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Writer's Block - Getting Momentum

I’m not a prolific writer. When I do write, it’s usually an RPG module, but I think my question still applies:

How do you deal with writer’s block? I have great ideas in my head, but when I try to put them into writing, I end up just staring at the screen. A good friend of mine is a writer. She tells me that the best thing to do is just write something, even if it’s not directly related to your idea. Perhaps it’s a stream of consciousness related to my story. The idea is to get some momentum and take it from there.

I’ve had some success with that, but I struggle to get that initial “oomph.”

Also, when I am able to get words down, it is in bursts; I can’t sit there for hours and just keep writing as some do. I wish I could! Though I suspect that is a different issue…

I’m sure many of you folks, if not all, have experienced some sort of writer’s block. How do you overcome that obstacle? I’m just curious.

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It was many years ago but I still recall the details. I was an instructor for the UW Extension at the time teaching LAN Troubleshooting. The department head called to ask if I would take over a new networking class on short notice. There was no specific guidance over the curriculum. I’d have to make one up.

To generate a list of ideas for the course I decided to take advantage of what I’d learned in the Decker Communications class years earlier. I grabbed a Post-it pad and pen and sat down at a table. I would sit there and think about networking. As quickly as I could I’d write a relevant word or phrase that came to mind on the top Post-it, tear it off and set it down on the table top. I did this for maybe five minutes and stopped after the ideas ceased to flow.

There in front of me were dozens of Post-it notes arranged in no particular order. As I looked them over I’d see that several of them were closely related topics. I reached for a pad of letter paper and organized the first related group of Post-its onto page one. Another group of related topics presented themselves so I organized them on the second page of the pad. Five more minutes of this and I had about a dozen sheets of paper.

Next I rearranged the order of the sheets so the material flowed in a logical manner. That evening I drove to the classroom, explained what I would lecture on and spent the next three hours doing just that. Quite a few students wanted a copy of my Post-its so I Xeroxed set for everybody before they went home for the evening.

After class, one of the students offered me a copy of their copious lecture notes. Sweet!

If I had to adapt the above method to writing a book, I’d still use the Post-it method to brainstorm my ideas. But today we have high quality speech-to-text software . Why not just sit there, go from Post-it to Post-it, and dictate everything I can think of about the topic written on it. At the end of three hours a draft of the novel is in hand.

Now I have not actually tried this myself. I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I suffer from editing block. I hate to edit.

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First of all, give yourself credit for doing what you can, it all counts! No real need to write in multi-hour sessions all the time, you write what you can when you can.

Second of all, don’t forget that ‘writing’ isn’t just knocking out the words and paragraphs that are the actual story, the brainstorming, plotting and editing certainly count as ‘writing.’

Your friend is right, writing something is better than nothing, and it can build momentum. My most successful writing times are when I’m consistent, and my goals are small. I use the Dabble Goals widget to set myself a writing goal of about 50 words a day. Small, yeah, but super doable and I give myself full permission to exceed that! Though every couple of weeks I’d adjust the end date out a bit to keep the goal around 50, so if there were days that was all I could manage, it still counted! I finished my first manuscript with that method, and need to get back on it to continue on the second. (Distractions have taken over my writing focus, as they tend to do.)

Finally, I recommend not relying on ‘motivation’ too much. It is really great when the magical will to write comes along and nothing can stop the words from flowing, but it’s not a sustainable way to work, and wishing for it to be there all the time can stop you from making progress when it just won’t show up. Tell yourself the story, a little at a time, a little every day.

Pick a small goal, stick to it, even if ‘inspiration’ isn’t available. It really does work, and you’ll find your motivation and involvement in your story or project is easier to sustain that way, it lives in your mind more consistently! You can build habits and rituals around your writing practice to make that ‘oomph’ easier to generate, even!

Good luck!

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My version of writer’s block is where I can still sit down and tap something out but the ideas have gone away (idea momentum? shower thoughts?) . I find being so preoccupied in the present moment is conflicting with my April writing goals, but I had a glimmer of hope last night: I’m participating in a card exchange with some strangers and I found the words just flowing. So this matches the point your friend made – just writing something completely unrelated to my goals loosened something up.

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Johannes,

Thank you for taking the time to share your story. I’ve tried doing something similar to what you’re describing using a Mind Mapping tool. Not quite the same, but I think that gets the spirit of what you’re describing. It is helpful, I agree - but even once organized, I need to turn those Post-Its notes into paragraphs.

Dabble Writer actually helps me with this a bit too.

Now using speech-to-text… I hadn’t thought of that. I’m interested in exploring that avenue. Hmmmm…

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CJ,

Thank you! Honestly, I hadn’t paid much attention to the Dabble Goals widget. (Is that what that thing in the top-right corner is???)

I like the idea of sticking with small goals. I tend to look at the big picture and try to tackle it all at once. That has not been a fruitful approach. :slight_smile:

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Definitely the secret to momentum is consistency, and that’s best achieved when you pick something that is actually achievable consistently! Some days I aim for fifty and hit two thousand, which is great, but expecting that all the time just isn’t realistic. I can grind out at least fifty even on my most busy and distracted days, even in the last little bit before bedtime if necessary, and it keeps my story alive and present in my mind.

