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Getting Unstuck: Writing Leads to Writing

September 21, 2022


My students always want to know what to do about writers block: that deep dark dreadful painful place.

That constipated place. That prison block. The shadow.

How do I get my bowels moving? Where’s my get out of jail free card? How do I find the light in the shadow?

“Ever see a plumber who has plumber’s block?” asked blogger, marketer, and author Seth Godin in 2010 in Boston on his book tour for Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? “Or a talker who has talker block? No! So? No writer’s block. It’s part of who you are.” (Here’s the rest of my blog post where this quote comes from).

Sorry Seth, most of my students  don’t find this too helpful. I thought it was insightful, and it’s inspiring to me, but for my students? No.

Because they don’t see themselves as writers yet. They don’t know they are writers. They don’t know the power of their own minds.

What follows are some ideas that they do find help them get unstuck. And these ideas help me too, as a student, a poet, an academic, and an essayist. In the first chapter of Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg outlines the Rules of Writing Practice and akins writing to sex.

1. Keep your hand moving. No matter what, don’t stop. Write whatever comes to your mind. Outrace the editor with your writing hand. If you keep your hand moving, the writing will win.

2. Lose Control. Let it rip. Don’t worry that someone will judge you.

3. Be specific. Get in the habit of using nouns, verbs, colors, textures. If you realize you’ve written a sentence that’s full of general vague language, don’t scratch it out but make the next sentence more specific.

4. Don’t think. Stick with your “first thoughts” not your thoughts on thoughts. forget everything else outside of the immediate words you are writing down. Stay with those words, in that moment.

5. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. That’s right! Who cares? Why does this matter? Keep your hand moving and write clearly enough so you can read it later if you want.

6. You are free to write the worst junk in the world. Yep, you are. So don’t let that fear stop you.

7. Go for the jugular. If something comes up while you’re writing, keep writing about it. Let it out. Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
Natalie Goldberg tells people to write by hand and I encourage you to do so. Do your best to follow the rules of writing practice–and just let the writing flow without judgment. No one should be reading your words to judge you, to say this is good or bad. The writing just is. You are writing it for you, to know your own Wild Mind.

PS You want to know what else Seth Godin said? You can’t make it as a poet. And while I’m not making a living off of my poetry per se, I am making a living off of being a writer and teaching writing. Writing about wine I get lots of great wine to write about as well as travel opportunities!

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