn and show your skill and creativity.  When you see it merely as another task, it will become just that.  I like the idea of creating the Pavlovian effect of eventually being happy when I see a notebook or a word processor. No need to salivate. Just write.
JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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3 Responses to Writer’s Block…

  1. Alice Furlaud says:

    John, You may have unblocked my writing, I’ll see in a minute. Depression keeps coming back, it did yesterday, when I was almost never out of tears. Right now I’m going to copy into the computer some beautiful things people wrote about Max before and after he died.

    Most cheering thing in your recent messages is Riggs and Dudley playing together. So adorable. Much love to all of you, XXX Ally P.S. For years I’ve thought that a wonderful name for most cats would be Laptop. Alas, my darling Pierre never sits on anyone’s lap. He arrived when he was 8. Right now I’m asking for prayers for him. He’s not eating well at all. I can’t imagine life without him and I keep praying to Stl Francis. XXXX Ally

  2. Mike DeBoe says:

    I’m loving your blog posts! I have the same issues with art and design. I just call it Creative Block. A lot of caffeine, and late nights bring out the most for me. After that, I tend to let the idea sit as I sleep off the session. When I come back to it with a fresh perspective, I can determine if I need to make changes or not.

    I also prefer to start my process on paper. I’ll never get the visuals right if I don’t. Every creative has a unique process, and I always enjoy catching a glimpse at somebody else’s.

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