How to Beat Writer’s Block

By Sophfronia Scott

I once heard a terrific craft seminar taught by the graphic novelist R. Alan Brooks on how to “drop-kick” fear and finish your art. And he said the most amazing thing: “Inspiration is great kindling, but poor fuel.”

How true! Inspiration can get you started — that great sentence in your head, the character who starts talking to you in a dream. You begin writing but have a hard time going beyond the early stages, especially if you find you must trash all the early work and start again. Many writers don’t go beyond this. They don’t have the fuel to sustain them.

But remember, writing is an art. And if you think in terms of your artistry, you’ll understand that “stuck” point is exactly where the intentional work of writing begins.

This is where you dig in. It helps to learn to work as a visual artist may work. If a painter messes up a canvas, they will either paint over it or start again with a fresh one. They might paint several smaller studies before approaching a larger work.

They know their tools, how to use them, and what to use to help create the image they are trying to paint. Sometimes their work even looks like play.

The great thing about understanding your artistry is you’ll know how to go about dealing with problems. You don’t get stuck and stop. Instead, you pinpoint the issue: a flat character, slow plot point, boring prose, lack of research, etc. Then you figure out how to fix it.

You’ll read how another writer approached the same problem, you’ll try writing from a different point of view, or even take a class if the issue is something unfamiliar.

In the Alma Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, your faculty mentor might suggest a book and assign a short critical paper to help you explore an aspect of craft that may help. You can work in a more hopeful way.

On a recent trip to Italy with a group of writers, we invited artist Roberta Carraro to share with us her creative process as she designs and creates by hand gorgeous Venetian masks. She even worked on one at the table and we could see how she navigated mistakes or changes as the mask’s form came together.

I also appreciated her demeanor — she obviously enjoyed her work! How different would your writing life be if you could find a way to work with the same contentment?

If you’d like to explore your artistry — as well as view some fabulous Italian art! — I invite you to join us when the Alma MFA heads to Venice, Italy for our 2024 winter residency, January 4-14 at the beautiful Hotel Villa Franceschi.

Apply today and see where creative adventures with your classmates take your writing.