Note from Hope:
I met Rochelle Melander at the Mississippi Writer's Guild Conference this past summer. I kicked off the event with an opening keynote message . . . she closed the event with her closing keynote. The Yin and Yang of the conference. She's open, vocal, and goes ninety miles per hour which was fun to watch in a room full of Southerners. But she fit in well, and we enjoyed our brief private chat. She's published with Writer's Digest Books and is quite the author with multiple books under her belt. She has offered us a guest message on how to deal with writer's block, especially with the onset of NaNoWriMo in another couple of weeks. Enjoy! ~HOPE
Overcome Writer’s Block
By Rochelle Melander
“There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.” -Terry Pratchett
I don’t have time for writer’s block. Every day, I juggle my professional life (writing and coaching) and my personal life—husband, kids, dogs, exercise, laundry, and other household chores. Nearly every book I’ve written has been completed in less than six weeks thanks to publishing contracts with tight deadlines. In the past five years, I’ve also tackled National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org) and the challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
Writing books fast with children and dogs underfoot has given me tools to prevent, diagnose, or overcome the infamous writing disease—writer’s block—and finish my assignments on time. While movies portray writer’s block as something you’d kill to get over (Secret Window) or drink your way out of (The Lost Weekend), I’d prefer to see it as something manageable, like a headache. Here’s how I’ve learned to thwart writer’s block:
1. Prevent it. Prewriting prevents writer’s block. Often writer’s block is simply a moment of panic—what do I say? Eliminate that fear by planning. Before facing the blank page, record ideas for your article or chapter. I like to use mind maps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map) as prewriting tools because I can brainstorm freely without worry about what comes first. Once I get to the computer, I have a whole page of ideas to work from.
2. Diagnose it. Writer’s block can also be a symptom of a manuscript issue. As writer-in-chief, it’s my job to dig around and find the problem so I can fix it and finish my assignment. Here are three common issues that present as writer’s block:
*Structure. When you feel bogged down or muddled while writing simple concepts or stories, chances are the structure does not fit the type of information you’re writing or the audience you’re writing for. The fix? Ask yourself, “Could I write this if I structured it as a . . .” and then give yourself several options. Look at books or articles in your field and note the structure. How can you borrow their structures to make your article work?
*Content. When you hit a speed bump in your writing, check to see if you have enough information to write the article or book chapter. The fix? Research! Take a day to read articles and interview experts in the field. When you go back to the computer, you’ll have plenty of info to wow your readers!
*Audience. Often we get writer’s block when we do not know who we are writing for. We struggle to put together a book or an article for the amorphous “everyone.” The fix? Forget everyone and find your ideal reader. Once you know who you are writing for, you can shape your work just for them.
3. Overcome it. So what happens when you prepare like a pro, check the big three (structure, content, and audience), and still feel stuck? Chances are good you are dealing with one of two issues: you’re tired or you have some other sort of writing glitch to overcome (e.g., you need a good lead or you haven’t figured out the angle you’re taking). Fortunately, the fix for both is the same: take a break. Engaging with nature or doing a menial, repetitive task will help you restore your ability to pay attention. And, the time away from your work may lead to what psychologists call the Eureka effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eureka_effect).
So next time you get stuck, take a break to watch the clouds or sort the laundry. No doubt you’ll return to your desk refreshed and ready to write—and potentially with a solution in hand!
Your turn: How do you overcome writer’s block?
Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com