Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block
If you are a writer it’s almost a certainty that at one point in your writing life you experienced what’s called a “writer’s block”. I say “what’s called,” and I quote it because I am not 100% certain that writer’s block, per se, is a phenomenon exclusively dedicated to writers.
Let me back up a bit and explain what I am talking about. I’ve been in writer’s block hell, more than once, and this is how it has manifested for me: all day I’d run around doing my things, my work, my chores, and so on, but never stop thinking about writing. I feel excited about it, I think of new plot lines, new scenes, new characters and settings. During my commute I read books on writing or my favorite authors and observe the way they worked their craft.
The Black Hole
The whole day is basically a preamble for my evening writing. Then I finally get home, chat with my wife about our day, eat, take a shower, put my child to bed, drink some tea or a glass of wine, and eventually sit down at my desk. Turn on the computer, fix the keyboard, fire up my writing software and Bam! That’s when it starts. A feeling of emptiness, a deep black whole inside my brain and my body, a twirling sand trap in which I am slowly sinking, deeper and deeper. The sand fetters my feet, then my arms and eventually covers my face, fills my nostrils and mouth and suffocates me.
My fingers feel stiff. I type a sentence. I can’t write another one, I have to read the first one first. I read it. It sounds stupid, puerile, idiotic. I delete it. I write a line of dialogue, ending it with XYZ said. Now I read the name of the protagonist. It sounds childish and dumb. Now I am thinking I have to go back and change the name throughout the entire manuscript. Now I am panicked. What if everything else sucks as well? Do I have to change everything? What do I do???
An hour later I am still staring at the screen, just three shy words crawling in front of the blinking cursor, mocking me with his joyous flicker. So, I turn everything off and I go away and that’s when it happens… the worst thing ever. I say to myself: “it’s ok, I probably didn’t feel it today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
That is Doom, with capital “F”. Because the truth is this: tomorrow is never easier. Tomorrow you carry on the weight of the doubts of today. Tomorrow you won’t forget the panic you set in today. Tomorrow will be worse. And just saying that “I didn’t feel like it” is a defense mechanism. It’s a way for me to be at peace with myself. It’s a lie, I lie to myself trying to sugarcoat my lack of will power.
And we do this in all aspects of life, don’t we? Have you had one of those days in the office where you just don’t feel like doing anything? And you roam around the office, dragging folders and files around, looking busy, making copies of blank papers and faxing doodles to non-existent numbers? No, it’s just me? Ok… But you did experience something similar to that. And at the end of the day you had a friend or family member close and you said: “You know, today I just didn’t feel like doing shit.” And you feel good. You feel redeemed. You didn’t lose the day. You just didn’t feel it. You’ll pick it up tomorrow, you say, forgetting you now have a pile of stuff to catch up with.
So, let me return to my point: the writer’s block is not a write’s block, it’s just a human block. It’s a part of our being, it’s our procrastination baggage that we carry everywhere. It’s almost the same as leaving the dirty dish on the table, because it’s easier to wash it tomorrow. It’s not a writer’s block, it’s just you being lazy!
Ok, so what can you do about it? I created my own plan of breaking out of this deadly locked out state. I needed a way to free my mind and my body from this lazy glue that covers me like a death cloud and slows down every bit of my being. I found that the secret to that is to 1) change focus and 2) do it fast.
I strongly believe that as a writer you should never stop at working on only one project. Of course, you may have your “big” project, the book, the novel or what have you. But alongside that project you should always keep writing other things. You should always flex your writing brain by reaching out into other genres, into non-fiction, or even into poetry.
This is how I do it: I have an ongoing Word file where I do my writing exercises. I don’t even separate it by anything because it’s basically just a dump of writing bits whose purpose is exclusively to fire up my brain.
When you feel like you don’t “feel like it”, don’t argue with that feeling. It’s hard wired into your brain. The more you fight it, the deeper you will go. Instead, change focus. Stop the work that you’re doing and turn yourself to a different project. Open up the ongoing file and write a page long sentence. Do not stop until you completely fill-in a page. Do not put a period until you reach the end.
Do you need writing prompts? Ideally I’d like you to think of something yourself; for example, go back to your entire day. Start from the morning and do a fast-forward in your head. Did anything capture you during the day? A person, a place, an event, a sound, anything? Make the story about that. If you are really stuck and you don’t know what to write about, use a writing prompt. On this site I present (almost) daily a new writing prompt. Get some from here: Writing Prompts.
After you finished with this page, don’t waste time reading it. Go to the next page and write one page in a genre that you hate. For example, if you are Sci-Fi author, try to write a romance page. Or even better, dwell into erotica or murder mystery. Anything that you are 100% not comfortable writing. Guess what: nobody cares what you write because nobody will read it, probably not even you.
What do these exercises accomplish: one, is getting your hand to answer to your brain. You are putting words on paper. You are generating content. Second, it forces your brain to go outside of the comfort zone. Just like your biceps lifting 15 pounds everyday and getting to a plateau, so does your creative side of your brain. Sometimes it needs a jolt of something different. Sometimes, writing into a genre that you genuinely dislike may remind you how much you like your genre. Now you are again excited about getting back to your project.
Regardless of the type of exercise you use, try to make it to 1000 words. It’s not a lot, but just enough to get you going.
Do It Fast
Whenever you feel the block taking over, don’t try to fight it. You will only dig a deeper hole. Change focus right away and stay away from your project for those 1000 words. Then try to get back to it. If you still can’t you have two options: do it all over again or start from the beginning. I hope you will excuse me for being coy, but the reality is this: your block is a mental state that you accept. If you accept it, soon it will become a part of who you are. Don’t let that happen. Act fast, act now.
Change your focus and reframe yourself. Do it as many times as it takes until you feel you climbed back out of the sand.
Keep at it!
In reality, depending on the severity, it may take a few days, but I guarantee that if you keep at it and you do not let yourself trapped into the downspiral, you will overcome the block and you will be back at writing in no time.
And let me share a little secret with you: this post was me changing focus. As a matter of fact, I find that non-fiction is a great way to completely shift focus. If you are a blogger you can use that to your advantage. Write some posts, post some comments. Keep writing something different every time. You will not only pull yourself out of the blackness of the block, but in the same time you will improve your writing craft and you will flex those little brain cells and take your creativity to new levels.
Do you have any writer’s block horror stories? What happened, how did it manifest? What did you do to get out of it? Did you get out of it? Use the comment box below to share your story or thoughts with us and help the community!
All the best,