By Sonya Lara
The flashing cursor on a blank, white page is its own brand of fear. Here are five tips on how to break out of the paralytic grip of writer’s block:
1. Take public transportation: These places can be goldmines for ideas involving dialogue, scenery, and character descriptions. Choose a mode of transportation that you feel comfortable taking alone and pop in a pair of headphones but don’t play any music – just listen and watch the people around you. What are they talking about? Who are they speaking to? How are they reacting to the conversation? What are their facial expressions? How does their body language change during the conversation? Are they doing something odd or unusual? Most times, you will discover an aspect of a stranger or a snippet of a conversation useful in jumpstarting a creative project.
2. Walk/run: As cliché as it sounds, going on walks or runs actually helps with writer’s block. It gets you out of your writing space and forces you to move. You can listen to music/podcasts or nothing at all. Whichever you prefer, leave the space you write in and abandon the blank page. Remind yourself it will still be there after you return. Walking/running allows you to focus your energy on something new and less mentally demanding. You may discover something inspirational on your walk/run or you may find absolutely nothing impressive to write about. Either way, you’ve allowed your mind the ability to rest on something new, even if it didn’t want to.
3. Call a friend/partner/family member: Listening to the voice of someone you love or care about is powerful. Whether that person’s voice breaks you down and allows you to talk about how you’re feeling or builds you up and distracts you for a while, you’re releasing emotion and stress. Remember, taking a break from writing is beneficial. Call someone – you never know what they’ll have to say and how that could influence or impact your work.
4. Pull an Alyson Hagy: I recently had the honor of attending one of Alyson’s readings where students had the opportunity to pick her brain about writing. One of the nuggets of wisdom that hit home for me was her idea of writing a story within a story. While writing her novel “Scribe,” Alyson commented that any time she felt stuck or unsure of how to proceed, she would open her notebook that was full of family stories or fictional stories that she hadn’t used yet and have one of her characters tell one of those stories. As writers, we have certain lines or story ideas come to us at times that we don’t know what to do with. Coming at an impasse in a story may be the right time to implement a story that you’ve been holding onto.
5. Read: Anytime I feel stuck, I read some of my favorite authors. For me, that entails The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros along with some Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Pablo Neruda. Sometimes you need to immerse yourself in another writer’s work to alleviate the stress a blank page can cause you. The important thing to remember is that you can read multitudes of different things including (but not limited to) books, memoirs, poems, news articles, book reviews, interviews, etc. for help/distractions. Depending on what I’m struggling to write, I choose something that forces me into a certain emotional place, whether that be a book that makes my blood boil (Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison) or a poem that makes me tear up (Elm by Sylvia Plath), so that I can focus on the emotions I’ve been struggling to grapple with.
Sonya Lara served as the Associate Fiction Editor for The Madison Review at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received her BA in English-Creative Writing. Currently, she is the Co-Founder, Poetry Editor, and Social Media Manager for Rare Byrd Review, an Editor-at-Large for Cleaver Magazine, the Managing Editor for the minnesota review, and an MFA poetry candidate at Virginia Tech. Her work has appeared in Prairie Voices, Wisconsin’s Best Emerging Poets: An Anthology, Trestle Ties, and Heavy Feather Review. For more information, visit sonyalara.com.