What To Do When Writer’s Block Hits
It happens to every writer at some point, and it’s the bane of our existence. Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, long or short form, writer’s block can strike at any time.
There’s a school of thought that writer’s block doesn’t actually exist, and people who claim to have writer’s block are just lazy, unproductive wannabes. These people are wrong, and can meet me behind the swings after school and fight me on this.
People who work in creative fields know that it takes a lot — and I mean A LOT — of energy to make something out of nothing, so it’s normal that some days the creativity doesn’t flow.
There are a bunch of reason why writers get blocked. Here are a few of them and suggestions on ways to overcome them, though keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, and your reasons for being blocked might be something completely different.
You’ve Written Yourself Into A Corner
This is pretty common with pantsers or discovery writers (those who write without an outline), though it can happen to planners, too (those who write with a plan or structure in mind). Perhaps in an attempt to spice things up, you put your character in a fight to the death, and is now cornered by your villain with no escape, or you realized that your character needs a certain trait in order to solve a mystery or [insert your unique plot problem here].
It’s okay. Take a breath. This happens all the time.
First, take a break by walking away from the story. Let your brain churn the problem over by doing something mundane, like washing the dishes, or tackling that pile of laundry that’s been sitting there for ages. Take a shower. My best ideas always come to me in the shower.
Next, read your manuscript from the beginning to see where you went off track. Is there something that you changed without knowing it? Did you put your character in a situation that you weren’t intending?
Some writers don’t believe in going back to edit a first draft. They’ll tell you to plow through and change it later, but I don’t believe that’s right for every writer. It’s okay to go back and make these big developmental edits now because it’ll help get your story straight, if only for yourself. And if it’s straight in your head, you’re more likely to finish the first draft.
You Have A Better Idea (Shiny New Idea Syndrome)
This isn’t really a “block,” but I wanted to include it because it can stop us from finishing a project nonetheless. This happens to all authors at some point. You’ve lost that loving feeling for your project, and you’re looking at all the shiny new ideas that seem so much better right now.
I’m going through this myself right now. My third book in my mystery series is almost done, but a small little paranormal romance book voice keeps nagging at me, begging me to write it, distracting me from my mission. What’s a writer to do?
The only way to shut that shiny new idea up is to take a day and write it. Get those characters on the page, write the plot idea out, write a short synopsis, or even start chapter one. Whatever you need to do to get the story out of your system, do it. Ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away.
But here’s the tricky part: get back to your main project as soon as it’s out! That’s why it’s important to only take a day AT MOST to get the shiny new idea out of your system. Once the idea is out, it doesn’t look so shiny and new anymore, so you can get back to your main story and tuck that idea away for later.
Drag yourself to your desk, even if you’re kicking and screaming. Open your manuscript. Start reading the last paragraph you wrote. Do you know what’s happening next? Great. Now, write one word. Then another. Keep going. That’s it, you’re doing it!
Like going to the gym, sometimes the hardest part is just getting there. Once you have the manuscript open and you’re reading your work, you’re more than likely going to start getting into it, and pretty soon you’ve written an entire chapter.
Writing a book is a big commitment, and it’s natural for it to feel like a slog sometimes. But getting up, opening the manuscript and writing one word at a time is still making progress, no matter how small. And any progress is better than no progress.
But what if you don’t know what’s going to happen? Apply one of the other tactics from above, or write a short story from a different character’s perspective related to your project. This is a tactic that I discovered completely by accident.
In January of last year, I made a commitment to take part in an author anthology. However, as soon as I said yes to the project, I completely forgot about it. It wasn’t until August that I realized my story was due and I haven’t even thought about what I was going to write!
Since I was having trouble coming up with a plot for my third book in my mystery series, I decided to write the story set in the same world but with different characters. Seeing the world through different characters gave me the opportunity to go to different places, which reignited the spark I had for my mystery series.
The Creativity Well Is Dry
This what most people think of when it comes to writer’s block. This is when you just. can’t. write. anything. I know what this is like because I’m just coming out from a 2 year writer’s block due to personal issues. Sometimes, life and all it’s messy emotions get in the way, leaving us completely unable to string a sentence together.
This is serious, and it’s time to call in the big guns. You need a vacation from writing.
As writers, we’re told that we need to write every day, lest our creativity muscles atrophy. But any gym bro will tell you that you need rest days for your muscles to actually grow.
Take a break. Not just for a day, but for a few days, a week, a month. Maybe even a year. Go do something else. Go outside, talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to, try a hobby that you’ve been putting off, or just binge some Netflix. It’s okay. You need time to fill up your creativity well because right now, it’s dry as hell.
“But Stephen King/Nora Roberts [insert your choice of famous writer] writes every day,” you say?
Are you Stephen King? Nora Roberts? If so, OMG I’M SUCH A HUGE FAN!
More than likely you’re not, so let me hit you with a hard truth: Stephen King has been a published writer longer than I’ve been alive, and I’m very close to middle age! Same with Nora Roberts. They’ve had enough time to practice. Their creativity muscles are the Arnold Schwarzenegger of writing. It takes time and dedication to get to their level, so why do we think we can emulate them right out of the gate?
It’s nice to have something to aspire to; it’s okay to have authors that we want to be like. But, let’s be a little more realistic about where we are in our writing careers. I have 2 (working on the third) books published, which is nowhere near the 63 (according to Google) books Stephen King has out, and is only a fraction of the 200 books by Nora Roberts (HOW?).
We forget that writing is kind of like magic. We literally create something from nothing. Our worlds and characters are completely made up, having pulled it from the ether through inspiration and sheer will alone, and are existing only in words. It takes A LOT of mental capacity to write a story, and we need to give ourselves a break sometimes.