When the words stop

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing — writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”— Lawrence Block

What do you do when you are well into writing your book but now the words have stopped coming? I’m in that place right now and it’s frustrating, to say the least.

You see, I don’t believe in writer’s block. A writer writes. Writing is a job like any other and you can’t wait around for inspiration. If you are a writer, then sit down and write. Something. Anything. And, you’ll have to trust me here, the more you write and the more consistent you are about writing something every day, the more freely the words will flow.

Here are some hacks I use to get my words turned on again.

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron

If you are creative, chances are you’ve at least heard of Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” It was written for all kinds of creative people, not just traditional artists. At the core of The Artist’s Way is the concept of Morning Pages. Cameron writes about the many positive benefits of sitting down first thing in the morning with a notebook and quickly, without thinking, hand write three pages of “whatever.” It doesn’t have to be meaningful; it doesn’t even have to be English. You could write, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over until you fill the three pages. That’s fine as long as you write three pages first thing when you wake up every single morning.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, and I don’t remember all of the reasons behind the exercise, but it’s supposed to act like a “mind dump.” You dump everything out of your mind first thing and then you can settle down to your serious creative activities fresh and open to new ideas. I will admit I have never been successful with maintaining morning pages as a practice. I have heard very good, selling artists speak about how wonderful the practice is and how much it helps their creativity. One artist I admire sits down with his journal before he paints each morning and writes out his intensions for the day’s work, a theme, problem or administrative duties. He is prolific and creative.

Instead, I keep a journal that is a little less structured. I keep a studio diary on my art, but I also keep a notebook on my current novel. In it, I write down character flaws, new conflicts, resolutions, plot problems and details, and anything I research. It serves the same purpose of drawing yourself back into the work; it’s just not as structured.

Start your day by reading

If I was upset about something, had an argument with my husband first thing, or woke up to a crap-load of snow blowing up against my front door, then yes, three pages of venting may be very helpful. But most days I take a different path to the same goal of lots of words. The first thing I do in the morning is read. It could be reading some of what I wrote the day before, reading a book, or reading things other people have written. Reading other people’s writing is my favorite way to begin my day.

Often, my first writing of the day is a way to clear my mind and turn the spigot of words on so they begin to flow. Just as often, I am ready to get started for the day as soon as I sit down. My goal is to write 3,000 words every day. Yes, I write every day, even weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. I normally take one day a month, sometimes two, off and just dink around. I may spend time at the library or have lunch with a friend. If I’m not feeling well, I might take a day off to just read. And sometimes I cut my writing time short — and fail to reach my goal of 3,000 words for that day — to spend a few hours in my art studio. I don’t mind the fewer words at all. Being in the studio is a great way for me to get engergized and excited about the writing.

Then there are the occasional weeks when I have to stop writing so I can do the necessary editing before publishing a book. That’s where I’ve been the past few weeks and I have to say, I’m getting agitated and angry about not being able to work on my newest novel-in-progress. I’m trying to get one of my books ready to be printed as a paperback on CreateSpace and the learning curve is huge. I hate the process and I may never go through it again.

Early morning writing on

I use several sites to read other writers’ work and to do that early writing. One of my favorites is It’s a site where people ask questions and other people write answers. Answering questions can be a short or, more likely, long process that takes time. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour on a Quora post. It’s a warm up exercise and prepares me for my daily writing. What I especially love about Quora is that you can find questions on anything and much of it is fascinating. I can quickly write a few responses or, if something is particularly thought provoking, spend several days fashioning a response.

Maintaining that flow of words when writing something long like a book can take a little work but words are our tools and without them, we’re stuck. It’s a lot easier to feed that word beast every day than to let it come to a stop and try to get started again.

If you’re going through a dry spell and can’t seem to get the words to flow, give one of my hacks a try. Beware: You just might end up with more words than you know what to do with!

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