How a Thank You Note Got Me Through Writer’s Block

You never know what creative writing exercise can end your battle with writer's block. Here's one way to tackle it with a simple thank you note.
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I stared at the computer, my eyes shifting back and forth from the blank page to the clock in the upper right hand corner. Due in less than 24 hours was the revised chapter of my upcoming debut novel The Young Wives Club— a story about four young brides from south Louisiana who lean on each other through the hardships of love and life. Only I was experiencing a hardship of my own: writer’s block. And it was the kind that leaves you immobile with visions of your career and dreams crumbling before your eyes. [Insert over-dramatic scream here.]

It had been an hour, and the only thing I had accomplished was writing — and then deleting — a truly boring and unnecessary sentence. It was as if all the life had been sucked out of my words and nothing was working anymore. I thought I had experienced writer’s block before when I couldn’t come up with a topic or wasn’t feeling motivated to sit down and type. But this was different… this was ridiculous.

This guest post is by Julie Pennell. Pennell grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she ate her weight in crawfish, used the word “y’all” a lot, and wrote a weekly Teen Scene column for the local paper. After graduating from college, she moved to New York City to work at Seventeen magazine and later Alloy Entertainment as a digital editor. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and is a regular contributor to Teen Vogue, TODAY.com, and The Nest. The Young Wives Club is her first novel. (Photo by Amy Seder.)

Julie Pennell featured
writer's block Julie Pennell

Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @juliepens or her website, juliepennell.com.

So I did what any person in a desperate situation would do: I went to Google.

“How to cure writer’s block,” I typed into the search bar. The results led me down a rabbit hole of articles. “Go for to a walk to clear your head,” one said, although I was feeling lazy, and my ratty sweatpants were not appropriate for public viewing. “Free-write,” another suggested, however I couldn’t get even one sentence down, how was I supposed to write continuously for 15 minutes? But somewhere in my frantic search for a cure, I stumbled across a list of writing exercise prompts.

A Cure to Writer's Block

“Write a thank-you note to a friend who gave you a piece of garlic,” one read. And as a born-and-raised southern girl who has written many thank-you notes in my day, my eyes lit up at this idea.

I decided to try it. I began typing:

“Dear Friend,

Thank you so much for the piece of garlic. You shouldn’t have, really, but I’m truly grateful for the gesture. There’s this recipe I’ve been wanting to try out that calls for this ingredient, and I’ll think of you as I make and enjoy it. After I’m done, I’ll be sure to raise my glass of pinot to you. Thanks for being a great friend. Love, Julie”

I stared back at my thank you note. It was a little silly and not my best work, but something was starting to happen. I began feeling a twinge of excitement that my words were starting to come back. I felt inspired. I had an idea.

[Dealing with Writer's Block? Try these Creative Writing Prompts.]

Two of my characters had just gotten married so why not have them write thank-you notes for their wedding gifts at the beginning of the scene? I put them at the kitchen table armed with some pens and strong coffee, then let them write.

If you read The Young Wives Club, you’ll be able to see exactly where my breakthrough happened — somewhere between the written appreciation for a crystal vase and a set of bathroom towels.

After I wrote those notes, the words began flowing more easily. The characters were behaving again, dancing across the page without force. I got through the revision before my deadline, and my editor even said it was one of her favorite parts in the whole novel.

I’m not saying the thank-you note for garlic is going to be the cure for everyone’s writer’s block, but if you are going through that frustrating experience, I definitely recommend trying some different writing exercises. Perhaps you’ll have the same luck as me, finding the perfect one that will get the juices flowing and inspire one of your most cherished scenes.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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