Ah, the dreaded Writer’s Block. So well-known that even non-writers have likely heard of it and the horrors it entails. The sweaty palms as you stare at a blinking cursor on an otherwise blank page, the dread of hitting 20,000 words and not knowing where to go next, the soul crippling tangle of plot threads that won’t untangle.
Every writer will face it. So what do you do?
First of all…
The first step is identifying why you have Writer’s Block. Face up to it, categorise it and it’s often suddenly more manageable.
Reasons for Writer’s Block
You Don’t Know What’s Going To Happen Next
Causes: Usually an issue of pantsers, or people with only a bare skeleton of an outline. You know roughly where you want to go, but getting there is causing a bit of an issue.
Solutions: Spend some time figuring out where you’re going next. Outline your scenes and create a road map to follow. Otherwise, skip the scene out and go to the next place you need to be in the story. Leave yourself a note saying ‘fill this in with X’ and come back to it when you’re more in the zone.
You’ve Got Your Plots in a Tangle
Causes: A problem in manuscripts that might be too ambitious, have too many characters, or, as above, aren’t plotted thoroughly before writing.
Solutions: Go back to the plot. Can you cut an unnecessary subplot? Is there a character that can be combined with another? Do you need to change things around to free up the characters to behave how you need them to? Try plotting just your major character’s journey, then work outwards. If you know you need a certain minor character in a scene, what do you need to do to get them there?
You Want to Write but you just had this Incredible Idea and…
Causes: Almost without fail, I’ll be writing a project I’m really excited about, get to about 15-25,000 words and BANG. Another idea hits me. Oh my God, it’s the most amazing idea ever. I should get this down, I should write a first chapter, I should…
Suddenly, the current project looks dull. The new shiny idea consumes all your free thought. This happens because creativity begets creativity. When your brain is accustomed to thinking about writing and stories, it will start producing new ideas. And because the first flush of love for the current project is expended, and the going is starting to get tough, the new idea can be much more appealing.
Solutions: Open a Word Document (or equivalent) and jot down the bones of the idea. Save it in your writing folder as ‘potential next project.’ Then stop thinking about it. Seriously. It will be so tempting. It’s like a slice of cake in front of you you’re being told you can’t eat. But you must ignore it and get back into your current project. Nobody ever sold an unfinished project, and if you can’t learn to push past ‘new idea lust’ then you will never finish anything. Because I guarantee you’ll get 20,000 words into that shiny new idea and another shinier idea will come along…
You Hate the Characters, You Hate the Story, You Hate the Book
Causes: A very common problem. Just remember, falling out with your manuscript is often symptomatic of fatigue, not that it’s a bad story. It’s a long slog to write ninety thousand words, and unless you’re supremely arrogant, there’s going to be a point when you think: ‘why am I bothering? This is the worst novel ever written!’
Solutions: Remind yourself of what you loved about the book. Why were you so excited to write it in the first place? Reignite that passion and watch the words start to flow again. Also, accept and acknowledge that your first draft is likely to be rubbish. It’s all about getting through it at this stage – refining your ideas into polished gems comes later.
Sometimes, you’ll look back at why you loved the book and realise you were naïve, or perhaps even delusional. An idea that looked great on the outset might be full of flaws that you’re only just realising as you write it out. The plot is identical to a film you watched ten years ago that you’re only just remembering, the characters are cliché and you don’t think it’s worth bothering with. Give yourself some time to mull over this – it’s not a decision to be made in a moment – but it might be time to put the manuscript away and start something fresh.
General Tips and Tricks for Reinvigorating Yourself
Whatever the cause of your Writer’s Block, there are a few general hints that can help you out:
Do Some Exercise
Get your blood flowing to your brain and you might find you can suddenly think of solutions to your problems. Exercise wakes you up, it energises you, and while you’re concentrating on what you’re doing, your subconscious might just solve your problems for you.
Do Something Menial
Wash the dishes, clean the floors, do anything that you can do without thinking too hard about it. You won’t fall into the temptation to play around on the internet like you might sat in front of your computer, and you’ll free up your brain to think about whatever plot tangle you’ve got yourself into.
Know When to Quit
Sometimes, you just burn out. Leave the writing alone for a while – watch some telly, maybe even sleep on it. Knowing when you aren’t going to get anything done, no matter how hard you slog at it is important. You don’t want to come back to the computer the next day with the hours writing nothing lingering as an anxious memory. Get into a bad psychological cycle and you might talk yourself out of writing the manuscript completely. Instead, accept defeat, get some rest and attack it fresh later on.
What are your top tricks for beating Writer’s Block?