Tired of suffering from writer’s block? Learn how to combat it and prevent its return.
What is Writer’s Block?
The term ‘writer’s block’ will make any writer grimace. It’s one of the many demons of the writing world, and it doesn’t care whether you’re a beginner or a master. One minute you’re tapping away at your keyboard, ideas flowing freely from mind to monitor, and the next – BAM! – nothing. Only the dull hum of emptiness. Writer’s block can strike anyone at anytime, and will leave only when it is good and ready.
Writer’s block relies on the predictable nature of the human mind — first, the writer will shrug off her inability to write as a simple matter of not being in the right state of mind, or a need for something different. Naturally, this leads to frustration and procrastination. “I don’t need to write today,” the writer will say, “I’ve had a bad day. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day or two off.” Days will become weeks, months, maybe even years.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to hasten the departure of your little visitor, and also some techniques to deter it from returning once it has left. Keep in mind that different approaches will work for different people, so if one doesn’t seem to do the trick it’s only a matter of trying another.
Ways to Combat Writer’s Block
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re already playing host to writer’s block, so let us first turn our attention to some methods of eviction.
- Try a new style. Have you been pumping your brain for every ounce of creativity it can offer? Try writing an article instead, and focus on informing your readers rather than simply entertaining them.
- Try a new medium. Do you normally plop yourself down in front of your computer and tap away at the keys? Invest in a notebook and a quality pen instead. The different feeling of writing by hand may be enough to rid your brain of the boredom it gets from staring at a screen all day.
- Find a new location. People crave routine, but we’re also prone to falling into ruts. The next time you feel your mind about to implode with boredom, pick up your laptop or grab a pen and paper and head out to the living room, your backyard, a coffee shop, a park, or anywhere you feel relaxed and inspired. If that isn’t an option for you, try tweaking a few things about the room you’re in. Experiment with lighting, music, smells, and so on.
- Find inspiration. Whether that means cracking open a book, flipping on the TV, listening to some new music, or browsing through artwork online, find something that sends your brain into a frenzy of new ideas. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge from an interesting photograph or a haunting melody to give your creativity a jump-start.
- Find a fresh perspective. They say it’s best to hear a story from both sides before passing judgement, and that holds true in fiction as well. If you’re becoming bored with your own story, perhaps it’s time to view it from your villain’s eyes rather than your hero’s. Does your hero’s sidekick know something he shouldn’t? Write about his thoughts on the matter. This method often gives way to more complex and interesting storylines and characters.
- Give in to word vomit. Yes, you read correctly. All you need to do is sit down and write about anything at all. Don’t correct, don’t think, just write everything that pops into your head. Clear out some of the clutter in your mind and see if any of your word vomit contains hidden gems that might be used to further your plot or enhance your characters.
- Play with your characters. That’s right, it’s time to take control and throw your characters into outrageous situations simply for your own entertainment! Mix characters from different projects and see if they become best of friends or begin a fight to the death. Force heroes to work with villains, kill off characters at will, just have fun and get out some of those scenarios that might have been tempting to write before, but wouldn’t fit in with your plot.
- Let your story take control. Remember that everything in your story should be spurred on by a previous event. You need to look at what just happened in your story and ask yourself what events could be triggered by it. Write as if you have no idea where the story is going and you might uncover some new possibilities.
- Skip it. If you’re having trouble thinking of what to write next, skip it and move on. It doesn’t make sense to bang your head against a brick wall when you can just walk around and keep moving forward. Once the rest of your story fills in a little more, it might be easier to go back and fill in the blank later.
- Simplify it. Remember that for your first couple of drafts, all you need to worry about it laying out the basics of your story. Forget fancy prose and long words, all you’re doing at this point is getting the idea out of your head and onto paper. Don’t derail your writing by spending hours trying to make your first drafts pretty. At this point, it only needs to be functional.
- Discuss it. Remove yourself from the role of ‘writer trying to write’ and just talk about your story and what you have planned for it with someone who shares your interest in writing. Discussing it and bouncing ideas and feedback off of each other will help you to see new details, new perspectives, and new possibilities.
