Most writers find themselves in the clutches of writer’s block occasionally. It’s different for everyone, and what causes it and what fixes it varies from person to person and sometimes from day-to-day. No matter how you experience it, though, it’s always frustrating.
On Monday I asked writers on twitter how they typically get past writer’s block and received such a variety of useful answers I figured I’d share them on the blog. There are pretty much seven different approaches, each of them providing useful bits of advice.
1. Self-diagnose and Find a New Angle
“I reevaluate where I am with stuff and try to tackle it from another angle.” @Sidney_Bristol
As writers, we have pretty good intuition. If something isn’t working in our story oftentimes it becomes drudgery to keep writing – even if we don’t consciously realize there’s a serious problem. The next step is to let our analytical brains wise up to what our intuition already knows and determine why we are dissatisfied.
This is one of the reasons why writers should actually embrace writer’s block. For the past ten months I have been returning to a draft of a chapter, repeatedly attempting to rewrite it from scratch because I’m dissatisfied with it. At this point I’m an expert on gauging my intuition: if I get writer’s block working on the rewrite within a few days I know I need to scrap it, diagnose what the problem is within the narrative, and start over. Without writer’s block to give me this warning sign I’d be wasting a lot more time pumping out bad writing. Consider writer’s block a sign from the gods of writing and suddenly it’s not so crippling after all – it’s just another resource on which we can depend to make our stories better.
2. Take a Break
“Sometimes I need a couple of weeks/months away from my #WIP. Readers can tell when writing is forced & I want my novel 2 be authentic.” @WriteLkeUMeanit
It’s easy to say we should use writer’s block as a sign we need to self-diagnose problems in our narratives. Sure sounds good, right? But of course the hard part is figuring out what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s not clear. Sometimes it never becomes clear. When it seems like that might be the case, it’s time to take a step back from the story. @WriteLikeUMeanit is right – forced writing is usually not good enough. When we are uninspired, our writing becomes uninspired. Better to take time off from that part of the writing and let it work itself out in the periphery of our minds than beat our heads against the wall and get increasingly more frustrated. When you return to the part giving you trouble you will be refreshed and approach it with better perspective.
3. Enjoy Someone Else’s Work
“Let it run its course but in the meanwhile, read a good book or watch a writer-type movie, something inspiring… ” @nm_angelfairy
If you need to take a break from writing, what better way than to use it as an opportunity to read or watch something that adds to your writerly knowledge base and might inspire you by example?
When writers are really on a roll writing we risk ignoring everything else. This includes doing dishes and buying groceries, but also includes keeping up with our reading and movie-watching, which are pretty important hobbies for anyone hoping to be a stellar storyteller because you can’t be a good writer if you don’t know what good writing looks like. So if you’ve got writer’s block and you feel guilty about avoiding your WIP, get into “audience-mode” (reading/watching/digesting other’s works) and tell yourself it’s not procrastination, but essential to the writing process.
4. Rule out External Causes
“Determine the reason. Caused by bad mood = get over it. Caused by losing your job and being depressed: Look for new job, then write.” @JakobDrud
The previous three tactics for handling writer’s block apply when something within your writing is the cause of the blockage. However, we all know that’s not always the case. For me, quite possibly the majority of my writer’s block spells are caused by external, non-writerly issues: laziness, sleepiness, lack of time, or just being in a bad mood.
As @JakobDrud points out, some of these external causes are genuine priorities. Jobs and families inevitably come first.
But if the real reason you’re not churning out the words is because you’re feeling sorry for yourself for no good reason or you’re moody, that is not an excuse to stop writing. At times like these I find it’s best to force yourself to get back to writing. If you truly love writing it will end up improving your spirits anyway.
5. Write Through It
“Sit down and start writing, and something will come.” @garethlpowell
“Totally fight through it. Writing anything is better than nothing, and once I get going, amazing things happen. ” @GG_Silverman
Taking a break from writing is not necessarily always the right course of action. Though it takes enormous willpower, sometimes forcing myself to sit down and write – even if I’m not “feeling it” – is simply better than nothing. You never know what little detail you write even on an “off” day might inspire you to write some of your best stuff. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is picking up the pen/laptop – do that, and half the battle’s already won.
6. Start Editing What You’ve Already Written
“I find a good trick, if stuck in the middle of a story, is to go back and edit the earlier part. This builds momentum to keep going.” @garethlpowell
Editing and writing are so different from each other that going from one action to the other can give you the sense of “taking a break” when really you’re still locked into the writing process. Using the times you have writer’s block as a time to edit keeps your head in the game and forces you to reevaluate what you’ve done. This can do two things to get you back on track: 1) it can help you diagnose any problems in your narrative holding you up in later sections; and 2) it can motivate you by reminding you how much you love your story and want to keep working on it.
7. Every Situation is Different
“If it’s a story that’s been in my head awhile, I write through the block. If it’s a new story, I may let it simmer longer.” @AnitaKingWrites
Because writer’s block is such an umbrella term for all sorts of writing issues, no one answer or trick is sufficient to fix it every time. New stories demand different tactics than well-established stories; and every day brings a new set of writerly challenges. Maybe that truth is overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be. After all, we’re writers! We are familiar with the idea that solutions to conflict are always at hand to creative thinkers.
The Bottom Line:
The important thing to take away from all this is that you should not let writer’s block crush you. Instead, choose a tactic – any tactic – and adopt it confidently. Taking a definitive action to defeat the block is empowering and much more helpful than being wishy-washy about whether you have any control over breaking through the block. If you think you can get past it, you can. Don’t let it become the boogeyman that cripples your psyche.
What are your strategies for overcoming writer’s block?