I've been there a lot this past year.
You're on a roll and it's all going so well. Until, you stop to consider how well you're doing. And wonder how you can keep it up for the rest of the week. And how much more you have left to do.
Suddenly, it's there, large and looming -- that bully writer's block. And it's laughing in your face. "Get nice and cosy," it grins. "We're going to be spending a lot of time together."
Okay, so your writer's block may not be quite so rude. But none of us like being there. No one does.
Wouldn't it be great, though, if you had a ready made list of ways to eliminate that pesky problem in a jiffy?
Well, my friends, keep reading, because that's exactly what I'm going to give you. My top 6 ways to kick writer's block to the curb.
1/ Do more research
For me personally, writer's block occurs most often when I'm lacking information (although this is only obvious in hindsight!) If you’re writing a story, this could be a key piece of the plot, or information about a specific character, or something that sheds light on a part of plot you didn’t even realise was missing. If you’re writing an article or other non-fiction piece, it could be that you haven’t done enough background research for your project. Whatever you are working on, not having a full picture will hold you back, whether you're aware of the problem, or not.
When writing a fiction first draft I tend to just wing it. I don’t know where I’m going, but I trust the muse to figure it out, piece by piece as I go along. The problem with being a pantser, though, (see the age old pantsers vs plotters debate) is that at some point, you will inevitably hit a solid brick wall. Now, you could call it writer’s block and wait for the problem to go away by itself. Or, you could do some digging. Ask yourself questions. Do some brainstorming and make odd connections. What happens next? What if the last thing I expect to happen next, happens? I’ve learned through experience that on many occasions, what I would once call writer’s block can be easily solved this way.
Sometimes, though, you just don’t know the answer yet. And if you’re really truly stuck, then the worst thing you can do is stew on a problem. In this case, the best thing you can do is move on. Try not to stress too much over one particular element of a project. You can always go back to it at a later date.
2/ Switch to handwritten
There's something magical about good ol' pen and paper. It's underrated and now commonly seen to be the outdated method of writing, what with so many other, simpler options available to us. But the truth is, there's much more to it than that. You may not believe me. That's quite okay. I urge you to try it yourself and find out. After all, it's natural to think, 'aren't I just making more work for myself, having to type everything up again at the end of the day?' Maybe. But would it be worth it if the words flowed like water in a tap?
Handwriting is a sensory experience. There's the feel of the paper brushing against your hand, the smell of the paper. The weight of a good pen resting between your fingers. Maybe even the smell of the ink on the page, depending on what kind of pen you use. When you write a word down on paper, you are far more likely to commit it to memory than if you had simply typed it on a keyboard. And then there's the fact that it forces the brain to slow down and really think about the content you're coming up with.
3/ Skip straight to the good parts
Have you ever thought to yourself, "This scene/subject really needs to be in this piece. So why, oh why can't I bring myself to write it?" I know I have. You have a specific thing in mind. You have vision. And yet, you've still reached the point where each word feels like a single trickle of blood squeezed from a paper cut in your finger. And you need a damn bucketful.
(Do you feel queasy? I'm sorry. #notsorry)
It can be difficult not to fixate on specific areas that feel important to us, especially when we think it's where we need to be. But if you're going nowhere fast and the words just won't flow, it may be time to put that pesky scene on hold. Go back to your project's roots. What made you want to write this piece in the first place? How did that initial idea make you feel? If a specific part or scene makes you feel excited to write, start there.
4/ Do something equally creative
Being ambitious is not a bad thing. But it’s all too easy to forget that we're human beings with both physical and emotional limits. Occasionally, we expect too much of ourselves. When we pump our creative wells dry (see 31 Ways to Reinspire the Muse, Parts 1, 2 and 3) it often has the opposite effect and, very quickly, we can become creatively blocked.
As a direct result, our writing suffers. In other words, our efforts fail to match the expectations we have set for ourselves. Now, you could take a step back, accept that writer’s block has sunk its overgrown talons in and will only let go when it’s good and ready. Or, you could work on something equally creative while you wait. Do a finger painting, make a collage, write a diary entry. Do something that you won’t take too seriously and can have a little fun with. A creative splurge, so to speak. And it doesn’t even have to have anything to do with writing. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at the difference a change in attitude can make to that brick wall.
5/ Emotionally commit yourself
Sometimes, it's fear that holds us back. Yes, you're clearly committed to your project. You're reading an article on shifting writer's block. You're being proactive. But I don't just mean physically committing yourself to spending time on your chosen piece, or the act of working towards a specific goal. I'm talking about emotionally committing yourself.
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader" -- Robert Frost
For example, the novel I'm currently redrafting, Crimson Touch, began life in one of the darkest periods of my life to date. In order to revise this book and take it to the next level, I had to revisit those demons years after they were put to bed, and embrace the negative emotions attached to the words. This held me back for a long time. But once I'd committed myself both physically and emotionally, signing up for the full package, I smashed those barriers.
Was it hard? Yes.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
My point is, fear often holds us back from giving our best. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown. But unless you start taking some risks, you'll never quite live up to your own high expectations. After all, failure is proof that we tried. Rejection is proof that we put ourselves out there, despite being advised not to. And the unknown? Well, it's only unknown for as long as we avoid it.
6/ Push on regardless and refuse to give in
Sometimes, you just have to push through writers block. Sometimes, there are no short cuts or quick fixes. If all else has failed you, then it may be time to simply knuckle down, despite any discomfort you feel and write anyway. Write anything. It doesn't matter if what you write is bad. It doesn't have to be something you keep. It doesn't even have to be seen by anyone but you, as its purpose is purely to keep the words flowing. You may find that just the mere act of writing, even when the words don't come so easily, will help to shift that mental blockage.
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Author of bite-sized stories, with debut novel Crimson Touch out 2019.