12 October 2009

Writer's Block - Not My Cup of Tea

by Tim Baker

If you were to ask 100 writers how they dealt with "writer's block" you would get 200 different answers.

I haven't been calling myself a writer for very long, but I've already heard a plethora of solutions and each time the topic comes up all I can think about is old home-remedies.

One time, when I was about seven, I had a foreign object in my eye. A friend of my mother's who happened to be visiting at the time insisted that I lay on the sofa with a wet tea-bag over the injured eye.

Sure enough, twenty minutes later I was back in action, the life threatening injury to my eye nothing but a memory.

To me, the so-called "cures" for writer's block are not much more than a "tea-bag on the eye." There is surely no documented proof that a tea-bag will cure anything, but that's not the issue. The issue is that, like the tea-bag, most cures for writer's block work, or not, because we want them to. I know I wanted that tea-bag to work.

Whether it's listening to a certain type of music, taking a walk or hitting a heavy bag, every writer has some ritual they go through to get over the block. After they have completed their ritual they get back to writing, and in my opinion that is the answer.

They get back to writing.

I had a professor for Architectural detailing in college who would expect us (a bunch of know-nothing kids) to draw solutions to complex construction problems when we had absolutely no idea of even where to begin. Call it "drafting block."

When he got tired of the blank looks in our eyes he told us "Just draw something. Don't worry about getting it right, just draw it and then look at it and see what's wrong with it. Then fix it."

Believe it or not, I use that same approach to writer's block.

Whenever I find myself staring at a blank screen with an equally blank mind I just write something. After a while I look at what I've written, decide what's wrong with it and go about fixing it.

Whether it's a couple of lines of dialogue or five chapters at a critical plot point, I just write something.

This is my "tea-bag on the eye."

I won't say that it's fool proof, but it keeps me moving in a (mostly) forward direction. Sometimes what I write is good, other times it's nothing more than typing practice - either way I get something out of it.

The worst case scenario is that it will need some polish, but the first real lesson we all learn about writing is that you never get it right the first time anyway.

That's what tea-bags are for.


  1. Thanks for this article Tim. I know you're right and I hope soon to be saying that writer's block isn't my cup of coffee-not that I have anything against tea-I just love coffee.

  2. Yep, it's all in your head