Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Regis, I'd Like to Use a Lifeline: Writing with Writer's Block

“I'm burnt out,” the thought of every writer who has ever experienced writer’s block.

I've been hovering around the topic of writer's block for a couple of weeks now like a helicopter unable to land safely. There is a reason for this. 

I've been experiencing it myself. And if I have to suffer, well, you know what they say. 

Misery loves company. 

And it does. It is true.

So what do I do when I sit there staring at the blank page in front of me waiting for inspiration or some divine intervention to come down and zap the words into my head? 

I sit there staring at the blank page for a while. I bounce ideas - however idiotic or irrelevant - around my head and hope that a word or a phrase will stick out of the lot of them.

And when that doesn't work?

I take a break. I walk away. I eat something since most likely I have forgotten to adhere to normal mealtimes – or to eat at all. I go for a run. Whatever I do, I step away from the blank paper or the empty Word document.

And when that doesn’t work?

I have a minor meltdown. Just kidding, but really I do. Sometimes I panic. What if I never have anything to say about this topic? What if I don’t get it done by my deadline? What if I don’t get it done at all? What if, what if, what if?

It happens, and then I mentally slap myself and tell myself, “Get it together! Just do it!” Meltdown over.

That sounds easy and clean enough. It is not. Believe me, it is not.

In fact, I just experienced it while thinking about writing this blog post and about a midterm paper I have due Thursday. So, what do I write about when the world is my oyster and I have a blog to write and cannot for the life of me think of what to write about? I write about not being able to write.

I am sure somebody who is or was somebody down the road did this as well and is crazy famous for it; in which case, I thank them for the subliminal idea I wrenched from somewhere in the depths of my long-term memory.

And when the world is not your oyster and you are limited to a topic or a prompt given by a teacher or a boss?

Brainstorm. Freewrite. Doodle. Watch TV. Brood. Phone a friend. Ask the audience (in most cases, a boss, a teacher, or a customer). Flip a coin to choose a side.

Do whatever is going to get your mind off of what you have to do enough to let it sit in the back of your mind and stew there for a while. Later, you can come back to it refreshed and rejuvenated.

Writing something witty or persuasive or argumentative enough to capture your audience is not that easy. Just ask anyone who has ever had to write a speech or a proposal, they’ll tell you.

Some people do not realize how hard it can be, especially if writing has always come easy to them. That is the case until they get blocked, and then they search for that “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” lifeline in the hopes that something will come to them.

However, using these strategies or lifelines, if you will, can help get out all the extra fluff (read, “crap”) out of your head and onto the page so you can get the things you really want and need to say to fulfill your duties.

So when you get blocked, remember, you can always say, “Regis, I’d like to use a lifeline.” The best part of this deal is: there is no limit on the number of lifelines you can use. The worst part is, of course, most likely you aren’t going to win excessive amounts of money for doing your homework.


  1. I highly recommend Mike Rose's blog and research on this topic. Here are links to a couple of posts about writer's block on his blog.

    "A Study of Writer's Block, Part One":

    "A Study of Writer's Block, Part Two":

  2. The Writing Center--Coleman Hall 3110--should be included in every EIU student's lifeline Contact List.