Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like. —John Steinbeck

Writer’s Block

I don’t feel terribly creative lately. I wouldn’t say that I have writer’s block, but I would say I have its close cousin—writer’s fence. As in, I could probably get over it, but it seems like a lot of trouble and I’m not sure I feel like it. Perhaps you’re feeling the same way.

The Fence Can Grow

I know that I have to make the effort to get past it because the fence can easily turn into a barricade if I’m not careful. This is as basic as Newton’s first law of motion: a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. As a writer, what does one do in this case? As with any fence, the best way to get past it is not to curse the fence, to try to tear it down, or even to get a running start to clamber over. No, the best way is to look for a gate.

Swing Open

Finding this way through for your writing is a three-step process. First, take your expectations way down. You do not need to run five miles past the fence right now. You merely need to step through it. On a practical level, this means writing something. Not “the next chapter in your memoir”, or “that pivotal scene where everything comes together”. Just something. So know that this is your first goal: To write for ten minutes, or two pages, or whatever small manageable step that will allow you to check “write” off on your to-do list for the day. Once you have decided the goal, write it down or say it aloud. Second, give yourself something to think about. Read or watch something, or look at a photograph. Bookflow has a new prompt every day; you could try one of those. Third, imagine a low-stakes audience. You are not writing for “the American public” or “The New Yorker,” you’re just trying to communicate something to someone you know. It could be your dog or anyone else who loves everything you do.

Panning For Gold

Like a journey of a thousand miles, crossing a barrier is done with a single step.

If you do this every day or even most days, you will inevitably come up with something interesting. I’m not saying that this writing will be interesting. I’m saying that it will contain or inspire something interesting. Think of this as panning for gold. Your pan will mostly contain river mud, but every now and again, you might spot a glimmer. Like a journey of a thousand miles, crossing a barrier is done with a single step. And every step thereafter places the barrier farther behind and the momentum of your movement keeps you going.