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Writer’s Block, Schmiter’s Block

Posted on: 18th Nov 2014  /   Categorized: Writing Tips

I cannot believe that I’ve never done a blog post about writer’s block. I mean, that’s writer-blogger 101, isn’t it? Everyone’s done a post on writer’s block!

 

But I couldn’t find one in my archives, and it’s a pretty timely topic during NaNoWriMo, so . . . all right then. Let’s do this!

 

First, a caveat:

 

There are lots of brilliant resources out there that get to the heart of real writer’s block. How it’s a psychological issue. Why it’s a problem that faces many creative-types. Why it often stems from emotional conflicts, such as perfectionism, depression, outside pressure, and on and on.

 

If writer’s block is something that plagues you often or has had its claws in you for an extended period of time, it might be related to a larger issue, and I definitely recommend doing more research into it and finding solutions that deal with the heart of the problem.

 

For me, personally—this is not something I’ve ever suffered from. Generally when I’m struggling, I know it’s temporary. Maybe I’m tired, or I’m distracted, or my WIP is giving me trouble, or I’m just not feeling the love that day. And I’ve found that, generally, when someone says they have “writer’s block,” it tends to be these shallower sort of problems they’re referring to.

 

Which is what I’m talking about in this post: Simple solutions and strategies for getting yourself writing again. Not the real writer’s block, which I will leave to the experts and those writers who have experience with it.

 

 

Thou Shalt Not Say “I Have Writer’s Block”

 

First things first. Banish the words from your vocabulary!

 

Real writer’s block, to me, is the inability to write. Period. And really, how many of us are ever incapable of writing? If I asked you to write a single sentence on your current WIP, could you do it? Yes? Well okay, then. No writer’s block here!

 

I’m not meaning to be flippant, but think about it. When you say “I have writer’s block” (Translation: “I’m not capable of writing!”) then you are giving yourself an easy excuse to not write. The result: You don’t write. Then you feel like a loser for not writing, which makes you even more convinced of your writer’s block, and so on. It’s a downward spiral.

 

And why would you give writer’s block that power over you?

 

Say: I’m tired. Say: I’m having trouble focusing today. Say: I don’t know what happens in this next chapter.

 

And then say: But I know that’s normal, and I have strategies for dealing with it.

 

 

 

My Favorite Strategies for Getting Un-Stuck

 

 

Strategy #1: Make Tiny Goals

For me, I find that getting started is the most difficult part of writing on a consistent basis. Every single day we are faced with distractions. Laundry, emails, television, etc. And if you never sit down and start writing, it’s really easy for an entire day to pass you by with no forward progress on the WIP.

 

And then another day goes by.

 

And then another.

 

When it seems impossible to sit down and get any writing done, I often motivate myself with itty bitty, teeny tiny goals.

 

Example: I am going to write a sentence.

 

That doesn’t sound so tough, does it?

 

And really, how long does it take to write a sentence? (Even if you factor in turning on your computer, opening your WIP, and scrolling to the bottom of the document, it’s still generally going to take less than a minute to accomplish this goal.)

 

Sentence—done! There. You’ve accomplished something. You’ve made progress on your WIP, and . . . I’m willing to bet that sentence is going to turn into a second sentence. And then another. And then maybe even another. Because getting started was the hardest part.

 

One sentence. You can do it.

 

 

Strategy #2: Word Sprints

I love word sprints. They are another great way to force yourself to sit down and get started without overthinking it. It isn’t about word counts. It’s about a set amount of time spent with your fingers on the keyboard, and you can do a word sprint in as little as five or ten minutes—perfect for when you just can’t seem to carve out any time in your busy life.

 

How it works is simple: You sit down and open up your WIP. You set a timer. (I like to do increments of 25 or 30 minutes, but really, this is up to you. Don’t make it too long, though, or it defeats the purpose.) Then you keep your fingers on your keyboard (or pen on paper) until the timer dings.

 

There is a racing-against-the-clock sensation that forces you to silence the inner editor and focus and write. You just might be surprised how much you can get done in short, focused writing bursts like this.

 

 

Strategy #3: Brainstorming on Paper

Now, the two above strategies work for me 90% of the time, because they give me the little push I need to get started.

 

Sometimes, though, getting started isn’t the problem. Sometimes I’m gung-ho and willing to write, but the book itself is being problematic. Maybe I’ve written myself into a corner. Or I’ve gone so far off my original outline that I have no idea what happens next. Or the characters have thrown a wrench into my master plan and now I’m floundering for what to do with them.

 

This is usually my queue to break out a pen and a notebook and start brainstorming. Studies have shown that we access a different part of our brain when we’re writing on paper versus on a computer, and I find that something almost always jogs loose once I switch it up.

 

What do I write? Well, that depends on what the problem is.

