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When your writing hits a wall, Forster Thomas coach Susan Clark has the answer for how to break out of your doldrums.

By Susan Clark



Let’s say you’re into football (I mean American football, not that goofy European game where no one scores).  The quarterback is back in formation and hands off to the running back – and the guy doesn’t move.  Linebackers are tearing up the turf and the team is going to take a big loss – but the running back is just sitting there, waiting for specific instructions about how to get through the defense.  

Sound ridiculous?  Marco, a candidate I coached last year, was that running back.  I took care of the game plan, telling Marco exactly what we were out to achieve with each essay.  I called the play, helping Marco find structure in his personal stories.  But then Marco dropped the ball.  He accepted everything and added nothing, ceding all control. When I asked him how he felt about his experiences, he replied, “What do you think I should say I was feeling?”

I am a coach.  I can help my clients find their most interesting stories and steer them around pitfalls and mistakes.  I can generate ideas, and I have tons of experience building applications. But I can’t supply the authenticity.  The essays needed Marco’s flair, his voice, his thoughts, his feelings, to bring them to life.

So I had Marco do a simple improvisational exercise that I learned while running logistics for acting workshops. I started a story with a random sentence.  Marco had to build on that story for a bit and then hand it off to me.  After passing it back and forth for a while, laughing the whole time, we returned to his essays. At first I had to coax him to apply the same loose logic to his own life, but Marco soon realized that his honesty made the stories sparkle.  After that, he didn’t struggle any more.

Are you stuck?  Here are three tips on how to get unstuck!

1.  Break out of your rut.  Had trouble thinking of what to say?  Chances are that you (and Marco) are a little short on innovation in your life, and it is affecting your ability to reflect on your life.  Go someplace you haven't been in a while.  Talk to some new people.  Try a new activity.

2.  Have fun with it.  It isn't a coincidence that Marco and I made our best progress in a humorous moment.  Sometimes a joke is exactly what you need to take your mind off your troubles and get you going again.

3.  Don't be your own editor.  No one can wear two hats at once except Zaphod Beeblebrox.  Your job is to come up with ideas, not decide whether or not they work.  Let your reader (or your essay coach) be the judge of that!



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