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Masterminds of scribble: How to overcome writer’s block

Rachneet Randhawa, April 25 2022—

We’ve all found ourselves at moments we are unable to write. Writer’s block is a condition in which one finds themselves unable to write anything tangible, and according to Britannica is defined as a problem of not being able to think of something to write about or not being able to finish writing any piece of text. 

This spell for some can last weeks and for others, even up to years. Perhaps you’re thinking of writing a short story or even starting your column this summer for the Gauntlet. Either way, it’s not necessarily a matter of motivation but positively encouraging good and consistent habits to constantly practice your writing. But why does one get “blocked” in the first place and what are the pathways available to meld our skill with our talent and abilities to write so it always flows? Heed to the advice and you’ll be composing literature in no time!

Free write: 

Write everything and anything that comes to mind. Literally. As cliché as this sounds it gets the creative juices flowing. Don’t pay attention to sentence structure, grammar, spelling or the technical aspects. Don’t worry about the chronology of the order of events, try starting the story from the middle or end of the plot. Sometimes, if you begin with the climax in a story arc, you can deconstruct and work your way backwards to the beginning.

Spark your imagination by writing a reflection about your day, how you’re feeling and what’s been on your mind recently. You may think this is silly, but you’d be surprised that in grade school it was common for all of us to have a free writing period to write a simple journal entry. And permit yourself to write garbage. It doesn’t matter what you write as the whole point is to get into the mechanical act of writing itself. That’s why you have multiple drafts which serve as so-called “missed takes.” 

Use a prompt:

Does anybody remember doing Mad Libs growing up? A mad lib is a word game where one player prompts another for a list of words to substitute for blanks in a story consisting of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. To get into free-flow mode, prompts are one of the most effective approaches. Pick a theme such as love, loss, power or happiness and set it to a person, place or thing (a noun!).

It can be as simple as using a random word or sentence or even an illustrated photo to ignite your inner writer and jumpstart a short story. For example, write a narrative from a unique perspective of the superhero or villain, pick a major event in your life experience or write about an inanimate object or an animal such as your pet. 

Character profile:

Many of you have probably heard about the Hero’s Journey or the ‘monomyth’ that nearly every massively popular book is based on from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s the story of the protagonist — typically a lonely hero who is trying to find himself — who embarks on a sudden and unexpected journey full of wonderment and adventure. This hero then faces the ultimate test of character, strength and skill which leads to the final battle to test the hero’s resolve which of course leads to triumph and return home. 

The first thing you do is write down a name that comes to mind of a person you either know, a person you read about or just someone random and underneath that start brainstorming questions about the said person including who is the person? What does he/she look like? Who has relationships with this person including family and friends? Then try to visualize the character and imagine what they do daily and their struggles, aspirations and desires. Now comes the fun part — tossing the character into a random scenario that might spark some sort of conflict they have to overcome — what is the character’s adversity?

Read for fun:

Get your inspiration by reading a book that you enjoy and explore genres — from romance to sci-fi to biographies to poetry to a thriller. After reading about this fascinating topic, pull your favourite parts or key quotes that get you motivated. Go back and reflect by reading your previous stories and studying your writing style. 

Set a routine: 

Spend at least 15 minutes a day just writing — it’s the only way you’ll make a habit out of it. You’ll remarkably find that writing won’t be as intimidating when you’ve set a personal quota for yourself and followed through. Binge writing, such as writing 10 plus pages in one sitting, is never recommended as it leads to an inferiority complex and a mental rut where you are always overthinking and jumping to conclusions about how good of a writer you are. 

As far as productivity hacks go, the “Pomodoro” technique described above where you set a timer for a certain number of minutes and freely write your narrative until the timer runs out, will actually motivate you. And also, the “Don’t Break the Chain” method in which you invest little by little into this goal each and every day makes the task of writing much less daunting. 

Change your mood: 

For the basic go-to hacks — cut out distractions like notifications from your smartphone and read for fun to get you in writing mode. Listen to your favourite lo-fi track or preferably classical or instrumental tracks. Swap your usual writing spot and take a change of scenery such as a nearby park, as this will allow you to adopt a new headspace. Grab a cup of coffee or tea or diffuse your favourite essential oils as it’ll help give the room ambiance and alleviate any stress. Or simply take a break by doing physical stretches and exercises. 

But of course, this is all generic advice and something you should already be doing when studying for exams. It’s not always a matter of taking a break and about how hard and fast you write. Sitting in silence quietly contemplating and appreciating the lull in between writing drafts allows your mind to tune in and out of what may truly spark your imagination. So much of the time, we force ourselves to become masterminds of scribble when we should simply sit back and relax until something sheds light and sparks a bright idea at the opportune moment.

Don’t aim for perfectionism:

Oftentimes aiming to be perfect stems from imposter syndrome. But always having to be 100 per cent correct down to the details stifles your ability to churn out any first draft. But some easy hacks can help with this. Firstly, carry around a handy dandy pocket notebook and jot down ideas, including images and thoughts  — or even a word that intrigues you — that come across your day. Set aside at least 15 minutes from that day to have a free write on that idea and scribble your heart out. Again this is not necessarily going to turn out to be a dramatic poem or polished lyrics to a song you’re writing. It can simply be the jumping-off point to map our stories, develop character profiles or chapter themes.

Get into the creative flow: 

Don’t judge while you create. Remember you can edit later. Being our own inner worst critic is the thing that makes most people “blocked” and stops them from getting into the flow. Keep this in mind or you’ll never begin. For example, Elton John’s lyricist, Bernie Taupin, never took his pen or pencil off the paper until the idea for the song was completely out of his mind onto the pad. It’s a similar process to what other well-known lyricists follow. This is what is called the “flow of creativity.” 

Unfortunately, the majority of people have been falsely led to believe to judge as they create their masterpieces. But that’s not necessarily true in retrospect. If you’re trying to write a book and become an author, it’s going to seem like an incredibly daunting task from the get-go. Remember, you can copy edit later — stop blocking your creativity on all fronts and don’t fix the flaws until the very end.

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