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.)