What Writers Should Do When Drawing A Blank

    As I write this, I am sitting at a local coffee shop.

    There is a girl here who is about three or four years of age and she has completely taken over the shop.

    The girl’s hair is tied up in a ponytail and she’s wearing a green and white striped t-shirt that’s a perfect mismatch to her pink shoes. She’s speaking in an unintelligible phrases and delightful squeals, and she’s prancing around the shop as if she owns the place—and as far as she is concerned, she does.

    As an innocent bystander, it’s hard for me to be annoyed by her because, for one: she’s absolutely adorable. And, two: she is being her true, unencumbered self.

    It is very hard not to be amazed by this girl’s audacious choice to be absolutely genuine in public.

    The Magic of Unencumbered Living

    It’s not often you see an adult be their true, unencumbered self in public.

    No, we adults are way too insecure.

    But children do this kind of thing all a time. When they do it, it’s sometimes arresting to all the adults in the room. But most of the time, when a child is simply being his or her natural, silly self, it is very endearing to everyone present.

    A child like the girl I see at this coffee shop still doesn’t know that there’s anything wrong with squealing with the delight when she feels like squealing with delight. She doesn’t know that there’s anything wrong with running around a coffee shop, and playing an impromptu game of hide-and-go seek with her little brother, when she feels like doing so. She doesn’t know that there are some people out there who might not like what she has to say, or might not even understand what she says—no, a child like the girl at this coffee shop just says what she wants say simply because she wants to say it.

    She doesn’t see anything wrong with just being herself.

    And what a magical sight she is to see.

    Laughing and playing and being free.

    Meanwhile, all the adults in the room are sitting up straight, talking quietly, and trying desperately to look normal—they don’t want to stick out.

    The Magic of Unencumbered Writing

    When I’m writing, and I find myself drawing a blank, it’s usually because I’m trying to be someone else’s idea of a writer.

    But it was not too long ago that I realized that when I tried being someone else’s idea of a writer, I got stuck. I got terribly stuck.

    I wondered: “What will they think of me when I accidentally slip into my true nature, and they realize that I’m actually no Shakespeare? That I am, in actuality, no Dumas? That I am, after all, no Tolkien, no Williams, no Moraga, Hansberry, Valdez, or Lee?  Will they laugh at me? Will they scorn me? Will they raise their noses and look down at me?”

    In the past, when I drew a blank, I would often ponder all these questions—and then I would get tangled up in them—and then I wouldn’t be able to move forward.

    Write Like You: Stop Trying To Write Like Somebody Else

    My job as a writer is to write as much like me as I can.

    Why is this my job?

    Because I’m the only writer that I can write like. I really can’t write like anyone else. If I try, then I have just guaranteed my failure.

    So, when I’m drawing a serious blank, I try to remember to return to my unencumbered nature.

    Rather than worry that I might not live up to someone else’s idea of a writer, instead, I try to ask myself:

    “What if I walk around this passage like I own this place? What if I say anything I want, however I want, without the slightest fear that anything bad will happen to me? What if I stomp through this novel confidentially, and playfully, like I’m engaging in an impromptu game of hide-and-go-seek with the pages? What if I try to make the reader giggle with delight, just for the sake of making them giggle with delight? What if I just write like my natural, unencumbered self?”

    When I start asking myself these kinds of “what if” questions, I stop holding myself back and, suddenly, something changes in me.

    Suddenly, I’m liberated.

    I’m confident again, and the writing flows out of me. My “blank” is filled.

    Suddenly, my writing is a magical sight to see.

    I’m laughing and playing and being free.

    What Writers Need To Do When They’re Drawing A Blank

    If you’re drawing a blank in your writing today, I suggest that you try leading yourself back to your natural, unencumbered nature.

    I know, it sounds like a vague and abstract concept. But it’s actually not as hard as it looks.

    Try this:

    Just empty your mind, take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you DO NOT need to write like any other writer other than the one that you currently are. Don’t ask yourself to write like anybody else. Instead, ask yourself to write like you.

    Then, proceed to write.

    How Do I Know When I’m Writing From My Unencumbered Nature?

    How do you know when you’re writing from your unencumbered nature?

    Well, you know your writing from your unencumbered nature because the writing flows easily—the writing feels like home, and there’s not much strain in its execution.

