[Updated September 20, 2018]
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a writer quite like these two words: Writer’s Block. Whether you’ve been writing for 20 days or 20 years, you’re likely to find yourself staring blankly at the computer screen eventually. But, what’s the solution?
In my writing journey, I’ve come across at least 8 things you can do right now to break through that feeling of emptiness and helplessness.
1. Find A Picture
Until I tried it, I never would have believed how helpful the visual arts could be in stimulating my writing. A year or two ago, I entered a flash fiction contest at the behest of a friend. The contest rules were simple: using a picture as inspiration (provided by the contest), craft a story in 250 words or less. The result was a story titled The Cascade of Talandri (it’s a little on the dark side…just FYI). I didn’t win the contest that year, but I learned an invaluable lesson. Now, when I’m stuck in a particular place in my work-in-progress, I’ll often search for images that evoke the mood or tone I’m trying to set. It doesn’t take long for the creative juices to start flowing again.
2. Free Write
You’ve probably heard this one before, but have you tried it? It can be awkward at first, I know. Just open up a blank document or grab a pen and some paper and just start writing about anything that comes to mind. If nothing’s coming to mind, start describing the objects around you. Attributes are fine, but dig deeper. Describe how the items make you feel. Do the objects spark any memories from your past? Do they remind you of people or places? Where did you get them? Were you with friends or family when you bought them?
The deeper you dig, the more you’ll tap into that creative portion of your mind that allows you to write in the first place. Some aren’t aware of this, but the human memory doesn’t work like a recording device. It’s a creative instrument. When you “recollect” something from your past, you’re actually recreating the memory through association as it comes to you. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that memory isn’t so reliable, but that’s a different story.
3. Skip Ahead
Have you stopped to consider that maybe the problem isn’t that you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write this thing you’re currently writing? Let me explain.
Writer’s minds are rarely linear in nature. Creativity in general is rarely linear. We’re all over the place! Think about it. How many times have you been working on a story, when out of the blue an idea pops into your mind for either a totally different story, or a totally different section of the story you’re currently working on? I’ll bet it happens somewhat frequently.
And that’s OK.
Is there a scene that you’re absolutely dying to write? Give yourself permission to write it. The “block” may be nothing more than your subconscious telling you to deal with something else instead.
4. Ask “What If?”
Those of you who have followed me for a while will remember me talking about this in the past. “What if” is the most powerful tool in our writer’s toolbox. I wrote an article on a technique called The Idea Net that I think you’ll find helpful. By asking “what if”, you can take an ordinary event that 99% of people encounter on their drive to work, and turn it into an epic fantasy with complex religions and magic systems. I know. I did…in that article I just linked. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) 🙂
Make a list of general concepts or objects. Keep writing down items/concepts as fast as your mind will throw them out. Don’t edit yourself! And don’t judge the words that are coming into your mind! Just keep dutifully recording them, like a court recorder, and get every word down as if someone’s life or freedom depends on it! Do this for about 10 or 15 minutes. When you’re finished, go over the list and see if anything on it sparks your creativity. Here’s the interesting thing: the farther down the list you go, the further into your subconscious you’re digging. It’s possible that the idea isn’t going to come from a single word, but perhaps from a combination of words. The subconscious is a mysterious and powerful thing. Listen to it. Trust it.
6. Step Away
You heard me. Sometimes the best way to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem is to step away from it for a time. Remember that “mysterious and powerful” subconscious thingy I was talking about in the previous section? It never rests. It doesn’t need to rest. But you need to rest, because you’re getting in its way! When I was writing Necromancer Awakening, I reached a point where I knew I had to cut about 60k words from the project. For many of you, that may be the length of an entire book! No matter how much I stared at the story, I just couldn’t do it. After two and a half years of working on the project, I simply couldn’t see how I could cut anything else and have the same story I originally wrote. So I stepped away for an extended period of time. When I finally came back to the keyboard, the solution was right in front of me. I wrote an article about the experience.
7. Give Yourself Permission to Suck
It doesn’t matter right now if what you’re writing is good. It matters that you’re writing. When you feel “blocked”, you’re not going to be happy with anything you’re producing. It’s going to be a depressing experience. Just embrace the fact right now that you’re going to suck, and give yourself permission to do so. It’s a freeing experience, trust me. And the more you free yourself from some of those arbitrary psychological shackles we all create for ourselves, the less and less you’ll feel blocked.
Uhh…yeah dumbass, that’s what I’m having a hard time doing right now!
Don’t give me any lip. Just do it. The one activity that is absolutely guaranteed to defeat writer’s block is writing. Don’t believe me? Listen to some of these folks. You may have heard of a few of them.
“Don’t be a writer; be writing.” – William Faulkner
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” – Terry Pratchett
“If your wife locks you out of the house, you don’t have a problem with your door.” – Anne Lamott
“I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.” – Jennifer Egan
“The only reason you can’t write is because you don’t.” – A.A. Patawaran
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain
“My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline.” – Mary Garden
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