Goodreads asked Bill Sommer:

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Bill Sommer The key, for me, to beating writer's block is not to mythologize or romanticize it. Feeling unable to write is a problem; thus, I treat it as I would other problems: by looking for creative solutions.

Sometimes it's simply an issue of motivation (though, and I'll get to this later in the post, that lack of motivation often stems from something going on in the writing itself). If I simply don't feel like writing, here are some tricks I sometimes employ. The word "trick" is purposeful here. Sometimes I just need to trick myself into starting and getting some words down, and the rest takes care of itself.

1.) Pick a laughably easy goal. This could be to write for twenty minutes, or to fill half of a notebook page with writing. Maybe that's all I have in me that day. More often than not, though, when the time is up or the half a page has been filled, I'll be right in the middle of a thought, a sentence, a notion. It might even be something I feel like is good. So I keep going. My writing self has tricked my lazy self.

2.) Reward yourself. I don't write as well at a coffee shop as I do at home, and I imagine very few people do. But if staying home means getting up every two minutes for a snack or to clean my room or simply not even beginning to write, I'll let myself go be around the energy of people, the aroma of the shop, the noise of a barista frothing milk. And I'll chalk up the inflated cost of a cup as an investment in my writing.

3.) Take a walk. But here's the thing: I bring my notebook! Moving my body gets my mind moving as well. I'll stop along the way and jot down little ideas.

4.) Write images on a three-by-five index card. It's very difficult for me to sit down and get a scene going. Moving characters moment to moment through time can sometimes feel overwhelming. So I'll start by simply jotting images, little impressions on a notecard. It helps that the notecard is small. You can't write very much. It might say things like,

"glancing up from his book to see how she's doing.
"Drinks too much coffee, gets jittery."
"unsure if he can risk leaving to use bathroom."
"interviewer bald, mustache, appears born to me a middle manager."

The thoughts aren't in any particular order, and they certainly aren't anything special, but they're there. So once I start writing the scene, I'm not starting with nothing. I have little bits to write towards.

5.) If the thing I'm working on feels impossible, I'll write about the thing I'm writing. This will often start in first person, like a journal. For example: "So, Danny has just found out about K's suicide. So where do we see him next? The funeral? At school? What is the mood like there? Somber, of course. The kids nervous and quiet. Her desk, they notice, is missing, and the others pushed closer together." Sometimes, as I tried to mimic in this example, I'll end up sort of falling away from talking to myself and into the actual narrative. What seemed impossible turned out not to be. Just needed to trick myself.

6.) Try to find out what it is about what I'm writing that is scaring me. So often, my inability to get words on the page is because there's something there in the pages that I subconsciously know isn't working. This makes me anxious. And I think there's a fear of finding out what that little thing that's tightening my chest is. Because my lazy self is scared as hell of finding problems in the writing, and maybe even more scared of the solutions, because the solutions almost always require more work, more writing. This is deeply irritating to my lazy self, so it tries not to find a solution nor even to admit that there's a problem that needs solving.

Often, I'm aware of a hundred problems with the story but fail to remind myself that I can only usually solve one at a time. This causes anxiety, and anxiety causes me to lose the confident abandon and sense of playfulness that I have when I'm writing the best I can. So I remind myself that the best way to get over the anxiety is to dive in and write. Solve a small problem, write one scene. And whatever it is, be totally present and don't worry about all the other problems that I'm not currently working on.

7.) Make or revise an outline. Many pieces of writing, particularly a novel, are just too big for me to hold in my mind at one time. Any outline -- mine are not at all formal -- that can allow me to take a step back and get a bird's eye view of the thing I'm working on is helpful. Once I'm high above it all, I can swoop down like a writing eagle and mercilessly snare the snake-like scene between my talons, carry it off, and feed it to my children. Wait, that analogy kind of went off the rails at the end. Anyway, the point is that outlines can be helpful.

-- Bill

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