7 tips for overcoming life writing blocks

Blocks are common in writing

While we might recognize the blocks that stop us writing material from life, we need some practical strategies to get past them. Some methods are practical, some are “sneaky”! Apply whatever works for you.

1. Write each story as fully as you can. In other words, don’t try to censor yourself before you even start. That leads to stops and starts, lack of flow and giving in to doubts. Write everything – literally. Every single detail you can remember or conjure up, including using the five senses. You can take things out later, but if you don’t get it all on the page first, you won’t have enough to work with. A favorite exercise of mine is to free write for as long as you can (at least 20 minutes), describing a room in the house in which you grew up. The first time I tried this, I thought I’d be lucky to manage a couple of paragraphs. Seven pages later … This kind of exercise can work like a series of triggers that will generate more and more material, as long as you go for it without holding back.

2. Change the point of view. Instead of writing in first person, try writing a piece in third person. It may remove the fear to a more manageable distance. Try also changing the names of everyone you are writing about. This will also create a small distance that will allow you to write more freely.

3. Don’t show what you have written to your family. They may be kind or cruel with their comments – either way, they will probably make you feel disheartened or let down, at the very least. Protect your writing until you are absolutely ready to share.

4. Remember that secrets are not unique. You may well feel that your secrets are something only you have experienced, but many people have had the same or similar things in their lives. It’s a major reason why we read memoirs and life stories – to feel that it’s “not just us”. And it isn’t.

5. Treat your writing as exploration, even of yourself. Write to see where it takes you. Be an explorer, unafraid and adventurous. After all, that’s what the Delete key is for, and you probably won’t need to use it.

6. Remember that not everything you write will be “successful” and most of it – in the first draft at least – will not be publishable. So no pressure.

7. Write regularly, every day if you can. The less you write, the harder it will be to begin. The more you write, the more you will want to write.

Coming next – the key elements in your redrafting process.

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