Since we’re on the theme of removing blockages, and it’s Wednesday, Writing Wednesday to be exact, I thought I’d talk about one of the most common blockages all writers face. You guessed it: writer’s block. The dreaded blank page, blinking cursor, empty mind, no words coming out blockage.
I won’t go into whether writer’s block is real or imagined, an internal or external blockage. Everyone who has sat down to write anything, whether a college essay or a Christmas card, knows it’s real. Very real. It’s something I also struggle with, sometimes on a daily basis.
But I found an answer, a cure (almost).
I have a difficult time sitting still long enough to capture my ideas on paper. It’s true. My best ideas come when I’m moving around—walking, swimming, pacing. Whatever. And when I’m doing those things I’m not always near a keyboard or pen and paper to get what my thoughts written down. Of course, like every other writer, I think I’ll remember. I’m about five-percent for that, by the way. Remembering the brilliant flash of genius, I mean.
So what’s a writer (especially one a deadline for money) supposed to do?
Eugene Schwartz. Yes, you read that correctly. Eugene Schwartz is my answer to the above question. One day, I was struggling to sit still, then when I finally sat still, I struggled to get words written. After a minute or so I’d get distracted and check my email, or look at social media, or research some random thought that ran through my mind, only realizing that after five minutes (really like an hour) that I hadn’t written a thing and my deadline wasn’t getting any further away. Sigh. I decided to research my problem, writer’s block.
Eugene Schwartz’s name popped up in my search engine results. Eugene Schwartz became successful by implementing the most common cure to writer’s block in a unique way. That cure is: butt in chair, hands on keyboard, writing whatever comes out, but he improvised his own rules. They were: He set his kitchen timer for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. During that time: He could drink coffee. He could stare out the window or at the wall. He could sit and do absolutely nothing for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. He could write. He could NOT leave the chair for any reason. He could NOT do anything else. Period. After practicing this for a number of weeks, he got to the point where when he sat down, in 3 hours a day, five days a week, he became a prosperous writer. (sort of an oxymoron)
Since I was desperate, I decided to try it. It took me a few days, then a week or two more, but it worked. I set the timer on my iPhone (my equivalent to a kitchen timer) for 33 minutes, started it, and did ONLY what was on Eugene Schwartz’s list. When I’m having a hard time settling down to the task of writing, and I put these ideas into practice, blockage turns into flow and I become surprisingly productive (in my own mind, anyway). I get the writing done, and I get it done quickly. I get more done in a couple of hours than I used to get done in a couple of days. I also bought myself a ball chair, so I can bounce a little bit, and roll back and forth while I write to simulate movement that inspires me. But my butt never leaves that chair during the 33 minutes. After the 33 minutes I get up and take a little break. No more than five minutes. Sometimes I get more coffee or tea. Sometimes I do a few squats or a plank for a minute. Of course I use the bathroom during this time.
Another, more involved, way to break writer’s block is the Pomodoro Technique. It is a similar time management method but I didn’t want to take the time to read the whole document. I liked the direct results of Eugene Schwartz’s system— it seems very Hemmingway-ish, no nonsense and straightforward. I’ve given you links to both, and you can decide which one works best for you.
I’ll leave you with best selling author, Anne Lamott’s, advice on writing and writers block:
“How to write: Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”