Writing block is a pain. It crawls up on you unaware and suddenly the rattle of keys grinds to a halt and you can’t figure out any way to fill that white space. Sometimes it’s a goblin on your shoulder, whispering poison in your ear. Sometimes it’s a wrong turn you took that leads to a dead end. And sometimes it’s your complete loss of interest in what’s going on. The thing is, to be a writer, you’ve got to write. And for that reason it’s vital you find some way to deal with it.
Now in compiling this list I’ve read a lot of wacky tricks and tips that people say can help you get over your writers’ block, from reading more such lists (I’m not sure that will help!) to drinking water upside down (or is that sneezing?). What I also noticed, however, is that there does seem to be several common themes to breaking the dreaded writers’ block curse.
Step 1: Figure out what kind of writers’ block you have
First of all, why are you blocked? Is it because you don’t like what you wrote? Is it because you can’t find the right idea? Is it because you’ve got so many ideas that you don’t know which one to choose? Or is there a vital element that needs to be explained but that you can’t find the words to explain?
Might it be because you feel your story took a wrong turn and you’re slowly coming to grips with the fact that you’ve got to change something? Is it because you’re afraid of how people will tell you your story sucks? Or is it because you’re bored with the story or your characters?
All these kinds of writers’ block are entirely different and need to be dealt with in different ways. They can be motivated by fear, frustration, anxiety, realization or boredom and those emotions must be tackled differently. That said, there are some things that generally help well in all situations.
Step 2: Get away and come back in a different state of mind
Go for a walk or a run, go have a conversation with somebody, go exercise or go get a drink. Then, when your entire mood has shifted, come back and try again. Personally I sometimes like to stay up really late sometimes, to where I’m tired (and perhaps a little tipsy) and then force myself to try and write through the problem. Generally I am so desperate to get off the keyboard and get to bed (or the bar) that I’ll just start writing and worry about the consequences the next day.
And, surprisingly enough, the day after I can quite often use at least some of what I wrote. Obviously, it needs to be polished, but that’s not so hard. Polishing is far easier than filling that dreaded white page.
Step 3: Just because you’re putting words on a page doesn’t mean you’re committing
This one is vital for me. If I’m stuck for a while, then I’ll just say ‘I’ll deal with this problem in the next draft.’ I’ve on occasion take this so far that I’ll just fill in something like and then Sarah slapped Jane and blah, blah, blah, next chapter. At which point I indeed start the next chapter.
The thing is, this works surprisingly well. Often in the sections that follow I’ll find the solution to the problem I was having (or a sentence I use there might strike me as more useful for filling the hole I left). In fact, the entire jumping ahead thing is often a great way to beat your demons, as sometimes all it takes to get going again is to get going again! Another section might just help you do that.
Step 4: Remember that writing is a journey
You can’t write perfect prose. It doesn’t exist. Instead, writing is about self-exploration and becoming better at your craft. Nobody started off being the best writer they were going to be. They needed tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of words to get there.
But if you’re not writing, then you’re not taking the next step on that journey. Sometimes I know that what I’m writing isn’t very good. In that case I sometimes stop seeing the project itself as the goal and instead focus on the activity of writing to get better.
Sometimes that even ends up saving the project as I relax and again find the spark of enjoyment that is often so vital for a text to have that fizz that your read is looking for. And sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve got books in back drawers that nobody will ever get to read. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth writing them.
The Final solution: Shelf it
And if all that doesn’t work, shelf it. Over the years I’ve taken several cracks at the same idea in different periods of my life. The great thing about this is that because you’re still interested in it later on, you know it’s actually a great idea. (A playwright once told me he let an idea bounce around in his head for at least 6 months before committing it to paper, just to make certain it was actually a good one).
Nor do you have to shelf the whole idea. Sometimes only the part that isn’t working but you’re not willing to delete because you invested so much work needs to be shelved. So go ahead and put it in another folder and then recycle it later on in other projects.
I’ve even found that highlighting the parts I particularly liked worked well, so that they were easier to find when I was in the middle of another project and wanted to use something from one of the shelfed projects. Heck, occasionally using one of the shelfed project has pulled me out of the writers’ block I’m experiencing with the one I’m working on! Now isn’t that just a sweet thought, using one writers’ block to solve another?