How To: Deal with Writer’s Block

Once upon a time, I was a freshman at NYU enrolled in a mandatory Tisch School of the Arts class called “Writing the Essay”. This was before I began to have major doubts about the direction of my education, before I really had any “life experience” to speak of. (Do I now? Have I become angrier, more interesting, less shy? That is for you to decide.) Then, we were directed, with all the force of our 18-year-old passions, to write essays about things we really cared about. People we were encouraged to emulate were A.O. Scott, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Lawrence Weschler, Joan Didion…you know, people on our level. Popular reminiscence of this class generally involves the word “hate”. But I was embarrassingly successful at this required for degree class. You can find the evidence of it out on the big wide Web if you look hard enough.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because once, I wrote an essay that was read by the incoming freshmen at Tisch, and now I cannot think of a goddamn thing to write about for my weekly Adelpheans post.

I thought about writing a response to Brittany’s album post with books instead of music. I thought about writing a lengthy opinion piece on public education’s duty to smart kids (inspired by this Op-Ed). I even thought about posting a short story I wrote a few years ago called “How to Let Summer Turn into Fall”. But then I realized I was too distant from the topic, insufficiently informed, or that the autobiographical elements in my writing might be a tiny bit too transparent.

So is this writer’s block? I don’t believe in the power of inspiration, not really. I know it strikes every now and then (the fifteen pages in an hour kind of days), but most of the time, the only reason I get anything done is because I push through the fog of the mundane and force words onto the page. I admire those staff writers at various papers who knock out 2000 words on complex global issues on a one-day turnaround. So here’s how I deal with writer’s block:

I distract myself. I look at this, this, and this, and then I hate myself for it.

I set goals. I set deadlines. I make lists.

I spend an hour designing the title and typeface for my latest literary project so I can stencil and spray paint it onto a notebook that for some reason, I can’t find.

I watch an episode of The Daily Show.

I go to one of those stupid websites with prompts for writers, hate the prompt, consider myself much smarter than it, and then click the Stumble! button in the top left corner of my browser and look at pictures of animals cuddling or a recipe for s’mores cookies.

I read half of an article in the Arts section and do 2 crossword clues, “Gruel” and “Get Off Of My Cloud”.

I look at my bookshelf for inspiration, get mad that I only have one bookshelf and acres of books on the floor.

I open a blank document, close my eyes, and write about how seriously irritated I am. Yeah, I close my eyes. I know that’s kind of a weird thing to do, but it helps me stop focusing on length. I also have a tendency to immediately read over what I’ve written and then edit it, making sure I never get farther than a paragraph in. So, eyes closed. Typing. Eventually, I get the first part of this post.

I get up, fill up my water bottle.

I go back to the document and delete everything embarrassing or bad. I try to expand on what I like.

Then I look back at what I wrote, and oh.


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