Sometimes we just get stuck.
Writers gotta write, but life has a habit of getting in the way. Maybe a particular project has you stumped. Or maybe it’s a general sense of malaise or a bad review, or a book that didn’t sell like you hoped it would.
As I write this, we’re at the tail end of 2020, a year that offered enough pain and distraction to stop the most dedicated of writers dead in their tracks.
Whatever it is, you need a way to break through the wall.
If you’ve never read it, I’d like to recommend a fantastic book that every writer should have. it’s called “Writing Down the Bones,” short meditations on writing and exercises for writers, by Natalie Goldberg. Seriously, get this book and stick it in your bathroom, next to your Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers.
One of my favorite exercises in the book is deceptively simple – timed writing. We’re not talking about writing anything structured – a story, a poem, or an essay, Just sitting down with a notebook and a pad of paper, setting a timer, and then writing whatever comes out of your head.
When you are stuck on a story, or blocked by fear or pain or heartache, give yourself permission to write without a roadmap.
While I love Ms. Goldberg’s idea of using an actual pen and paper – being connected so viscerally to the art of writing – I’m not wedded to this romantic view of the craft. To me, the most important thing is that you write, not how you choose to do it.
Goldberg advocates timed writing. She likens this exercise to running. You let your mind run a bit every day, and slowly you tone your writing muscles, getting better and better at this whole words thing.
So try this. When you’re feeling blocked, pull out a pad of paper or open a new file on your writing device. Set your timer for five minutes to start. Then just write.
Let go of all your preconceived notions of what to you should be writing or how to do it. Just put down whatever comes out – let the words flow. You’re not a careful weigher of ideas today. Instead you’re an Olympic runner, and you have a pack of ravenous, snarling mountain lions at your back.
Write like your life depends on it, and don’t stop until your timer buzzes. Then sit back and take a deep breath.
Congratulations. You just broke through your wall.
Every time you write – whether it’s a novel, a poem, or a bunch of words hurled out onto a page – you are honing your craft. Whether you’re writing something structured or just writing to stretch out your limbs.
So write like the hell hounds are coming for your soul, and don’t let that wall keep you away from what you were meant to do.
To my writer friends – what other writing exercises do you find helpful?