How to Conquer Writer’s Block
Have you ever stared at a fresh, new document in frustration because the words just wouldn’t come? Not the dreaded writer’s block. No, anything but that. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get your fingers to perform the chorus of taps you need.
These two little words evoke fear in the hearts of many brave warrior writers, causing them to spiral down into a swirl of anxiety and self-doubt. It’s a writer’s worst nightmare.
While some claim that there is no such thing as “writer’s block,” the fact is that if you’re reading this article, you probably feel it’s real and that’s enough for me. Perhaps your well of inspiration has run dry. It isn’t “all in your head” and it isn’t an imagined curse.
The good news is that there is a remedy.
I think of writing in terms of flow—a steady, continuous stream of ideas being put into a document. Now, sometimes a flow can get stuck, just like a river can be stopped by a variety of blockades.
So, what is the solution?
Remove the barrier and get the flow moving again.
Write something, anything
My main remedy for writer’s block is to write.
Okay, I realized that might sound oversimplified. The truth is, solutions to problems don’t have to be complicated. The best ones are usually very straightforward.
If your creative well is dry, then you may need to prime the pump. Simply flowing words onto paper might just unstick you and pull you out of the stagnant doldrums.
Find something you can write about very easily and just let yourself go. Don’t think about your current project. Your job is to simply get words out so you can get the river of words flowing again.
A few ideas
If you’re stuck for ideas of things you can write about, here are some suggestions:
- Compose an old-fashioned letter or an email to a close friend. Share a recent experience you know she’d enjoy.
- Write in a personal journal you know no one will ever see.
- Pen an article for a blog, sharing advice with your readers about something you know a lot about. If you don’t have a blog, now is a good time to start one.
Even short pieces can help you get back into the swing of writing. You can write out a detailed to-do list, post messages on your favorite social media sites, jot down notes for your roommate or spouse, etc.
It really doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you put words on paper. Remember, writers write.
It’s in their blood.
It’s in your blood.
Note: It’s worth mentioning that reading can also help you write. If you’re stuck, try reading a book you really enjoy. You may become inspired!
Plotters versus pantsers
I’ve recently learned that in the writing world there are “plotters” and “pantsers.” Yeah, this was news to me, too. These terms describe authors who “plot” out an outline or those who “fly by the seats of their pants” and develop their story as they go.
In case we haven’t met, Hi, I’m Laura Sherman the Friendly Ghostwriter, a dyed-in-the-wool plotter. I blog a lot about how to outline a book. I can’t even begin to write a short story without a detailed road map of where I’m going. It would be a hot mess. I’d be a hot mess.
I realize that not everyone is a plotter. Many great writers are pantsers. That’s fine. Some of my best friends are pantsers.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that you can always switch from one method to the other mid-stream. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your membership card to your team. No, if you are a pantser, you can secretly plot out the rest of the book and see if that helps you steer your way out of your writer’s block. Or, if you are a plotter, you can diverge from your outline to free flow a section just to get your creative juices going.
Plotters, adjust your outline
Now, if you’re a plotter like me and you find that you’re stuck, it could be that the writer’s block you’re experiencing is simply your common sense saying that you’ve headed in the wrong direction. If the words don’t fly off the keyboard, go back and make sure you’re on board with the direction of the story. It can be an easy fix; just make some adjustments to your outline.
A book can be boiled down to a series of incidents. I often create my outline by listing all the events that will occur in chronological order. However, where an outline can fail is when the purpose of each individual incident isn’t specified or understood.
With fledgling writers, I’ve found this to be a common problem. They’ve created a spectacular scene, but ultimately discover that it really has no purpose in the book they are creating. It just doesn’t tie into their themes.
If this happens to me, I toss it from the current project and save it in a file for future use in a different story.
As a side note, if you find that you’re bored with a scene, but it is vital for your story, just sketch it out and move on. You can spice it up in editing. Your immediate goal is to get a good rough draft under your belt.
Give yourself a break; it’s a first draft
I’ve seen too many new writers spiral into vortex of self-invalidation regarding their first drafts. One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for them is to just bang out the first draft and don’t edit.
Your first draft is the rough draft. The goal is to get your ideas out of your head and onto the page.
The first draft won’t be perfect.
It might even be ugly.
Save editing for the editing stage of the process. Don’t edit as you write. The first draft should have tons of typos and errors. Mine always are littered with them.
You write, you fix, you write, you edit, you write, you go back three pages and re-read it all, maybe even deleting whole paragraphs.
You sit back and ask, “Is it perfect?”
Ack! Now what? Stop writing.
If this is what’s happening with you, it could explain your “writer’s block.” The above scenario can become very choppy very quickly, because the sequence of actions is confused. You should write, write, write, write the first draft until it is complete. Then, and only then, do you take out the proverbial red pen and edit. Or hire an outside editor to help you. I’ve written an article about the different kinds of editors you might consider hiring. There are quite a few.
Yes, writing a book calls for a leap of faith. So, close your eyes, let go of any preconceived notions, and just start typing. You’ll be amazed at what may come to you if you just allow yourself to create.
Can’t find the right word?
If you’re stuck on finding the exact word or phrase to describe something, don’t obsess over it. Sure, Google the word for synonyms or pull out your trusty thesaurus, but if nothing really works, put down something as a place holder and move on.
Personally, if a word eludes me, I know it won’t be for long. When I move away from it, it never fails to pop into my mind, sometimes in the shower. It’s kind of the same with recalling names:
Who was that woman at the party with the cheese plate?
You know, the one with brown hair and glasses…
Then, a little bit later, while I’m washing the dishes…bam! It comes to me. It was Sarah Jones.
So, whatever you do, please don’t waste hours staring at the blank screen, trying to retrieve the exact right phrasing now. It will come to you. Later.
Surround yourself with supportive people
Sometimes writer’s block goes deeper than the writing process. Some writers fall prey to their “inner critic,” which is basically the voice inside your head telling you that what you’re doing is not good enough. Being blunt, critics aren’t my favorite class of people.
If you’re taking on the role of your worst critic, it can paralyze you to the point where you can’t write at all. There is absolutely no benefit to cutting yourself into shreds. Show your inner critic to the door of your mind and ask it to leave.
One very real cause of writer’s block can derive from peers who discredit your abilities. If you have helpful friends who jokingly tell you, “Hey, Joe, don’t quit your day job!” this can be damaging to you as a writer. The only purpose of such comments is to get you to stop writing. Don’t seek advice from these people. Surround yourself with supportive people who have your best interests at heart, people who want to see you succeed.
This isn’t to say that constructive criticism isn’t very helpful to a new (or an experienced) writer. Every writer can always improve and grow. I personally LOVE it when some kind soul writes in to tell me I have a typo in a blog article or gives me tips on my writing. It’s quite wonderful!
When you’re trying to sort out whether someone’s feedback is helpful or not, the trick is to look at the intention behind the comment and really observe how it makes you feel. That will help you figure out where to file the suggestion. If the critique leaves you feeling good about yourself, listen to it. If you feel like you’re a poser who should never write again, toss the advice and the friend.
As a writer you are engaged in one of the most amazing activities in the world: creating. It’s a wonderful and impressive ability that you have!
Now, that’s not to say that writing isn’t hard work. It has its challenges.
Writer’s block can be a bump in the road. But rest assured that it is a small bump that can be handled fairly smoothly. With a bit of experimentation, you can find the actions that will help turn things around. And if the remedy works once, it will probably work again. Soon, there will be no stopping you.
If you need advice or help in the area of writer’s block, please don’t hesitate to email me!
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