 

A lot of times, for me, my brainstorming will start with a rant. (Why is this book being so difficult?????) Then maybe I’ll start breaking down the problems, as I see them. (Jack was supposed to go to school so he and Jill could run against each other for school body president, but the stupid boy decided to skip school instead and is off gallivanting at the arcade—what a slacker! He’ll never win the vote this way!) Then, as my rant starts to run out of steam, I usually start throwing “What If” questions into the mix. (But what if Jack was able to win the vote anyway, even if he’s not there? What if his friend starts a rumor that he’s not at school because his grandma is dying, and he wins with a sympathy vote? Oh, and then Jill would be livid when she finds out the truth! And maybe Jack didn’t want to be president at all, and that’s why he skipped in the first place, and he’ll be so annoyed when he gets back to school and realizes he won!)

 

You get the point. I’ll keep going until I find a solution that I get excited about.  (Note: sometimes that solution involves going back and changing things earlier in the draft, but hey, that’s what revisions are for.)

 

 

Strategy #4: Take a Break (to be used with caution)

And then, some days, you just need to take a break. Some days our brains are being pulled in a million different directions and writing just isn’t a priority. Some days we’ve hit a creative wall and our brains feel like mush. Some days we’re in the middle of reading a great book and we just won’t be able to concentrate on our own work until we finish reading it.

 

I believe it’s healthy to take breaks. Go for a walk. Take a nice relaxing bath, or a nap. Occasionally, you may need to take off a day and just read or watch TV or spend time with your loved ones. Seriously. It’s allowed.

 

The key word, of course, is occasionally. This is not an excuse to procrastinate for weeks and weeks (because Marissa Meyer said it was okay!) –but take the time you need to recharge and re-motivate yourself.

 

Then get back to work, slacker!

 

 

(I hope you’re all having a great, inspiring National Novel Writing Month! Feel free to share your techniques for defeating “writer’s block” in the comments.)

11 Comments

  1. Anid commented on:

    As I was reading this, I kept going “Yes, yes, and yes, and yes…”
    Also, not mentioned, but prompts can be helpful too. I have yet to master the art of using them right, but Kobo sponsored a free ebook about prompts for NaNo participants and I’m totally using it on days when none of the scenes planned on my outline are appealing to me and I need a new situation to throw at my characters. It’s the funniest thing, when you’re not in the right mood to write a certain scene but you are totally down for a different scene. Oh well, as long as you’re writing something, it works.

  2. Melissa commented on:

    I saw a great tip that said to end your sessions with a half finished sentence. That way when you sit back down, you’re ready to go. It’s much easier to launch a scene with that head start.

  3. kayla commented on:

    Right now what is working for me is wordsprints. Im not good at planning normally so I’ve been sneaking my word sprints during my 15 minute breaks at work. It is saving my word count and its an awesome feeling since I know I just need to write for 15 minutes and physically CANT write longer.
    Or someone is going to have a problem…
    Good luck everybody!

  4. Q commented on:

    I love setting difficult but attainable daily goals (usually ~500 words), and then holding myself accountable for them. I have also heard that sticker charts work well (one sticker for ever 1000 words you write!) but I’m not crafty so I haven’t made one for myself. (Checkboxes on a spreadsheet work just as well for me.)

  5. Aimee commented on:

    This post came just in time for me, seeing as I’d put aside my Nano project to study for midterms and was unsure whether to even continue. I’ve definitely found that just *forcing* myself to write anything, anything at all, and making sure I write every day, kills writer’s block for me. Also, it helps me to figure out what’s next. Even if I don’t have a full outline, having a plan for the next scene or so really helps.

    My #1 biggest writer’s block killer: “Remember, it’s ok if this sucks. This sucks, but it’s better than nothing at all”!

  6. Diane commented on:

    Another form of word sprints that works wonderfully well for me is using Write or Die. It’s a download that costs $10 or $20 (I bought mine a few years back), but it is totally worth it to me. There are different settings you can choose to motivate you to keep writing. For instance, I prefer kamikaze mode and I set my word count at 500 words in 15 minutes; in this mode, if I stop writing for too long a period, the screen turns red and starts deleting my work, one word at a time. And when I meet the word/time goal, a royal trumpet blasts a short song of congratulations. It’s a temporary file where you’re writing, and then you can save it with a file name or just copy-and-paste it into your actual document. It’s amazing how the words flow when I’m afraid of losing them!

  7. Shannon commented on:

    I’m nodding my head as I’m reading this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    Strategy #3 – working on paper – has been a revelation for me. Paper and pen definitely help me access different ideas than the computer alone can. One thing I do when I have that paper and pen is draw. My drawing are NOT GOOD, but they are helpful. Sometimes when I’m stuck in a scene, I try to draw it and I end up discovering things I didn’t know about how a setting or character looks. Then, I can use my sketch to write some more specific description into the scene. Many times, a sketch has sparked productivity and excitement, when I was previously feeling stuck at the keyboard.

    Another thing I sometimes do when I get stuck is write the same scene from a different character’s perspective. Like a sketch, writing about a different character can help me discover things that I did not know before. Even if I don’t use the actual text in my manuscript, I can usually use something.

    Thank you again for the helpful post, Marissa. It’s always useful to hear that talented, published professionals have the same struggles as the rest of us.

  8. Tawney commented on:

    I totally needed this! I’ve had writer’s block with this NaNo WIP and it’s not going well. I really want the words and know what I want written…it just won’t come out. Thank you! I’m going to use these strategies.

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  11. Ellie commented on:

    I just usually umm………

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