Last updated on September 9, 2016
First rule of writer’s block? Don’t let it defeat you. You can overcome it and stay prolific.
There are a million reasons why it happens and you’re not alone. We’ve all hit it at some point, but the thing to remember is, the way you approach writer’s block is your ticket out of it.
Let’s be honest, we even do it to ourselves. We psych ourselves out and convince ourselves we suck and then we’re stuck. It’s tough finding a way around that monument-sized hurdle. Sometimes, we get lucky and some fairy dusted chance encounter or happening comes along that snaps us out of it, so we can move forward. Sometimes, it’s as simple as we wrote ourselves into a corner to flounder in a sea of uncertainty not knowing why we can’t continue. Awash in feelings of inadequacy, we convince ourselves we really weren’t that talented to begin with and allow writer’s block be our excuse for giving up. You know what I’m saying. You know people who’ve done it.
Sounds like a lot of doom and gloom, but let’s be realistic. In the life of a career writer, there are going to be days or weeks where every word you write down isn’t brilliant. Occupational hazard. Frustrating when it happens, but wouldn’t it be nice to make that magical thing that breaks the writer’s block happen on purpose? I prefer to rely on myself rather than some external force I don’t control.
Screw the muse. She’s a fickle bitch, anyway. Be in control of it, because you can. Add these to your writer toolbox and bust them out when your writer’s block has you backed into a corner.
6 Ways To Blast Writer’s Block
Re-read – You read that right. Re-read what you’ve written, right from the beginning. Yeah, it’s simple and no, don’t turn your nose up at it, because it seems too simple. It’s actually one of the easiest ways to get unstuck. Why? The reality is, your brain is a pretty magical thing all by itself. It’s the part of you that made you a writer from birth instead of a bricklayer or a bus driver and we take for granted how it works. The good part is, you don’t need to understand it so much as trust it will do the job for you. The magic is already in you.
As a writer, your brain is constantly making connections and weaving ideas together in the background, most of the time without you being aware of it until it comes out and you start writing something. Use that. Go back and re-read what you’ve written, right from the first word, and read it as a reader, not a writer. Tell yourself the story. Without the pressure of being a writer in that moment, focus on the storyline, let yourself be drawn in. Some interesting things will happen.
That thing you do with every other story or film on the planet? You know, where you pick out the plot holes that you fill with whatever more logical story element you picked up on? Don’t deny it, we all do it. Turn that on yourself. Writing is always an exercise in expansion and contraction. When I start a long piece, I let myself write it until I run out of plot. When I hit that point, I know I didn’t lay enough groundwork in the first part of my story. Then I go back to the beginning, read the entire thing, find where I need to expand to sustain further story, and add more elements.
What kind of elements? The possibilities are endless if you don’t hem yourself in. Don’t be stubborn about sticking with the original thread. Going into a story, you may think you understand where it’s going and have it all figured out. When you force yourself to write within the parameters of whatever you started with, you cut yourself off from other more interesting avenues. Don’t do that. Be the creative entity you are and trust that the story will take you where it needs to go. Let it happen. Trust me, your subconscious is smarter than you. When you re-read with an open mind and accept the story as it comes to you, you’ll be more effective in identifying the parts that caused the writer’s block, all those narrow places that didn’t leave enough room for further development.
Don’t be stubborn
Cause problems – That character who seems too good to be true? Give them a character flaw that will create later conflict. Conflict moves the story forward and creates avenues of resolve. If characters don’t have problems to solve, you have no story. Everyone must have a purpose, tasks to perform, riddles to solve, wrongs to right, worlds to conquer. It’s the most essential component of your storytelling. Maybe the person in the first half of the story who was the most helpful should actually have an underlying dark motivation and is a villain in disguise? Plot twist with lots of added conflict there. Maybe a secondary character only appears to be so and is actually scheming in the background and their story bursts through only partway through the story to become a major player?
Really, it doesn’t matter what you add, but it’s that you allow yourself the latitude to be creative enough to do so. Being stubborn about a story, because you originally wanted it to go a certain way is never a good idea. These things take on a life of their own and when you attempt to exert your will over them, it constricts their natural growth. Your stories are living things – let them develop in their own way.
Switch projects – I don’t know about you, but I usually have forty-eleven projects on the go in various stages of creation. When I top-out on one and can’t easily find a resolve or new element to add, I step away and work on something else. This is in no way giving up. It’s allowing your magical writer brain to continue working on that one single problem while you don’t allow it to hold you back.
Cut yourself some slack. Just because you couldn’t figure out a writer’s block solution in one moment doesn’t mean you won’t figure it out in a week or a month or a year. Moving on to another project allows you to continue producing, which is what it’s all about. Have a blog? Switch gears and write a few blog posts ahead. Had a new story idea scribbled down? Take it for a spin and see how far you can go on that one. Focussing in a completely different direction frees up your subconscious, so it can do its job. Again, you have to allow it.
Even as I sit here typing this post, when I look up on top one of my shelves I see a manuscript box with an entire completed sci-fi manuscript in it that needs “something” and another box with a fully completed fantasy that isn’t sitting quite right. They’ve been sitting there for over ten years. Am I worried about it? No, because I know at some point, my subconscious is going to kick me in the head with the solution. If you’re a newer writer, this might surprise you, but it’s a common happening for most career writers, so don’t be so hard on yourself.
Brainstorm – Writing a certain way for long periods of time and thinking that’s the only way to do it can result in feeling trapped or boxed in and the box causes the writer’s block. So try a different approach. Brainstorm in point form, free associate, make a list of action words that can move your characters along.
How about writing out the dilemma and talking it out to yourself in writing? Seriously, I’ve done it. Not having anyone to bounce ideas off, I’ve resorted to talking it out to myself in the middle of a manuscript, journal-style. We all have a split personality anyway (if you deny it, you’re totally lying), and writing as if you’re speaking with your other half, or the universe even, can lead us to the solution on occasion. I like to think of it as accessing the subconscious, that part of my brain that’s much smarter than I am and giving him a platform to speak. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!
Change your environment – If you haven’t really written yourself into a corner and the writer’s block stems from feeling all your words are falling flat, move locations. It’s the simplest thing, but can often inject life back into yourself. If you usually write at a desk on a keyboard, do something completely different and sit on the couch and write long hand for a while. Or in the backyard. Sit in the park or a coffee shop – yeah, it’s cliché, but if that’s all it takes to get the job done, who cares?
Walk it off – When you’ve written yourself into a corner, sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to step back. Buried so deep you no longer see the forest for the trees is the time to grab a new perspective. When your writer’s block won’t budge, push yourself away from your desk and go for a walk. Don’t think about the story and clear your head to gain a new perspective.
Any activity that frees up brain space is a worthwhile go-to. Play a board game, play a first-person shooter video game and burn off some frustration. Play Frisbee catch with the dog, read a book in a different genre, re-organise your bookshelf or the garage, go for a jog or bake a pie. Whatever you like to do that doesn’t involve writing and puts your attention elsewhere is what can often allow your subconscious to continue its espionage work to solve your problem.