Overcoming Writer's Block
by Ian Birnbaum

Every writer I know has done it, at least once or twice. You sit down at the computer / typewriter / notebook / stone tablet and you focus your mind on putting some serious words down. And then, four hours later, you're still staring at the blank slate – only now you're actively contemplating setting the building on fire just to accomplish something.

And now you're thinking “what's wrong with me?” or “what happened to my muse?” and you feel like you're out of control or some part of your brain has broken down. You feel useless. So what do you do?

I, for one, have a notoriously fickle brain. Sometimes I will slam 50 pages out in a day, sometimes I will go a week without putting more than 30 words together. And as the planets spin and the stars align, every once in a while I get stumped just at the wrong moment.

Lobotomy121.jpgThe key is to relax. Yes, I know your deadline is coming in only 7 hours and I know that your boss will literally tear off his toupee and beat you around the face with it if you don't have something spectacular and the kids are screaming and your significant other is a raving lunatic and the dogs need to be fed and you just don't... Just cool it. No wonder your brain is freaking out, and you want it to be creative right now? Take deep breaths, grit your teeth and just start typing.

Without fail, this has always worked for me. I just sit back, close my eyes (unless you can't type without looking at the keyboard, I do endorse closing the eyes) and just type. Type your thoughts, type the crap you're worried about, type “I don't know what to write I don't know what to write” over and over again.

And then, suddenly, you type something that makes some kind of sense. And then another something. And then you get an idea for where those two somethings can hook up in the copy room and spawn a thousand other fucking awesome little somethings and, before you know it, you're back on track.

Or, if you write an online column about the life and times of a budding writer, you can just write a column about having writer's block. Sometimes life throws you the easy-out.

Think I'm making this up? Here is a direct copy/paste of the 127 words that came before the beginning of this column. The blank word document I've been staring at for hours remained blank until I gave up and just started typing. It is not pretty, it is not grammatical, and some of it is terribly lame. In short, it should never be exposed to daylight, but here it is anyway:

I don't know what to write fuck damn crap I just can't think of anything

A man is running down an alleyway, running for his life. He is getting chased by a black presence, large, menacing. He keeps turning corners and sprinting, slipping off of puddles and trash

ok that's going no where

I think I'm putting too much pressure on myself to write something really good. No, it has to be funnier than that, no, it should be cooler than that, no, that's going nowhere. Well the going nowhere part was true, because a man running down an alley for 40 words does not a story make.

I could write about overcoming writer's block.

Oh, man, I'm going to write about overcoming the inability to write. I'm such a cheap bastard.

So tell me: what was the worst writer's block you ever had? What was at stake? Did you get over it in time? What was the fallout?

The Word Whore Archives


what was the worst writer's block you ever had?

I went about two years without writing anything. I just didn't have any inspiration, nothing that hit me as worth writing. So I didn't force it, and one day, a turtle and a bird came along...


My worst writers block was probably last night. I needed to post something on a site Travis and I hijacked. I did exactly what you suggest here and it worked, quite well I think. I made the deadline and well, the fallout is going to be bad, which is just what I had hoped to achieve.


Once i did a post on not being able to think of anything to write, so yeah, i'll go low when i have to.

I remember an experiment in reprehensibility back in high school english class where i just read the first and last chapter of some "classic" and talked about what i read and then blew smoke about what a great, compelling read it was. got an A.


I had a five year writer's block. It was when I started a blog back in 2001 that I discovered a way to unblock. Writing every single day, for good or bad, went a long way toward getting my flow back.

I had writer's block Monday night when I was supposed to be writing a column for here. banged my head on the desk a couple of times and then said, "wait. i'm the editor. i can give myself the night off!" Then I went and watched 24.


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