You’ve been popping out words like a champ, but suddenly you hit a wall, and no matter how hard you scrabble at the bricks, words just aren’t coming out of it.
Uh oh, it’s Writer’s Block.
What is Writer’s Block, really?
n. A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.
You likely have one of two problems:
- Trouble continuing a current work, or
- Not being able to start a new one.
The most common causes are:
- You subconsciously recognise a problem with your current work,
- You are grasping for ideas, or
- You are not motivated or engaged with your work.
These problems are functionally the same: You are staring at the screen or paper, and nothing is being written. Much like erectile dysfunction, the longer you worry about it the more difficult it becomes to solve.
So how do you beat Writer’s Block?
1: Really, don’t panic.
You’ll write again, so don’t worry about it. If you aren’t writing right now, worrying about it isn’t going to make words spew forth, so just relax.
2: Get away from the computer.
Take a walk, go to the gym, do your shopping. Take your mind off writing and let your subconscious do its thing. When you least expect it your solution may just bubble to the surface without your bidding.
3: Words in, Words out.
All things need input to produce output. Read voraciously. Read books in your genre, read books outside of your genre. Pick up a magazine about a subject you know nothing about and read it cover to cover. Watch films you wouldn’t normally consider seeing. Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby. Visit places. Become a tourist in your own town. Read news from multiple outlets, especially about the same incidents.
Every little nugget of information, story, personality or place that you absorb will refuel your story bank, and your brain will stir away at this until it spews out ideas like no tomorrow. Do this constantly rather than as emergency rations and your brain will be an orchard of creativity that you can pluck from at any time.
Writer’s Block is nothing more than a finger in the dike of your creativity. Pour in so many words that the finger is heaved out.
4: Physician, Heal Thyself.
Eat well. Exercise. Remain well-hydrated. Your brain gobbles up most of your daily calories, and more oxygen than any other single organ in your entire body. It’s a greedy bastard, and if you starve it, it will fail to function at full capacity.
Move about to keep those nutrients flowing to the brain. Don’t sit at the keyboard for 12 hours straight drinking only Mountain Dew and eating a cookie.
5: Do Writing Exercises.
Google some, buy a book filled with them, whatever floats your boat. Take your mind off writing your story and put it toward writing something you wouldn’t have thought of.
This is really an extension of point 3, and a way of dragging the chubby finger of writer’s block out of your dike if it’s refusing to leave voluntarily. We’re watching you, chubby finger!
6: Find and join a Writing Group.
There are several online, but really the best writing groups meet in person. Chatting online does not engage your brain the way that social contact does, and it’s hard enough for full-time writers to get social contact as it is. Writing groups challenge you to learn, they push you out of your comfort zone, and there is nothing so invigorating as spending a couple of hours in a room with other writers all discussing the craft. Trust me.
7: Work on the Problem.
If you’re stuck halfway through a story, it could be that you haven’t worked out where it’s going, or you lack information about characters involved in the story, so go back to square one. Where is this story going? Who are these people? What would they do in this situation, and why? Did you create an outline before you began? If not, go do one right away, even if you think you’re not an outliner.
Put your nose to the grindstone and treat it like an office job. Don’t give your brain excuses to slack off and weasel out of it.
8: Blindside Yourself.
Do you normally create outlines? Try ditching the outline and going for broke.
Do you normally write stream-of-consciousness? Put that aside and figure out an outline.
Do you write in the mornings, before lunch? Try after lunch instead, or even the evenings.
Do you fiddle about online while you write? Then stop that, and see if it boosts your productivity. Unplug the router if you don’t think you have the willpower.
Get outside of your regular routine and see if the change of scenery helps jiggle things along.
9: Is something else going on?
Sometimes, none of the above is the problem. Depression, stress, worry, distraction; all these things are creativity’s natural enemies. Don’t be at all surprised if you find it difficult to write during illness, financial troubles, the death of a loved one, the aftermath of a traumatic incident, or while your ex is threatening to sue you for everything you own. Your brain is prioritising for survival, and popping out ten thousand words on your novel won’t keep you alive, so it gets bumped down your internal list of needs.
Take the time you need to work through whatever is consuming your life right now. Writing will always be here for you when you come back.
That’s all there is to it.
Stop worrying, consume words and experiences, and challenge yourself. If it seems simple, that’s because it is.
You can and will get writing again.