5 March 2009 - 8:08 pm

Tackling Writer’s Block

Some writers deny that writer’s block exists. Some writers never experience that awful blankness when searching for the next word to put down, the next idea to make this piece the wonderful shape that we had in our heads when we sat down.

Other writers will tell you that they have struggled with it many times. They will tell stories of when they hit a wall in the middle of what was otherwise an easy flow of words and plot. It affects every writer differently, but it is still a common occurrence for those of us who regularly try to weave ideas and images into words in a page.


What is writer’s block?

It’s that awful feeling you get when you sit down before your scribing equipment of choice and nothing wants to flow. You know plenty of words, but none that will fit, or work, or come out. Fingers hover over keys, becoming more familiar with the feel of the touch-typing markers on the keyboard rather than actually typing anything. Or the pen waggles back and forth without coming into contact with the page and making meaningful patterns.

No matter what you do, that next word just won’t come. It might be the first word – it might be the terror of the blank page, staring belligerently back at you. Or it could be a wall that has suddenly arisen in the middle of a piece, and you can’t find the next step no matter how much you grope for it.


How do you beat it?

There are several ways that you can tackle writer’s block. Not all of these will work for you – it is a case of experimenting until you find what works for you. Here are some of the methods of getting past the blockage for you to try:


Just Write

One thing you can do is just write anyway. It doesn’t matter if it’s awful, it doesn’t matter if doesn’t make sense. Just get some words down and push on through that blockage. This is the brute force approach; often, the less you think about it, the better. Setting yourself a word count goal can help with this.

This is the method that NaNoWriMo is based on. Don’t let yourself get hung up on details or on plot, just write through anyway. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you find yourself caught up in the flow again, and you can always come back and fix it later.


Skip Past the Wall

Can’t write a particular scene? Not sure how to open a piece? Skip it. Write a different scene, start in a different place, and go from there. You can always come back and fill in the gap later, when things are flowing better. Don’t let yourself get hung up on one particular spot, and don’t let the wall stop you from writing the rest of the story.

Similarly, you can work on a different part of the project such as doing research or fleshing out character backgrounds. This can also be a good way to loosen up the words to put down next.


Walk Away

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is stop trying. If you spend too much time fighting with the wall, it’s easy to lose perspective and get too caught up in the fight to be able to write anything. So walk away from it. Not permanently – this is not a suggestion to give up on your piece as a lost cause. This is about taking a break from it, mentally and physically.

Play a game, watch a movie. Go out and have dinner with some friends. Bake like there’s no tomorrow. Buy yourself something shiny, read a book. Do something completely unrelated and try not to think about the writing project that is giving you so much trouble. Don’t return to the project until you know what you’re going to write next.

This is often when solutions sneak out of the woodwork and surprise you. When you’re in the grip of something that doesn’t bear any relation to what you’re working on, an idea will pop into your head and all of a sudden you can’t wait to get home and put it into practice. This sounds unlikely, but it can work!


Write Something Else

Similar to skipping past the wall and walking away, take a break from your writing project by writing something else. This keeps your pen in practice and allows your brain to disengage from that battle for a while.

I find that writing exercises are great for generating creative juices and getting things flowing again. It’s also good to do exercises that work different writing muscles (yes, you do have them).

Alternatively, you can try switching to a different project for a while. Maybe you’ve got something that needs to be edited, or a new project still in the planning stage that you can work on. Or even something else idling in the background that needs to be written. Do some of that, and come back to your main project refreshed!


Get Someone Else Involved

I find that bouncing ideas around with my friends is a great idea to regain enthusiasm for a project. I have a great circle of writing friends who love nothing better than this kind of thing, and I often come away with fresh ideas that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. I usually can’t wait to get home and start writing!

If you can find one in your area, join a writing group (I should probably do a post about what to look for in a writing group). If you can’t find one, start one! (Not for the faint-hearted, but I have started three and love it.) Alternatively, there are good online writing communities with lots of people ready and willing to help out and offer advice.


Those are the tools that I’ve used or had recommended to me by various authors. The most important thing is not to give up – you can get past writer’s block. You just need to find the method that works for you!

Remember, you’re not alone in your struggle with writer’s block, and you can get past it. I hope that these tips are helpful. If you have any other tactics for tackling writer’s block, let me know!

Good luck, and happy writing.

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