Blocks and Blockages

hand with pen


I don’t believe in “writers block,” although that doesn’t stop me from whining about not being able to write. Clearly, I’m not the only one.

I recently read about this cafe in Tokyo that offers free coffee and human naggers to check on you every hour to see if you’ve reached your writing goals. Genius!

Here at home, I usually play some mind games to get my fingers moving and my imagination functioning. The idea for all of these mind games is simply to get your body moving and then trust that your mind will catch up.


Prompts and writing exercises are great. I use them all the time and never follow the rules. If the prompt is, “write about the last time you went to the grocery,” I may start with that intention but end up with 500 words about why I like yellow cake when everyone knows I’m a chocolate freak.

For instance, one of my favorite prompts is from Natalie Goldberg of Writing Down the Bones. The prompt is to start with the words, “I remember.” It’s a great prompt because every day you can remember something different, or differently.

The second half of the exercise is to start with the words, “I don’t remember.” I used to do this exercise with my students all the time and it never got boring; it always yielded first drafts that hinted at something deep and interesting.

Beyond the classic prompt, here are a few of my favorite games to get me Around the Block.

1. Just pick up a pen and start writing. If no thoughts come into your head, use one of these prompts:

  • What happened the last time you were late for work?
  • Describe what you did yesterday from the time you woke up to the time you went to bed.
  • Write about how much you hate to write. Be specific.

If all else fails, just start writing your name over and over again until your pen begins to form different words and interesting sentences. (This one is an homage to those names we wrote over and over again in our 6th grade notebooks. You know you did that!)

2. Stop being nice and put some pressure on. Beth and I can’t live without our 3-minute timer. I also use word count as a limitation. Here’s how:

  • Set a timer for 3- or 5-minutes. (When you get good at this you can experiment with more minutes.)
  • Start writing and don’t lift your pen until the timer goes off. If you can’t think of an idea to write about, use one of our Story Mode prompts as a jumping off point.
  • Seriously, don’t stop writing. The point is to clear out that clogged “imagination artery.”

3. Put pressure on someone else. Call up a buddy or two and write together. Set a limitation, like no talking until 20 minutes have passed. If you do it over cocktails, your “rewards” can get even more fun.

4. Make deals. If I write, I don’t have to workout. If I write and hit my goal, then I get to (fill in the blank).

5. Read a poem. Out loud. Listen for the rhythm and pay attention to the images. Start writing immediately. This is called Inspiration.

6. Don’t start from scratch if an empty page makes you feel miserable. Pick up where you left off last time. Many writers will end their writing session in the middle of a paragraph or sentence. When you come back to it, you’ll know exactly where you are and where to go.

7. Go for a walk and get your creativity pumping. Get your body moving. Be sure to have pen and a notebook with you so you’re prepared when genius strikes.

8. Stop reading this post and go write!


PS. You’ll notice I didn’t put anything in here about building a habit. Writers block strikes whether you write everyday or once a month. Plus, I stink at routines and much prefer to test myself with different challenges. What about you?

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