by David Woods

Asked if she liked writing, American author Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) replied that, no, she liked having written.

Any writer who has sat facing a blank computer screen and a fast approaching deadline will know what she meant. Just getting started – or restarted – that’s the challenge; and if you can’t, then you’ve come up against the dreaded writer’s block.

Experienced writers deal with this in different ways. For some, it’s trying to find a lead sentence or paragraph that will create a natural ‘trickle down’ to the rest of the story. This calls for meticulous preliminary work on the purpose and structure of your text.

For those inclined to flight rather than fight, turn away from the screen and do something completely different. Go to the fridge, or go for a walk. But remember: only so much diversion and procrastination can ward off the looming deadline.

Another tactic is to write in different locations and at different times of the day (or night). Knowing when your level of creativity is higher or lower is helpful.

Some well-known authors could write only in the early morning. W. Somerset Maugham, for example, jump started his work by thinking of the first two sentences he wanted to write while still in his morning bath. He then set himself a goal of 1,000 words a day, stopping for a martini at noon … and even though some critics have noted his carelessness, he never suffered from writer’s block.

While of course Maugham predated computers and their blank screens, he was adamant that visual distractions were harmful to the writer, and he always sat down to write in front of a blank wall. Something to consider.

Flexibility and a degree of ruthlessness may also be helpful to the blocked. Prepare to jettison whole sections of the text that don’t seem to work.

Finally, don’t let writer’s block get you in a sweat. Relax. The more you worry, the harder it gets to think clearly.