Category: writing advice

In ‘Personism’ Frank O’Hara writes, ‘You just go on your nerve,’ which isn’t the best advice for everyone—especially the ‘just’ part—but I’ve found it to be useful.

As writers, we must try to keep the reader on their toes. If you start getting bored, there’s a good chance the reader will get bored. Surprise yourself; surprise the reader.

When I am stuck, I walk. I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I walk, nor when I travel by train or bus, because I want all of my senses to be centrally alive to what’s around: the music that lurks in the crevices of city sounds, forest sounds, desert sounds.

Read. There are a lot of formulations of this, but at the moment, Stephen King’s comes to mind: ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’ If you followed only the first part of that, you’d already be 90 percent of the way there.

I walk along the beach and look at the sea. I call a friend. I take a train journey and sit by the window. I drink a small glass of red wine. I go to the cinema. I ride my bike fast, so that my hair streams out behind me. I cry. I read Eimear McBride. I make soup. I listen to Nick Cave. I go swimming. I sit in the sun with my eyes closed. I wash dishes. I read Jenny Offill. I write….

Stop writing what you know you already know in the ways you know you can write. Write towards what you want to know in ways you’re not sure you can.

What they say about the Muse is probably true: If you keep showing up, eventually she’ll feel sorry for you and show up too.

Whenever I feel stuck or overwhelmed with a writing project, I try to take a step back and ask myself three questions: What needs to start? What needs to stop? What needs to change? And then I make lists or action items in response to those questions.

Right now, I am stuck in my writing. Whether it’s poetry, translation, or prose, the next words won’t come, and if I try to force the words, the doom will grow with ferocity. It’s not that I’m stuck in my writing; I am stuck somewhere in my living. Then I do what I fear doing. I must make amends with my mother, or I must challenge my terror with flying, or I will do that thing I do not want to do.

“Find joy in your body. Writing is a terribly disembodied activity, and sometimes the body requires joy before writing.”

Sarah Ruhl, in “Writer’s Block: Variations on a Superstition” in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2020)