It’s as frustrating as it is inevitable: sometimes you’re going to sit down in front of your laptop or notebook and the words just will not come. Writer’s block means different things to different people. For some, writer’s block is a very short-term inability to come up with the next words, resolved in a few hours or a couple of days. Others find themselves seemingly frozen in place on their writing projects for weeks or months. I’ve also seen people who say they’ve never experienced writer’s block and, of those, a sub-section of people who don’t believe in it at all.
Is writer’s block even real?
So, is it a real thing? You’re going to find a lot of different opinions on this, especially given the different ways people define the term, but you’re on my blog so you’re going to get my opinion here! The people who say they’ve never experienced writer’s block have almost certainly had moments where they can’t think what to write next, aren’t sure where to go in their story or don’t feel motivated to sit down and write. When it comes to my own writing, I categorise all of that as the mildest end of the writer’s block spectrum, although I totally respect people who don’t want to label it that way.
And actually, before I go on to talk about strategies for beating writer’s block, there may well be some benefit to not calling it writer’s block. Paul Grealish commented on Twitter: “I don’t think it exists as a separate affliction. It’s a catch-all term for writers suffering from stress, depression, fatigue etc. I don’t think it’s a helpful term because it can cause people to see a symptom as the disease.”
“I don’t think it’s a helpful term because it can cause people to see a symptom as the disease”
If you feel like you suffer from writer’s block constantly, or you find it stops you from making progress over long periods of time, chances are there’s something more serious going on, and you might be better served looking at what underlying issues are stopping you from writing.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m using the term “writer’s block” as a shorthand for a temporary lack of inspiration or motivation. Now that I’ve clarified what I’m on about, how about some strategies for getting rid of writer’s block?
Take a break
Sometimes the best way to get over a block is, counterintuitively, to stop trying to get over the block. This is particularly true if, like me, your frustration and anxiety about not being able to write anything becomes a vicious circle, feeding off itself until the whole thing has become much more fraught than it ever needed to be.
Going for a walk is, for me, a good way to let ideas sort of percolate through the subconscious. Doing some housework or cooking, or a different kind of creative work, can also help a lot in loosening up your mind and getting the words flowing again.
Just be careful that this doesn’t turn into avoiding your writing. If I’m employing this strategy, I very deliberately set aside some time after my break activity to sit down at the keyboard and try to get something down, otherwise I can end up procrastinating the day away.
Talk it out
If you have somebody who’s up to speed with your current writing project then talking to them about the point you’re stuck at might give you some ideas for how to move forward (and if you’re not sure how to ask the people you know for feedback, I have some ideas for that too!). But you don’t necessarily need to get advice from people who know your story inside and out.
Asking for advice from somewhere like the writing community on Twitter is great for crowd-sourcing a bunch of ideas, almost none of which are likely to be quite right for your story. But that’s okay! Sometimes just getting a bunch of suggestions and thinking about why they wouldn’t fit for you can help to get rid of your writer’s block.
Just. Write. Something.
It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to make sense! Sometimes writer’s block is just fear of the blank page in front of you, and getting something, anything, down makes adding to it a little less scary.
You could do this by writing a deliberately ridiculous turn of events (“and then a piano fell from the sky!”) to take the pressure off. Another thing that I’ve done, especially if my writer’s block is linked to the section I’m trying to get through, is to bullet point as much as it takes to get me to a point that I feel able to write.
- Ana learns to fly (training montage) (funny scene with Meka?)
- Decides to fly home (middle of the night)
- Discovers strange rift
“The sky was frayed, like a pair of jeans worn out at the knee, and as Ana approached it she felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the air. She knew, instinctively, that she was looking at something not of this world…”
The key here is to find a way to make getting some words down less intimidating; so maybe you need to promise yourself that whatever you write in the next five minutes will be deleted, or write a page of stream-of-consciousness thoughts on your work in progress before attempting to pick up the thread of the story, or decide that actually you’re going to write something deliberately awful. As long as it removes the fear element of writer’s block, it might be just what you need!
What works for you?
Those are three strategies I use to get rid of writer’s block and help me get back into the zone with my story. Do you have any tips or tricks that you find particularly helpful? Or do you think it would be better if we stop talking about ‘writer’s block’ as a phenomenon? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!