    You know you’re writing from your true, unencumbered nature when you can put your writing out there, and let it prance around the page like it owns the place; when you can let your writing speak in tongues that not everyone will understand, but that will delight people anyway (because the words will sound so daring and new.)

    You know you’re writing in your true, unencumbered nature when you feel like you want to make your readers squeal with the delight, just for the sake of making them squeal with delight; when you finally stop trying to be a serious, boring, “grown-up” writer and allow yourself to play hide-and-go seek with your story.

    You know you’re writing from your true, unencumbered nature when, for once, everything feels right.

    It feels right because you’re no longer trying to be what everyone else wants you to be—or what you think everyone else wants you to be. It feels right because you’re no longer holding back your wonderful, unique majesty. It feels right because, for once—for once—you’re no longer afraid of what others may think of you.

    When you write from your unencumbered nature, you will no longer draw a blank. You’ll be able to get the writing done.

    What is more: your writing will be a magical sight to see.


    Because you’ll finally be laughing, playing, and being free.

    A guest post by Ollin Morales. He is a fiction writer,  freelance writer, blogger, and ghostwriter. His blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first fiction novel.  His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers by WriteToDone two years in a row (2011, 2012).

    About the author

      Ollin Morales

      Ollin Morales's blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his very first novel. His blog offers writing tips as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. After all, as Ollin’s story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear to him that in order to write a great novel, he must first learn how to live a great life.

    • I loved this! I’ve seen myself doing the same thing – freezing up when I’m trying to be like everyone else, then freeing up when I’m “owning” the place. Great post.

    • LubbyGirl says:

      This helped tremendously! Seems I’ve been in a fog lately, worrying about inundating people with my own thoughts and interests. Duh. That’s the whole reason I started blogging in the first place, to share my thoughts and interests. Thanks a bunch!!

    • Thank you for writing this article! I definitely needed advice like this. I’ve been dealing with some major writers block the last few weeks. All I seem to think about is what other people think of my writing, instead of what I thought. Living up to the expectation in your head can really kill your creativity.

      Thanks again for the lovely and inspiring article.

    • Valerie says:

      I stumbled on this post today after spending several hours at a children’s museum with four of my grandchildren with their ability to be uninhibited and unencumbered fresh in my mind. What a great analogy. Thanks for a fantastic post!

    • This “forgetting” who I am as a writer often happens after intense bouts of editing someone else’s work or after becoming lost in an excellent book whose author I admire. It’s SO hard to find myself again in these situations. I often have to wait a couple of days for the other author’s voices to get out of my head. When they finally do, I find I write better than ever.

    • Dana says:

      Great post. My favorite suggestion: Write Like You. The suggestion offers freedom and yet it’s often the greatest challenge. Thanks for sharing your tips for getting over our sometimes less than stellar moments.

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    • Good to know the article helped you, Sheila!

    • Ollin,

      Your post was a breath of fresh air. As a new writer myself, I struggle with this somewhat. My background is in nursing and I write literary fiction. Most of my work tends to have a dark edge to it, and the ones I write with humor, a flare for a saucy words. I can’t tell you how often I’ve struggled with the thought of tampering with my own words just because another person squirmed uncomfortably. Thanks for a great piece.

    • I thought the advice was going to be to simply describe a person or setting to help break the block! You did such a lovely job describing that little girl. As the mother of a toddler, it’s nice to know we don’t always annoy people at the coffee shop 😉

      It’s true, we usually put more pressure on ourselves as writers than anyone else. Though, I do think there is value in exploring other authors for writing styles & craft.


      • Not saying that you shouldn’t practice writing like others.

        This is for those writers who are blocked, or drawing a blank. I find that a lot of times they are trying to be like someone else, and to pass that block you can get back to your natural voice.

        Of course it will be inevitable for you to try different styles and voices. Unfortunately, to try to replicate another author completely is just setting you up for failure.

    • “… delight readers anyways (because the words will sound so daring and new.)…”
      “… you’re no longer afraid of what others may think of you.”…

      Ollin, you delighted me with the sentences I’ve quoted above.