- Identify the cause. Writer’s block is, if you will, not so much an illness as it is a symptom of an illness. Words come much more easily when the mind is free of distraction. If you’re irritated by a messy house, worried about money, feeling suffocated by people, or pressured by a deadline, you’ll find yourself struggling for words. Similarly, if you’re bored by your story, you’re not going to have much interest in taking it any further, which will lead you to procrastinate. Or, sometimes, you just need to make more time for yourself and your writing so that you have the time to get into the right mindset for creativity to take place. When you figure out what’s causing the blockage, you’ll be able work through or around it and get on with your project.
- Change course. Perhaps your inability to continue is a sign that your story is missing something and needs to be changed. Are you characters dull, even to you? Does your plot lack depth? Writer’s block caused by boredom is a red flag that you may need to re-evaluate your project. Take a close look at your world, your characters, your plot, and your mechanics. Maybe your action scenes seem slow, or your character needs a stronger sidekick to play off of.
- Take a break. Sometimes you’re simply not going to be able to continue writing for a little while and that’s all there is to it. Step away from your writing for a little while so that you may come back to it in a few days or weeks with fresh eyes. Deal with other aspects of your life, have fun, and let your mind rest. If your mind wanders to your story or if you suddenly hit a wave of inspiration, that’s excellent! But don’t force it. Forcing it is likely what brought you to the point of writer’s block to begin with.
- Set goals. Before you found yourself struck with writer’s block, did you have any goals set? Possibly, but probably not. This time around, set goals for yourself so that you know what you’re working towards every day. Keep these goals small and easy to reach, so that you won’t discourage yourself. Whether you want to write 500 words a day, complete a writing exercise each day, or enter a writing contest, give yourself a reason to write when you get up in the morning and it will be easier to convince yourself that it is worth doing. This method can work for curing writer’s block as well as for preventing it.
How to Prevent Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is not something most people would like to experience more than once. Those who want to prevent it’s return may find the following tips helpful:
- Plan ahead. It’s not the most exciting step, but planning ahead will help you avoid hitting dead ends later on. It can also help you to come up with new ideas before you even start writing. Timelines for the world are a good place to start, as are character timelines, biographies, and webs. All of these should help you to keep a steady pace in your story as well as to make connections between multiple characters and each other as well as the world they’re in. Similarly, you should think ahead as to what you might physically need before you ever sit down. Get that glass of water and your reference guide beside you right now so that you won’t need to get up for them later.
- Stay organized. When it comes to this point, you’ll need to stay organized both in the physical world and your mind. Make individual folders for each draft and as you proof-read, make notes of the things you would like to change rather than simply erasing and replacing it right there on the old draft. Refer to the old copy as you write the next. Keep detailed notes of your characters, your setting, and your storyline, and refer to them often to keep things in check.
- Write what you know. If you don’t know what you’re writing about, the reader will know it. When writing articles it is of dire importance that your information is correct and that you are confident in your knowledge of the topic. Don’t guess or assume — know. Not only will it make the finished product that much better, but it will be more enjoyable for both you and your readers. This isn’t just about writing what you know, it’s also about writing what you love.
- Eliminate distractions. In order to write most effectively, you must be in a certain mindset — one that is both creative and productive. This mindset is much easier to reach when all distractions are eliminated. First, focus on your work area and clear the clutter so that you won’t be tempted to fiddle with things or to procrastinate by telling yourself you need to clean. Next, turn off your phone, sign out of chat, and close down your leisure sites and games. The last thing you need when you hit that sweet spot of inspiration is someone or something pulling you away from your writing.
- Don’t make comparisons. At times, comparing yourself to another writer can be a good thing — many writers are influenced by another’s style. However, resist the urge to make yourself sound exactly like someone else. Your writing is yours for a reason, and it will sound best in your voice. If you try to copy another’s way of writing, you’re sure to run into writer’s block as the words simply will not come naturally to you, and this will lead to frustration and discouragement.
Despite its crippling power over aspiring authors, even writer’s block can be defeated when treated with patience, persistence, and preparedness. There is no one way to cure or prevent the block, and you must find a method that works for you.