On Writer’s Block

My personal wisdom on the worst part of the writing process.

No matter how much talent or how great an idea, every writer experiences ….

 

That feeling equates to hitting a brick wall or trying to smash through a solid block of granite. Writing, when it is happening well, is like a river. The most beautiful rivers ebb and flow naturally, sometimes cascading down in unexpected but always fantastic waterfalls. Yet every river has dams.

I have been asked one question more than any other when it comes to writer’s block: “how do you get rid of it?” Makes sense, right?  Since writer’s block is as unwelcome as a cold or any other disease, the logical reaction is to want it gone as quickly as possible (and preferably with as little pain).

Sick Woman. Flu. Woman Caught Cold. Sneezing into Tissue
Often, having writer’s block can feel like having a bad cold. Like an illness, one can treat the symptoms or look for a cause.

To start, there is no universal answer. Writing is not a universal practice – every single writer works their own way and with their own methods. It stands to reason then that there is no umbrella solution to solve every single kind of writer’s block. I’m not even sure that all kinds can be solved. Sometimes the mind is tired and needs a rest.

That said, to address a great many instances, I think people may be asking the wrong question. When I encounter writer’s block, my first question is: “Why?” Is there something about the chapter or the story I am writing that is causing the hesitation. Often times, the answer is yes.

Figuring out why writer’s block is happening can go a long way to overcoming/even preventing its occurrence. Most of the time my culprit is this: over-thinking. Over-thinking is a dangerous hindrance in writing. I’m a proponent that thinking in general should rarely enter the writing process before the editing stage. Obviously writers should have an idea of what they want to write but come on – let the story grow on its own.

6359410448179378761898415559_writersblock
This guy is making the first mistake, he’s thinking rather than writing.

Too many times I’ve had writers come to me and say “I’ve been writing notes on a story for years” or “I’ve got it all mapped out!” Take your map and throw it away. Stop writing notes, start writing sentences. I have nothing against the note-taking process, it can be insanely helpful in recalling cool details that embolden your work. However, many writers (and myself) can occasionally suffocate their work with too much planning/thinking.

Let me give an example: early this morning, I was writing The Night Terrors (the sequel to my upcoming novel, The Nightcrawlers). Without giving many details away, I’m in the beginning, enjoying a quiet scene between two of the main characters. There’s nothing in the way of “action” besides dialogue and simply, it’s a moment that exists for the reader to breath with the characters.

The problem was, I wasn’t breathing – I was too busy thinking ahead. Nothing in that chapter excited me, and that was my problem. Two of my main characters interacting should excite me. After all – they’re my characters. If I’m not intrigued, why should my reader be?

I was also worried about getting all the appropriate plot information in. Do they discuss this. Do we get to see the character’s reaction to that. Learn from my mistake: do not approach writing this way. I broke my writer’s block with a simple realignment of purpose: instead of focusing on what they should talk about, I just let them talk, and suddenly the words were there. Editing exists to correct anything that was left out – but correct it later! 

Remember, the natural is what first and foremost should be happening in your story. Forcing in plot points and author ideas twists the narrative into an uneven shape. It can turn that river into a pipeline, or turn this:

into this:

Audiences could tell which scene went with the flow and which scene was focused on plot development. Readers have the same gift.

Trusting in the writer voice can go a long way to solving writer’s block. It cured me and can help you. That said, I realize that over-thinking is not the only cause, so I have come up with other methods that I have found helpful in the past.

  • Turn off the internet (phone, laptop – all of it).
  • Silence your cell phone, move it out of arm’s reach and put it somewhere out of sight.
  • Close the door to whatever room you’re working in.
  • Put on background music – personally, I find lyrics distracting so I focus on classical/soundtrack score. That said, pick the music that suits you and creates the mood of the scene you’re trying to write.
  • Set a word limit and don’t stop writing til you’ve hit it – It doesn’t have to be 5,000 words. If writing is like pulling teeth, then doing only a 1,000 words that day is fine.
  • Don’t stop at an ending, stop at a beginning or middle – this will make jumping back into the flow easier when you return to the writing.
  • Trust your body and your mind – it will tell you when it needs a rest.

And remember: “Why is writer’s block happening?” More often than not, writer’s block can indicate a lack of confidence in characters, plot, or story. Reaffirm your dedication to the area in question and hit back. Do not give into writer’s block unless you are absolutely sure your mind and body need a break (most don’t before zero words have been written).

The important thing is to not stop writing. Turn off the inner editor/critic and keep typing. Walls only stand when one lacks the the will to knock them down.

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