Click on the gear on the top right, tell it what the end wordcount will be, and when you want it to be done by. You can also tell it what days you know for a fact you won’t be writing, which is cool, so it will adjust accordingly.

Another tip, don’t throw your end-result word count goal in from the start, it’s intimidating. You don’t have to write the whole thing at once, just get to the first 25,000 words. Then change it to 50k once you’ve hit that, and so on. MUCH more achievable, and you will be able to watch your progress just as easily!

The widget is really great for me. Since my deadlines are self-imposed, I can throw the date out as far as I want to adjust the word goal down to a reasonable measure. If I’m doing really well and the wordcount goal keeps adjusting down, I’ll move the date a bit closer. It actually helps to get an idea of how long it will actually take, given the current pace.

Plus there’s a little pop-up to celebrate reaching the daily goal, and it can feel really good to hit that and be able to keep going, or hit it and feel okay closing the laptop and handling other things because I managed my goal. I like the little bars that visually give you the last thirty days too, getting to see a writing streak at a glance is motivating.

This is good, I’ve been working on another thing and have honestly been neglecting my own project entirely. This conversation is motivating me to get my own streak going again. Fifty is easy, and I should be able to find half an hour in my day to hit at least that. :smiley:

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Breaking it down into tiny goals is a good way to get started. Sometimes when I really don’t feel like writing, I tell myself to just write 100 words. That’s usually pretty easy. Then how about 200 words? That’s just a couple of minutes of writing. Usually it’s easy enough to continue once I get going, but if not, there’s nothing wrong with taking a quick break. Go make a cup of coffee or take a walk or read some writers blogs, then come back and make yourself write another 100 or 200 words. By now you’ve got around 500 words – not too bad.

Keep doing this every day. If you don’t have a deadline, don’t worry about hitting huge wordcount goals. Just write 100 or 200 words here and there every day, and you’ll see progress in no time. If those goals are too large, then write 50 words. A lot of the time, once you get writing, you’ll want to keep going, at least for a bit.

As far as writing for hours straight, I don’t do that either. And I write tens of thousands of words a month. I write in short bursts with small, easily achieved goals, and take lots of breaks. It’s hard to sit down and think “I have to write 2,000 words today.” It’s easy to think “I have to write 200 words, then I can watch five minutes of my favorite show.” And it’s not hard at all to do that ten times.

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Brandon, the expression, “whatever works for you” is never more appropriate than in your situation. Do it by the “Brandon method”. Maybe it is post-it notes. Maybe it’s drafting on napkins (another Lynch method). All artists, once they know the basics of craft, do it their way.

I’ve heard great ideas from big names, and they’re all different. David Lynch says “…you get ideas for 70 scenes. Put them on 3-by-5 cards. As soon as you have 70, you have a feature film.” It’s for film, but story is story.

Aaron Sorkin (I took his masterclass) says he lies on a couch and runs through the scene or sequence or act in his head. He doesn’t sit at the computer and start typing until he has something complete, anything from a page to an act. He’ll go to the studio where he works and sometimes, he’s brainstorming in a conference room and other times (full days or weeks) he lies around, and it looks like he’s doing nothing, but he’s watching the movie in his head. (And this guy’s arguably the most successful writer in Hollywood.)

David Mamet (took his masterclass to) says he sits at a table with his character in mind, what he wants, who or what is going to stop him from getting it, and how they fight for it. Primarily one person wants one thing and has to go from A-Z by indirect routes to get it.

James Patterson (in the top couple of the most prolific and wealthiest writers in history) outlines scenes, labelling them 1-X as he goes along. He just writes the story along and doesn’t care how bad or wasted it might seem his time is being spent. He might get to the end and throw the whole thing away and start over, but he eventually arrives at something worth ‘rewriting’ which is what writing really is…rewriting.

These people say things like, “Don’t waste your time on building a bunch of backstory to a character, focus on the emotions and the characters builds themselves.” or “Write every day? I write when I feel well and am in a good mood. Sometimes I write nothing for months. Other times I write from 6:00 a.m. and exhaust myself until 2:00 a.m. the next morning.” Lesson I learned? Whatever works for me.

Once I realized that, my own method emerged and writing became more joyful. It’s still work, but I’m happier and more productive and the writing is so much better (maybe it isn’t, doesn’t matter in end. I love it). Best of luck.

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Sounds like someone has a MasterClass yearly subscription. :smiley: I got that for my birthday and have been trying to find the time to take the classes (vs just watch the videos). I think they’re great. I’ll have to try throwing one of those into a raffle or something to do with Dabble.

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Good idea

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Dennis,

Sorry for the delay!
I really appreciate your response. It sounds like you learned a lot from those master classes. In particular, I like James Pattern’s approach, perhaps with a sprinkle of Aaron Sorkin.
What I’m hearing from you and others is that there is no “right” and “best” way to get momentum in writing; it’s unique to every person.
Thank you for your insight and sharing what you have learned from the pros!

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You’re welcome. I lived in Holden, Massachusetts, just north of Worcestershire. We bought a house, but only lived there for nine months, enough to experience the winter. This is where an OMG fits nicely. I’d never lived in the snow like that. Wild.

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