However we think of Writer’s Block, whether we think of it as our mind’s way of telling us that something isn’t working, or our own inability to write without direction or perfection, or whether we think of it as a Mexican bone-drinker, the fact is that sometimes writers can’t write, and it doesn’t really matter what we call it.
So, here are 10 suggestions for overcoming Writer’s Block:
1. I don’t know if the provenance checks out, but I’ve heard that no less a mind than Albert Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So, if you consistently suffer at the hands of Writer’s Block, it’s time to make a change. If you usually type on your computer in the morning, switch to pen and paper, or write in the evening, or both. Write on the patio or at your local park. Change the POV for a scene and see how you feel about it. Maybe it’ll reveal you’re using the wrong POV for this story, or maybe it’ll reveal something you hadn’t expected to happen in that scene. Play around with the voice by writing the story to or for a specific person.
2. Even if things aren’t going as well as you’d like, don’t be afraid to reward yourself. You deserve something to look forward to. Your mindset goes a long way toward motivating you to work, so do everything in your power to keep positive thoughts. If you’re only writing at night after coming home on public transportation, buy a car. I’m not saying you need a Mercedes, but a reliable sedan will save you time and offer you the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want. Or, if your misaligned and coffee-stained teeth make you self-conscious, Google search “Invisalign Braces Charlotte, NC” (or wherever you’re calling home) and ask for a teeth-whitening regimen. (Almost all of these ideas go along with making a change to inspire your creativity, by the way.)
3. If you’re stagnating, get outside and move around. The point is 1) to get away from the piece, and 2) to reinvigorate your mind. Take a walk. Go for a jog. Ride your bike by the foothills. Do anything to get your blood pumping and reap the rewards of increased blood flow to your brain. If that still doesn’t work, leave it be for more than an hour. Leave it alone for a day or two—or a week. Work on something else if you can.
4. Skip a problem section and work on some other part—preferably one you’re excited about. The goal is to get you into a rhythm of writing. Maybe while you’re working on the other section, you’ll have some insight into the problem section.
5. Be ready to capture inspiration at any time. Carry around a notebook to write down any good ideas you have, and start writing then and there. One of the worst things in the world is to know that you’ve had a brilliant idea but not really be able to decipher where your subconscious wanted you to take it, so you just have this weird scrawling about 6-eyed aliens from Vega.
6. Accept imperfection. This is good life advice too. If you’re not progressing through your story because this or that line isn’t absolutely perfect, you’re wasting your time. For all you know, you’re going to discover something new about a character that will completely change this earlier section, and you’ll be forced to change it. You don’t want that. And you definitely don’t want the drag on your productivity that is the need to comb over every inch of your story six times an hour only to change one or two words over and over. Only edit between drafts. If something really bothers you, and you know you’ll need to fix it, mark it in your draft with brackets, or with the comment function, and rest assured you won’t forget to come back to it.
7. Write every day. I don’t care how much you decide to write every day, but write every day. I shoot for 750 words, and on those days (read: most days) where it’s rough going, I leave it at that. It doesn’t matter if you hate 700 of those 750 words, because again the idea is to get the ideas flowing. Just start writing—on whatever project or scene starts flowing out of you. Eventually—since you’re writing every day—you’ll catch up on every project you’re working on, you’ll connect every scene you need.
8. Outline but don’t be afraid to obliterate the outline. It’s much easier for me to write if I’ve got some direction in mind, some outline that breaks the huge novel down into smaller, much more manageable chunks. In fact, most of the time when I can’t write it’s because I have no idea where the story needs to go. The rest of the time, however, I can’t write because the story is going somewhere I didn’t foresee and at first glance maybe don’t love. Don’t be afraid to follow those lines though. Sometimes they turn out to be some of the best.
9. Remove any distractions. First and foremost for the writers I know is unplugging the internet. “But I need it for research,” you shout. Sure, but you can mark the text with what you need to look up and then keep moving through the scene. It’s good because you’ll keep your flow, and you may discover other things you need to research, and then you can research all of that at the same time.
10. Hemingway gave some great advice for staving off Writer’s Block: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day . . . you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” I can’t really add anything to that.
Like I mentioned earlier, almost all of these suggestions deal to some extent with making a change. Just remember this advice: if you keep encountering El Chupacabra, you should move somewhere outside the Chupacabra’s natural range. The Chupacabra has set patterns, and if you disrupt them, you’re sure to save your livestock, er . . . finish your latest project.
How do you overcome writer's block?