      Thank you for another thing as well. Reading your post, I felt like I was in that coffee shop with you, watching and listening to the little girl. Looking forward to your novel! 🙂

      • That’s wonderful to hear, Vinita! I’m glad you felt that way. 🙂

    • Very insightful post, Ollin. I like the analogies you make re: kids’ and adults’ behavior. Truth is, people are drawn to free spirits. I can be one when the music is playing. Now I need to extend that to my fingers on the keyboard.

      Thank you.

    • Thank you for the great post! It’s just what I needed today.

    • Great post! I find myself stalling out when I begin to worry as to what others in my small town may think. Today I fought my way through a scene and tried not to censor myself. Tomorrow will be even better.

    • Your article’s intro hit me hard… because until recently I knew a woman who was that kind of free spirit, like a child, at the age of fifty-eight. Sorry to say she recently passed away in her sleep; her passing leaves me groping around looking for insights into what I learned from her beautiful life. The freedom to be as uninhibited as a child, to write with wild abandon, to be truly authentic, is a gift worth our undying gratitude. These days many of us are reaching new understandings of authenticity. It is like the new word for the new world. Happy 2012!

      • That was such an eloquent comment, Linda. I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I hope that I am such a free spirit at age 58! Here’s to that! 🙂

    • When I feel blocked or the ideas aren’t flowing I like to do a free writing session either on the subject or just rant to myself. I find that this usually generates some direction to my writing at that moment.

    • So true! Any time I try to write like others I fall flat on my face. I have a journalistic style of writing – to the point, no nonsense. But sometimes it would be nice to write a flowerly, emotional article. Not me, though. Thanks for the encouragement to write like me!

    • This is a great description of the the writing process, but also creating…living. In the moment, without the mind chatter. The thinking comes first, so that the doing will flow… eternal, unconscious and unrestrained.


    • Thank you so much for these words! This was EXACTLY what I needed to hear today and yes it moved me past the “blank” space in my writing.

      • Ah. That gives me such joy to hear that! I’m glad it worked.

    • The Japanese have a saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” Since 9/11, the United States has steadily been moving toward being a society where people are afraid to show themselves, for fear of being singled out. Yet this is a country that thrives on openness, on getting one’s name out there, on producing original work. Your article eloquently points the way; it’s up to us to take that first step.

      • Thank you providing a historical and social context for our current dilemma, Thomas! You are very righ. I didn’t see it that way, but I now agree with you.

    • Hmm, I’m not entirely convinced that this is an either-or proposition. I frequently ASPIRE to sound like other writers. And copying their work (by that I mean copying a passage — say 500 words — word for word is a great way of “internalizing” their style.) Just don’t try to pass it off as your own!

      That said, I accept your more global statement that we should write as much like ourselves as we can.

      In all honesty, I think BOTH approaches make sense. Someone who naturally writes like Stephen King is going to have a hard time sounding like Michael Ondantjae. And that’s perfectly OK. But if you want to take your writing to a different level, I think there are some good ways to work at it.

      • I agree, it’s good to practice in the language of other writers, but in the end, we all have to fall into writing like our natural sells. It is inevitable. At least that’s what I believe.

    • neal says:

      that may be the best article i have read in quite a long time. thank you very much

    • Deepam says:

      Yes. Write like nobody’s business. We all need to be reminded of this when the “council of apes” as Clarissa Pinkola-Estes calls the critical, judging mind, gets louder than our own remarkable unique voice. Thank you for the gentlest of zen sticks.

    • Chase says:

      As a brand new writer this post was a breath of fresh air for me. I feel so blind sometimes. It’s like all these words are stuck in my throat, but I just can’t push them out. I read a few sites like this one and about every two seconds someone is talking about being true to your voice. I can’t wait until I finally understand what that is for me.

      Thanks for inspiration today.

      • You are welcome Chase. I would recommend that you don’t think about too much. Just write. Practice. And your voice will surface.

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    • Those who are new to writing usually want to use what works for the pros. They figure that if it works so well for this huge and successful blogger, it should work for them. (Guilty.) The problem is that when you do this, your creativity gets stifled. Sad but true.

      It took me a while to be comfortable with my writing style, without having to think of pleasing all readers out there. It’s freeing. It’s motivating. And most of all, I get the feeling I make my readers squeal with delight 🙂 This is a great reminder for all writers!

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