Writer's Block

In high school, a teacher had us do two-hour in-class themes. We read a book in advance and had two hours to handwrite a long essay in response to a question she posed – using solid reasoning and quotes from the book.

There was a pendulum schoolhouse clock in the room. Invariably, I’d be between thoughts, hear that “tick-tock,” and think, “I’ll never come up with a good idea ever again and flunk this class!”

A similar clock hangs in my office. Now the “tick-tock” reminds me when I do what I’m afraid of, good things can happen. Here are some tips you can use to do the same.

Combating the “I’ll Never Have a Good Idea Again!” Syndrome

When it’s time to collect your thoughts on a topic, do they seem to scatter like a flock of startled birds? Do this.

Right-Brained? Go for Freewriting

Use this if you’re more of a creative sort.

Grab a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Set a timer for five minutes. Think about your topic and write without stopping. All you want to do is get the ideas out of your head. Use these brainstorming:

  1. Don’t censor yourself: write everything that occurs to you, no matter how far-fetched.
  2. Don’t pay attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, sentences – anything but your subject.

 When the timer goes off, stop writing.

 You’ll be amazed by the number of ideas you can generate in a short time! Now go back and pick out the good ones.

 Left-Brained? Use Mindmapping

This is a better choice if you’re more of an analytical thinker.

Again, use a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and a timer set for five minutes:

  1. Pick a phrase that represents the main issue or topic. Write it in the center of the page. Then draw a circle around it.
  2. Brainstorm without considering if something is a “good” or a “bad” idea. Write a short phrase that represents each. Then circle it and draw a line back to the main issue/topic in the middle of the page.
  3. When the timer sounds, stop.
  4. All your best thoughts are on one easy-to-read sheet. You also have a few clinkers, which you wrote down to keep your mind and hand in motion. Cross those out.
  5. Look at each idea. Think about how relevant it is. Place a number above it that represents this, starting at “1” for the most important.
  6. Now you have an outline of what you want to share, and the order in which to present it.

 The Neuroscience behind This

 In both cases, thinking about ideas uses your left brain. The physical activity of writing (words in freewriting, plus the circles and lines in mindmapping) uses your right brain. This means your entire brain is involved in problem solving!

 Don’t use mindmapping software for this. You need the feel of a pen and the arm movement of taking it around a page to engage your right brain. Sitting at the computer mainly uses your fingers, just emphasizing the left-brained activity of typing words.

 A skeptical client – who loved his mindmapping program – tried this. He was shocked by how many more ideas he created in a shorter time. He told me, “I’ll never do this on the computer again!”

Never again fear that you have nothing creative or intelligent to say. Stop that nagging clock in your own brain!