I’ve heard many different opinions on Writer’s Block. Some people deny its existence while others say it is absolutely a real thing. Regardless of where you stand on the issue (I personally don’t deny it but don’t really believe in it either), there are times when writing is hard. Maybe impossible.
So, how do you overcome it?
Well, before we come up with some strategies to overcome the problem, it would be wise to understand what might be causing it. Let me list a few of the reasons I’ve had difficulty writing and then I will relay some of my own strategies to get past the problems.
Causes of Writer’s Block
- You don’t know what’s supposed to come next in the story: this seems to happen more to the pantsters out there. I have written stories where I didn’t know from one week to the next what was going to happen. That often left me scratching my head unable to continue.
- To tired to write: I have many demands on my time between work, family, writing and simply life. There are times when I simply cannot force myself to write. If I could only drag myself up I would be fine, but the floor is SO comfortable and the ceiling is equally interesting. There isn’t any motivation or energy to write and I don’t seem to have any means to find it.
- I know what I want to have happen but I don’t know how to write it: The paragraph/scene/chapter is hanging out there waiting to be written but I don’t know what POV to use or which character to include. I may have a certain set of emotions or mood I want to carry through but I have no idea how to do it. In situations like this, my mind is spinning but the writing isn’t happening. I likely am not sleeping and almost certainly I’m praying for death.
- Tired of the story: Maybe it is first draft or second revision but I can get tired of a story. Regardless, I’ve been too involved for far too long and I would rather do just about anything else. Like cut my own hair with that new cordless hedge trimmer I just bought.
- Don’t know what to write next: I’ve just finished one project and there are fifty more on the horizon. But which do I work on next? I could put the list into a hat and draw one out or I could use the dart board technique. I could even get creative and label dishes of food for my cat to see which he will eat from first. Whatever the answer, I’m frozen with indecision now and need guidance what to do next.
- I am quite possibly the biggest hack in the world: Why even bother writing. Nobody loves me, not even my dog. The writing I do is largely ignored or broadly pwned. My neighbor just confided in me that even his bird refuses to crap on my last book which currently sits on the bottom of its cage. Loathing of self is all I’m capable of achieving right now.
- The story is so personal I get too emotional to write it: I am caught in an endless loop of indecision about whether to write it or not and, when I attempt to write it, weeping and possibly curling up under the coffee table in the fetal position. The story both yearns to be told and HURTS in the telling.
Okay, I know that isn’t an exhaustive list of causes for Writer’s Block, but it is a list of reasons I’ve been faced with at one time or another. So, let’s soldier on and identify some strategies to overcome them.
Strategies to Overcome Writer’s Block
- You don’t know what’s supposed to come next in the story: I take a walk and think what would be the next logical step. It doesn’t always work, but it helps (It does raise the risk that I might get hit by a bus and never actually finish). I’ve also been known to think of how to make things even worse for my characters. There is nothing like an increase in tension to get the creative juices flowing. If that doesn’t work either, come up with your own personal meme to insert. I’m partial to rabid squirrels. How would my character act if attacked (suddenly) by a rabid squirrel. That event probably won’t have anything to do with the story, but it will get the action going. So what if that scene is throw-away in the end. It got you writing again, didn’t it?
- To tired to write: This is an easy trap to fall into and a tough one to get out of. I suppose you could promise yourself a reward if you Just. Pull. Yourself. Up. And. Write. Better make it good or it won’t work though. What do I do? Set a (small) goal. I will write fifty words and then I will be good. And then tomorrow I’ll do fifty more. What almost always ends up happening is that fifty becomes a thousand or two thousand. Just the act of sitting down to write the fifty is enough to get me going again.
- I know what I want to have happen but I don’t know how to write it: This can be a tough one and usually needs a few iterations to overcome. It can also be as simple as, pick a character and try writing the scene hoping it will work. You can fiddle with internal/external voice and who the character interacts with. I’ve tried simply writing different scenes and deciding which I like the best. I’ve also done bullet points of the scene with characters, setting and expected outcomes just so I can move onto the next scene/chapter. That usually allows me to move on and come back later when I have a better understanding of how to write it.
- Tired of the story: This is all about grit. True Grit, I suppose if you like John Wayne and Kim Darby (not to mention, Glen Campbell). It might be a matter of pulling up your socks and fighting through it (note: a deadline helps here – set one if you know you will stick to it). If you don’t have anything compelling forcing you to continue, maybe (and I hesitate a little to suggest this) move on to another story. Why I hesitate to suggest this is, if you move to something else, you might not come back to it. That would be bad. Finishing your stories is the only way to ever become a published author.
- Don’t know what to write next: Deadlines might help you decide…or whatever sold last. Maybe you have been asked for the next in a series. Whatever you do (even if it involves rolling dice), do it! Don’t stop writing for too long. Starting up again is hard!
- I am quite possibly the biggest hack in the world: the only way to get better is to write more. Suck it up, buttercup and keep practicing. You won’t get a prize for giving up. Oh, and eat the neighbor’s bird if you can get away with it. Highly therapeutic.
- The story is so personal I get too emotional to write it: Remember, not everything you write is meant for public consumption. Sometimes you write something because you NEED to! This might be the case. Capture everything inside that is bothering you and put it down in your writing. Keep it somewhere safe. If you ever need a character to feel like you are now, you will have the document to refer to. Just don’t let the indecision of whether to share or not stop you. That decision can always be made after you have written it.
I know this probably doesn’t cover EVERY possible reason for Writer’s Block (or, as I like to call it, “Can’t get the damn words down”) but it should give you some ideas how to combat many of them. The trick is to just keep at it, no matter what obstacles come.
Do you have any special tricks I missed? I’d love to hear from you.