Here it is, the frequent topic that plows its way through every writer’s life. Writer’s block has to be every writer’s worst nightmare, and I’ve read many different views on writer’s block from ways to get through it to complete denial that it exists. In this post, I’ll tell you a bit about my experience with writer’s block and offer a few ideas of getting through it that have worked for me in the past.
I once thought one kind of writer’s block existed, the kind where you can’t come up with a story idea. When I first left my job to pursue writing full time, I discovered that there were about five million other types of writer’s block. Seriously, I spent an entire month singling out the fine nuances between each type to take up the time that I wasn’t writing. Mainly, the root was the same. Fear. I had an idea, but I had this deep fear that I was going to screw it up. Sometimes I’d find myself in a panic when I thought too far into the future wondering if anyone would accept the story and if anyone would read it. I’ve had scenes that have hung me up and kept me from progressing with my story. I’ve even found myself weighed down by the enormity of the story I’ve decided to write. A lot of these same issues plague me when it’s time to edit a story, and it keeps me from making progress.
Over the years, I’ve read and heard authors in books, blogs, and workshops deny the existence of writer’s block. I understand the message. That writer’s block is a stall tactic, it keeps us from writing. It’s an excuse. This method has never proven to be useful to me though. Denying its existence doesn’t make the problem go away. Here’s how I view it. I love horror movies, the scariest part about any good horror story is the anticipation of what the monster or supernatural entity looks like. Despite my love for horror movies, most of the ones I watch fail to scare or impress me. They fall flat. The reason is that my anticipation of what is coming is far greater than what’s actually produced in the movie. When I finally get a good look at the creature, poltergeist, or whatever is supposed to be terrifying, I’m disappointed. It’s nothing even close to the monstrosity I had chasing shadows in my mind. Identifying a problem, and the cause of it is frequently the first step in conquering it or figuring out how to work through or around the problem. The anticipation of a problem is much worse than the work to get through it.
I’m still trying to figure out how to work through writer’s block, different episodes seem to have different solutions for me, and sometimes it’s a matter of waiting it out and working on something else, which is one of the tips I have below.
So here are a few ideas that have helped me, please feel free to share what methods you use in the comments below. I think writer’s block requires an arsenal of techniques to get through it, and I’d love to hear what works for you. Maybe you use some of these ideas already, or maybe you’ll see one you haven’t tried yet.
Tips for breaking free of writer’s block:
Outline: I’m not the type of writer who typically outlines, I hope to make it there one day if for no other reason than to make the writing process easier on myself, but honestly one of my favorite parts about writing is not knowing what’s coming next. But, having said that, if I’m stuck and I can force myself to imagine where the story is going I can outline a couple of plot points that can get me headed back in the right direction. If you like the idea of outlining, I would recommend outlining your story first to prevent getting stuck while you’re writing it. Consider it a preventative measure.
Move to a different project: This is the tactic I use most often. If I’m stuck with editing, or in a story, I move onto something else. I’m always working on something writing related, moving things forward, but it gives my subconscious time to work through the problem while I am working on another task and at least feel like I’m accomplishing something. If every project is giving me a problem, I pick up a book on the writing craft. If I can’t get work done, I figure I can at least be learning about the craft. And a lot of times, I’ll get inspired and come up with an idea while I’m reading.
Shower: Taking a shower is a great way to work through a problem and come up with new ideas, and there’s a reason for that. The water falling on the head causes the brain synapses to fire faster, which is when we make connections that escape us at other times.
Excercise: There have been many times when I’ve been exercising and I’ve had to stop to write down a flash fiction story or poem that comes to mind. And there are even a number of times when I found myself thinking about a problem I had with a story, and the answer popped into my head.
Try writing prompts: A prompt gives you some place to start. Some people get an idea by being confined by the prompt. It gives them structure and a way to focus an idea. Others use a prompt to spark an idea that is very loosely related to the original prompt. I think both ways are fantastic, and it really depends on what your brain needs at that time to help it get unstuck.
Jump the scene you’re stuck on and come back to it later: If it’s a scene or chapter that’s caused your creativity to falter, skip it. Move on to the next scene or chapter. Maybe you have a scene you’ve been thinking about, but it doesn’t come in for several chapters. Start there. You can always come back later, and that burst of releasing creative energy into a scene that you can visualize might be just what you need to work through the part that tripped you up earlier.
Watching other artists: I always feel inspired and excited about my writing when watching someone else pursuing something they are passionate about. Poetry Slams always fill me with renewed creative energy, going to an art exhibit, listening to live music, etc. For me, there’s something contagious about watching people perform or showcase their talent. Engaging in conversation with people about writing never fails to inspire me. Sometimes when I talk to people about what I’m working on, that’s enough to reignite that fire inside and help me get back to work on a project that’s had me stuck.
Hopefully, some of these will help you the next time you’re feeling stuck. I’m currently feeling stalled on a couple of projects, so it felt like a good time to remind myself of the ways I normally get through these phases while passing these ideas to other writers. I’ve already put a couple of the items above to use, and I hope that before too long the projects that really have me stuck will resolve themselves and I’ll start making progress on them again.
If you’re stuck with your writing, tell me what has you stuck. If you’re not stuck, tell me about the project(s) you’re currently working on.