COLUMN: Overcoming writer’s block

Marianne Hale

On Sunday night when I had a column and a paper about Emily Dickinson to write, my only attempts at crafting sentences came in the form of two Facebook status updates.

Both were about the impending doom I faced and its cause: writer’s block.

So, I did the same thing I do every time I suffer from a bout of writer’s block.

I stomped around the Herald newsroom, whined and started brainstorming ideas with my support group, which is made up of a few friends and coworkers who care enough to listen or at least pretend to (mostly pretend, according to my friend Josh).

Thus, a column was born.

I consulted my writer friends and the folks at the Writing Center, an on-campus resource that enlists the help of tutors to offer feedback on WKU students’ work.

Jane Fife, who oversees the center, said there are of course those pointers professors give students for dealing with writing roadblocks in English 100. You know, make lists, brainstorm, free write, those kinds of things.

But Fife, an associate English professor who teaches several writing classes, had a few other things to say about writer’s block.

In “Understanding Writing Blocks,” a Keith Hjortshoj book Fife recently read, the author determined that the people who really have problems with writer’s block are writers who take on bigger, advanced projects.

They often lack a clear sense of what their goal is, or they might want to go in one direction with their work while an adviser wants them to go another. Sometimes they just don’t know how to get started.

But the same kind of thing can happen on smaller projects when students aren’t really sure what the goal of their assignment is, or the professor allows more self-direction and creativity rather than just letting students choose from a list of possible topics.

Impatience is likely a big contributor to writer’s block for students working on smaller scale projects, Fife said.

“We just can’t deal with the idea that we haven’t had an idea yet,” she said.

But Fife and others had some tips to help get your creative juices flowing.

Knowing your personality can help you get started.

If you’re like me, you need to have long, rambling conversations about writing to help you get started.

Fife said it might be hard to find people to have long, rambling conversations with, though.

If you don’t know anyone willing to talk to you about your writing, the Writing Center’s tutors get paid to do that sort of thing, she said.

If you’re one of the people who listens to me ramble, I hope you aren’t expecting any payment, because I’m not offering you anything except my love and maybe cupcakes.

Timothy Adams, a graduate student in the English department, said he heads to a bar for drinks and inspiration when he’s suffering from writer’s block.

“You’d be surprised who you meet at the bar, especially by the third or fourth drink,” he said.

If you’re more productive in a solitary environment, just spending time alone might be more your thing. Get off Facebook (I know it’s tough), channel Emily Dickinson and write.

Whether you’re heading to a bar or just observing the world through your bedroom window à la Dickinson, always have paper and something to write with.

I never leave home without a pen and paper, even if that means sliding some Post-it Notes in my pocket before I head out the door. I am religious about jotting down interesting quotes from friends, professors and pretty much anyone I come in contact with.

Who knows? The next Great American Novel might be waiting for me at Waffle House or Three Brothers or maybe just outside my windows on Old Morgantown Road. Maybe that’s what my roommates’ cats are thinking when they spend hours staring out those windows.