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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Blocked Because You’ve Got Nothing?


brainless canstockphoto1810717 (2)A primary source of resistance is the assumption that you should be thinking, feeling or doing something you aren’t.

You think you need the perfect space to write, but where you are is anything but perfect.

You think you should be excited with new ideas and inspired by brilliant insights, but you are dull-eyed and dumbstruck by you own clichéd thinking.

You think you should have an outline or at least a rough idea of where you’re going, but you don’t even know what your topic is.

You’ve got nothing! Nadda. Positive emotions and novel ideas are long extinct in your brain.

Au contraire! One of the most important things I ever learned is “You never have nothing.”

There is always a place to start, and it is not some mystical land where inspiration falls from the sky; it’s right where you are.

There is always something to start with and it usually isn’t a detailed outline, absolute plan or clear assignment; it’s whatever object is in your line of sight or whatever emotion is roiling around in your gut and heart.

Give It Away

Here’s the best part: if you don’t like where you are or what you have to start with, it’s probably something you’re supposed to give away.

When Gordy, one of my coaching clients, told me he was struggling with a piece of writing because he was bored with it, it just didn’t ring true to my coach’s ear. I knew the piece in question was not boring.

“What if it’s not you that’s bored, Gordy? What if it’s the narrator who’s frustrated and asking ‘What are we doing here?’”

As soon as he gave the boredom to his character, Gordy renewed his energy to write. He wrote a scene that accurately illustrates the narrator’s ennui without boring the reader.

The next time you think you’re too bored, tired, uninspired, depressed, anxious or stressed out to write, don’t go away. Give it away.

Start by describing it fully, which you’ll be able to do exceedingly well because the emotional experience is fresh in your mind. Then give it to a character and let her or him feel it and react to it. See where your character’s response takes you.

Start Where You Are

When you feel uninspired, describe the place where you are. Keep writing until something grabs your attention, even if it’s how incredibly dull the place is.

If you think you haven’t got a thing to write about, pick an object at random. It can be something in your office or home or from someone else’s home or something you see on TV or in a magazine. Give the object to a character. You don’t have to know if or why the object is important. You’ll discover its significance as you describe it and your character’s reactions to it.

If you can’t figure out how you’re going to move forward, get up and move your body. Make random motions until you find a movement that somehow reflects a character or expresses an emotion. Repeat the movement until you know what your character is doing and follow the logical consequences of that action as you write.

You may not produce sterling prose, but you will write something. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to revise, but at least you’ve got something to revise.

And something, I’m told, is always better than nothing. I wouldn’t know myself because I’ve learned that I never have nothing.

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