Overcoming the Squirms

Writing is seldom the glamorous activity that many perceive it to be. At times, it can be absolute torture. And this can be particularly true when we experience what Ayn Rand called “the squirms.” (This is better known as writer’s block.)

The squirms occur when we become paralyzed in our writing. No matter how clear a point may seem to us, we seem incapable of expressing it in writing.

I have found “thinking on paper” to be an effective method for overcoming the squirms. When I find myself unable to move forward, I often resort to this tactic.

Thinking on paper is essentially what the term implies—simply write what occurs to you without editing or trying to phrase things properly. It is a form of brain-storming. Let your thoughts flow freely. The results are seldom pretty, but producing publishable prose is not the purpose. The purpose is to break up the mental log jam.

I have used thinking on paper at every stage of the writing process. It can be helpful at the start of a writing project to capture thoughts and ideas. It can be helpful to work out a problematic sentence or paragraph. It can be helpful when editing—I can try out all kind of different ways to express an idea.

If you are having trouble identifying a topic or issue to write about, I’d suggest identifying an issue or topic that makes you emotional. (Emotion can be a great motivator in writing.) Then, think on paper. Why does this make you emotional? What about it upsets you or elates you? If it is a negative emotion, what is the alternative? If it is a positive emotion, how can it inspire us?

Every writer experiences the squirms. But writers must write. While thinking on paper is more about thinking than writing, writing is mostly about thinking. Writing problems are usually thinking problems.

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