How to Crush Writer’s Block

I’m trying to write this scene for my dot-com play. I’m basing the play in part on my own life, and on my own father’s business. I hurt when I try to write the scene; I have a lot of bad memories from the later part of my dad’s life.

Maybe sad memories is a better way of putting it. My dad accomplished a lot of great things in his life, but at some point he kept stubbornly pursuing this one business idea that would never have worked.

So I’ve been struggling with writer’s block, which is really just my mind trying to spare myself some pain. But this play will never tell the story I want to tell if I don’t accept the pain and work through it.

Timed Writing Exercises

I go to this great drop-in writer’s group where we all do a 30-minute timed writing, the exercise out of the book Writing down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. So I might start out to write a scene from my play.

But here’s the trick I use to get out of writer’s block.

If I make a “mistake,” I continue what I’m writing as though that “mistake” is 100% what I intended to write.

Even if it makes no sense. One time, I meant to have my main character say to her dad, “You’re dead.” But instead I wrote “I’m dead.” As though she was dead. Now, I don’t intend to kill off my main character. But it’s a writing exercise.  Who cares? So I asked myself what would happen if that were true, and I kept on writing.

I always find good ideas when I write without knowing what I’m going to write.

Write the Play as a Monologue from One Character’s Point of View

This idea I got from Ben Jolivet, who regularly posts to my Facebook page (thank you, Ben!).

If you can’t figure out what one character is doing in your play, write a long monologue for that character as though that’s your whole play.

The character will tell you what he or she is doing there. Then you can write.

Write a Letter to Yourself as one of the Characters

Dear Playwright,

And continue from there. Here are parts of one I wrote, as the main character of my dot-com play.

Dear Playwright,

I don’t know why I’m in your play. I’m just a convenient vehicle, I’m a core around which other characters and a story rotate. But I don’t know why I’m here. I’m you, you see, and if you don’t know why you’re here, then how am I supposed to know?

Actually, I do know, if you just listen. I’m young, not like you. I’m still enthusiastic and idealistic and excited about the digital age. The Web will change your life. I know what you need, and that’s for a different father. But you’ll never get him. … You’re not going to get a different past by writing this play. You might get better future. You might be a happier person, less trapped by your past. …

Why on earth do you have me in this stupid relationship with Sam? How does that serve your story? My story?

I need to know why my dad died.

Ding ding ding ding ding!

I felt something relax inside my soul when I wrote “I need to know why my dad died.” Because this character needs to know that. Why did he leave her, and her mother and her brother? He could have built his business into something great that would’ve revolutionized the world and made lots of money.

And I also wonder, why is she in this stupid relationship with Sam?  Maybe I should cut that thread from the story. I love the thread, but my main character, she knows better.

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2 Responses to How to Crush Writer’s Block

  1. Pearl Klein says:

    Louise, I’m thrilled to hear about your strategies for writing your way through the block. I am currently operating on the assumption that writer’s block doesn’t exist — that is, there is nothing stopping us from getting words on the page other than our own will. When I used to type on a typewriter, I would often just go with the typo, which you describe as writing through the “mistake.” Not to mystically overvalue automatic writing, but I am always curious what my hands want to say that is different from what my mind wants.

  2. Playwright's Muse says:

    Pearl, good point! Your hands will say something your mind has no idea about.

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