ah, the scourge of the aspiring writer, the bane of authors everywhere–the infamous writer’s block. it’s a veritable rite of passage for anyone who dares wield the mighty pen, for who among us has not felt its vice-like grip at least once in their writing quest? (bruh, i don’t know what’s up with all the dramatic metaphors, but somebody queue the Wagner or something!)
so yes, writer’s block. most if not every writer, novice or seasoned, has dealt with it at some point–that feeling of blockage, that “brain fart” (or “brain constipation,” if you will) where you simply cannot think of anything to write. it sucks. especially if you’ve got a goal, like finishing a novel.
however, there are ways to combat it. it’s actually pretty psychological, according to this pretty cool article from The New Yorker. i guess that should be obvious, seeing as though it’s going on inside your head, but sometimes i feel like it gets conveyed as this supernatural force, shrouded in mystery. from whence does it come? whither does it go? and most of all: how the hell do i get rid of it???
well, needless to say, it’s different for everyone. but if you’ve found yourself stuck with writer’s block lately, here are my top five suggestions for digging yourself out.
1. take a break
maybe you’ve been taking too much of a break and that’s the problem. however, if you’ve been actively working on a project and find yourself just staring at the screen, hiccuping a few words an hour (ugh, i’ve been there), step away. go outside. stare at some birds. take a nap. (or get some sleep!)
it’s like when you can’t remember a word, and the minute you stop thinking about it, all of a sudden it just bobs to the surface. the subconscious is weird like that. however, it’s never a bad idea to take a break and give your brain a rest. just make sure the break doesn’t turn into a full-on vacation.
2. switch gears
if you’ve already taken all the breaks you can handle, then try putting down whatever project you’re stuck on and start working on something else. i don’t know about you, but aside from my main novel, i have like three side projects that i go back to incrementally. if you don’t have anything like that, try starting something new or brainstorming some ideas. you never know where it might lead–ideally, to you getting unstuck!
3. free write
oh yeah, bruh. if you’ve never done a free writing exercise before, you’re missing out. it’s like a detox for writers. there’s different variations on the theme, but here’s the one i’ve done in workshops: pick a word. any word. the first thing that comes to your head. (example: pad thai, which i did not have for lunch today, even though it’s pad thai tuesday.) now set a timer–a minute, five minutes, whatever–and write non-stop, starting with the first thing that comes to mind based on that one word. (example: i might write about the first time i had pad thai, or why i didn’t have it for lunch today, etc.)
don’t pause, don’t hesitate, don’t worry about making sense or staying on topic–just keep writing. writers tend to be neurotic creatures who want everything we write to be polished and brilliant, but that’s just… malarky!
sometimes writer’s block comes from the feeling that you can’t write anything good, but you have to push past that in order to get to the good writing. free writing will help break you out of that neurosis by forcing you to write without regard for anything but the act itself. remember, kids: writing is revision. so put aside the need to feel polished and just get some words on a page. as one of my college professors used to say, “don’t get it right, just get it written.”
4. make an outline
i’m so guilty of not doing this, but honestly, there’s different schools of thought when it comes to plotting stories. and none of them are really wrong because, as you’ve probably heard, there is no one right way to write a novel. (or anything creative, really.)
but if you’re stuck (and like me, you’re one for diving head-first into a project without any regard for structure), it’s not a bad idea to sit down and actually plot your story–both what you’ve already written and what you know you want to write. maybe you’ll end up rearranging some scenes or realize that there’s some major plot holes and that’s what was tripping you up. (that’s actually exactly what happened to me not so long ago.) couldn’t hurt!
5. read a book
don’t have to tell you twice, right? but seriously, we all get our inspiration from somewhere. if you’re stuck in your own writing, pick up a favorite book or a book that’s in your genre and give your creative center something to chew on.
maybe this is more of a personal one, but when i’m reading something good, i often start getting an itch to start writing because now i wanna craft a story like that. just, you know, don’t craft a story exactly like that. but for real, if you think you’re going to pull original ideas out of thin air, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. been there, done that. nothing’s truly original anyway… but that’s another post for another day.
in conclusion, the best advice for overcoming writer’s block (and the advice that you’ll find pretty much anywhere, including from this awesome post by Goins, Writer that i consulted) is to just keep writing. doesn’t matter how bad, or dumb, or dull, or unrelated to your project it is. make like Alexander Hamilton and write your way out.
did you find these tips helpful? do have your own tricks for getting rid of that pesky writer’s block? drop them in the comments!