Beating Writer’s Block

September 17, 2012

Beating Writer’s Block

When I conduct writing workshops for both young writers and adults, a question that’s asked often is “What should I do when I get stuck?” I answer by saying the key is to avoid getting stuck in the first place.

The first and most important way to prevent writer’s block is to stay engaged in the writing task. Never just sit and wait for the words to come. Use listing, outlining, pre-writing, free writing, and stream-of-consciousness writing to get you started. And once you get started, don’t stop until your allotted writing time is used up.

Don’t worry about getting your language perfectly ordered during your first draft. It’s important to separate the act of composing from editing. (More on that later.) Look on writing as a tool for speculation, exploration, and experimentation. Write fast and free, and whether you like to work from an outline or not, in this stage just see where your story/poem/essay takes you.

Many people say that want to be writers, but they simply aren’t willing or able to dedicate sufficient time to the task. When Scholastic offered me a contract to write one of the first books in the My Name is America series, The Journal of Sean Sullivan, a Transcontinental Railroad Worker, I was working full-time as an English teacher at a high school, and one night a week as a college instructor. My schedule was further complicated by the fact that I had recently moved and had a daily, fifty-minute commute to work. But I knew that if I wanted to be a successful writer I had to focus on the task. For three months I got up at 4:30 each day and wrote for two hours before leaving for work. After I returned home, I’d spend a short time with my very understanding family. Then I worked three or four more hours in the evening. It was exhausting, but I met the deadline. The Journal of Sean Sullivan was published in the fall, and it sold more than 50,000 copies by Christmas. And best of all, because I delivered my book on time it was moved ahead of another title that was late coming in, and Scholastic offered me contracts for two more books.

The Broken Blade Wintering The Journal of Sean Sullivan The Journal of Otto Peltonen The Journal of C.J. Jackson Song of Sampo Lake Blackwater Ben The Darkest Evening El Lector The Winter War