A piece of advice in my new book about writing needs qualification. In My Life as an Armadillo, I state my belief that writer’s block is a myth, and the solutions to most writing problems involve more writing, usually freewriting about that problem or your emotional relation to it, until you get to the heart of it and work out a potential solution.
But I base this advice on an assumption about my audience of writers; namely, that they write because the written language is their primary way of processing information and expressing their creativity. That is not true about every person on Earth, and it might not even be true about every author. It certainly is not true of everyone working temporarily on a writing assignment such as a school paper, a business letter, or a memoir.
While my advice about writing through the problem can still help those people, it is not the only method nor even the best for everyone. Different people prefer different modes of communication, learning, and information processing. As an editor, I find the best way to help my authors work through a problem is to ask a few questions and encourage them to talk through it with me. Like many people, they feel more comfortable speaking than writing or typing, especially in a dialogue with an attentive and thoughtful listener. These conversations can lead to dynamic brainstorming sessions and bouncing ideas back and forth until we find a solution.
Other people are kinesthetic—not verbal—learners and communicators. They work through problems not by writing or talking but by walking or dancing, by doing yoga or lifting weights. Once they engage their bodies in motion, activity, or touch, the solutions come to them. Those are great options even for writers and other people in primarily non-kinetic modes. As much as I believe in writing through my problems, the process often involves stepping away from the keyboard to take a walk or a dip in the pool, or by cranking up the tunes and having a wiggle in the living room. Sometimes I even burn a calorie or two!
When you work through problems you encounter as you write, consider your mode of learning, communication, and information processing. Before you get back to writing, you might need to talk to someone, exercise, frolic, or do some tactile, hands-on work or craft. If you aren’t in a rush, you can even sleep on it. I often awake from a nap or a night’s sleep with a simple, direct solution to a problem that seemed impossibly complex before.
As I say in my book, any rules I propose are merely guidelines. Modify them to suit your personal style. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another—not in writing nor anywhere else in life.
If you know of any good self-assessments to help people identify their own mode of learning, please comment on this post.