How to Beat Writer’s Block
No writer is immune to the occasional (or, oft-times, more-than-occasional) case of writer’s block. The good news is, it’s not terminal, and your book will be just fine. This week Steve and I take a look at the causes of and possible cures for writer’s block. You can listen below, or download the file here. Remember, you can always find Steve and I on Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and Stitcher.
Before we delve too deeply into the issue, I want to make it clear that each case of writer’s block is unique and individual. Causes stem from a variety of reasons. This is far from a comprehensive list, but it’s a great start.
- A lack of ideas: This is a fairly self-explanatory problem, and generally affects those “organic” writers (of which I am one) who do not outline.
- Too many ideas: This affects the same subset of writers. Here, you have too many ideas, and your paralyzed with the idea of committing to one particular path.
- A lack of knowledge/understanding of your characters: This most often strikes those who are slaves to outlines to the detriment of character. These are the writers who feel plot is infinitely more important than character, and thusly spend less time conceptualizing their characters. When presented with a decision the character has to make that goes against their nature, the writer may end up blocked and not know that it is likely because they’re trying to pigeonhole a character that is resisting it with every fiber of their being.
- Fear: This is the block that comes from knowing what you need to do, but not wanting to do it. You may face this when you know one of your characters must die, but you love them too much to let them go.
- Too much time away from your work: This one sounds pretty lame, but the longer you’re away from your work, the harder it is to get back in to it. Just imagine taking a few years off school and trying to jump back in. Sure, it may be just like riding a bike, but if you don’t ride a bike for years, don’t expect to win any competitions once you climb back on. The more time you practice your craft, the more time you invest in it routinely, the better you become.
As I see it, there are two basic ways to deal with writer’s block. The first is to attack it head-on. The second is to retreat and regroup, so to speak. Within each of these strategies are several other strategies you can employ.
The basic philosophy of attacking writer’s block is to overwhelm it by writing anyway, and understanding that the writing may not be your best, but it will be beneficial eventually. If you haven’t spent enough time in your book, then you may suffer from wb because you’ve been away from it too long. The best solution, then, is to spend as much time as you can in your book. Here are some ways to do that:
- Write an outline: If you don’t know where your story is going, take some time to try to rough out an outline, even if you’re not an outline style writer. The act of thinking ahead will help you realize where you should be headed and how to get there.
- Write disconnected scenes: If you’re having trouble understanding where your characters are coming from, write some scenes from their perspectives that will not appear in the book. This will help you better understand them and help you to figure out how they would react in certain situations, or even clue you in on what situations to put them in to get the most bang for your buck. Even better, write a scene from your book that will occur later in the chronology. Try writing the end, and that may help you better imagine the middle.
- Write something else: Sometimes you get tired of your book. Take a break from it, but make sure you’re still writing something. Sometimes, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
- Brainstorm or collaborative brainstorm: Ask yourself pointed questions about your story and/or your characters. Better yet, enlist the help of a friend. Give them a call and say, “Can I talk to you about my story?” Sometimes someone on the outside will have a clearer vision of what you’re developing than you will.
- Research something that you’re working on: The process of finding new information on your subject can help give you that extra boost you need to finally hurdle over even the worst case of wb.
The basic idea of retreating and regrouping is to combat burn-out. Perhaps you’ve just been doing too much lately, and not just writing. Your life is crazy busy and you can’t seem to focus on a fictional world when reality presses in around you on all sides. Here are some ways that can help:
- Go for a run: (or a walk, if that’s more your speed) Physical activity helps stimulate the mind and can help you come up with amazing ideas you never would have thought of sitting behind your computer monitor. Also, being outside in the fresh air and experiencing the tangible world of senses will help you write with more imagery.
- Take a bath: (or a hot shower, if that’s your thing) The key here is to relax, get those knots out of your muscles, focus on something other than your writing. Writing can be an intensive process, and if we over do it, it can take quite a bit out of us and wear us out.
- Take a nap: Maybe you just need some good quality sleep. A 15 min power nap might help recharge your batteries.
- Immerse yourself in art: Read something (or watch something, or listen to something, or look at something). Art inspires art. Grab a book of poems, or the latest thriller novel you’ve been dying to read. Go to a museum. Look at paintings and photography. Listen to your favorite music (Steve and I like movie and game soundtracks, specifically The Pirates of the Caribbean and Skyrim. Peter Hollens has some great a capella covers of popular songs, and some killer originals, btw. Check him out if you get a chance.) When you do so, see what ideas you come up with that you can include in your story.
There’s a few ideas in a nutshell. They’re the ones that tend to work for me. Just remember, no matter how bad your block is, you’ll get through it eventually, and, more often than not, the writing that comes AFTER it is great. Until next week, good writing.