Last month, I gave you some tips for beating January writing blues. The post was focused on getting your mojo back when you’re not really feeling like writing at all. Today, I’m sharing my tips for beating writer’s block – those times when you’re really geared up to write but can’t seem to force the words out.
I do agree that writer’s block is one of those excuses that is overused by writers who don’t have deadlines to meet and bills to pay with their writing. People who do don’t have the luxury of getting writer’s block. But at the same time, I know there are days when the writing is like pulling teeth. And it’s that sort of feeling I’m referring to when I say ‘writer’s block.’
There is no miracle cure for writer’s block. The best thing you can do is just keep writing. It might be painful, and produce rubbish, but it’s something. Of course, ‘just keep writing’ is exactly what you’re finding difficult in the first place. So, cure writer’s block by… not having writer’s block?
Life is never that simple, but there are some simple tricks you can use to hack your brain and get the words flowing again. They won’t work for everyone all the time, but try them out. It might just help!
1. Switch writing medium
If you handwrite, switch to the computer. If you type, switch to a notebook. This might just be me, but when I sit down to write at a computer, it feels important. It feels ‘real’, like these words count. In a notebook, I feel freer to experiment and not worry about the words so much. Also, because it’s not messing up the file I’m working on, I can write whatever I want, from whenever I want, in a different point of view, in a different tense. Taking away the ‘this is adding to my daily page/wordcount’ leaves you free to not stress about it so much. And you might just write something you can use later.
2. Do a Mindless Task
I’m a big believer in getting away from the computer screen/blank page if you’ve been sat at it too long. It can feel like giving up, but giving yourself a break can give your brain time to work through the problem that’s making you struggle with your writing. Try doing a completely menial, mindless task. Anything you don’t have to think too hard about. Don’t turn on the radio or the TV to keep you company. Just spend the time alone with your thoughts. It will give you the opportunity to think through your writing and the scene you’re stuck on, while not leaving you feeling that you’re wasting time. You’ve done something productive, and you’ve given yourself time to think about your story.
3. Start at a different point in the story
Some people don’t like to do this, but it’s the only way I ever get through NaNo. When word count is key – which it should be when you’re doing your first draft – you have to keep the momentum up. Sometimes that means skipping past a tricky scene and moving onto one of the ones you’re excited about writing. The kissy bits, or maybe the fighty bits. Whatever your passion is, cut straight to that. You’ll probably find the writer’s block vanishes and you can write many words/pages. Once you’ve hit your word count for the day, or just reached a point where you feel you’ve done enough to be considered ‘finished’ for the session, go back and spend half an hour moving forwards in the point you were stuck at. There’s no pressure then, because your words are done, and you might just find you’ve thought of a solution in the meantime.
4. Do Writing Exercises
Nine times out of ten, my writer’s block is because I don’t actually know where I’m going with a story. The other one time it’s because I’m not excited about the scene. Both indicate there’s a problem with the structure of the story. Because if I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t have a structure to speak of, and if I’m bored of a section, chances are pretty good a reader would be too. This is okay in a first draft. First drafts are meant to be a hot mess. But I’ve tried to stop seeing writer’s block as a mental failing and more as an indication of plot and structure problems. And when I get it, I try to think around the plot a bit. This is where writing exercises can be handy. Do a massive character questionnaire and learn new things about your protagonist that might give you fresh ideas about your story. Try writing scenes from different points of view. There are loads of exercises and prompts out there on the internet. Find some and see what new things they reveal. Then, go back to your story and resist temptation to fix it. Leave what you’ve done so far, make a note in a different colour about the decisions made, then keep moving forwards as if you’ve already gone back and corrected everything. Fix it when you’re editing. For now, just keep writing!
5. Trunk the project
If you’ve tried everything and it’s still not working, it might be time to trunk the project. It’s a big decision to make, and you’ll have a lot of pros and cons to weigh up. Con – you’ve done work on it, and binning it will feel like a failure and a waste. Pro – You’ll have learned from the work you’ve done so far, and those lessons can be applied to your next project. Perhaps you were too ambitious. Perhaps you were writing in the wrong genre. Perhaps there isn’t enough going on in the story to sustain it over 90,000 words. Whatever the reasons for the failure of the project, you need to identify them and learn from them. If the only reason you can think of is ‘it got a bit hard to write’ then trunking might not be the answer. Sticking it out and finishing will teach you much more than starting again will.
The Writer’s Life also has some tips for beating writer’s block. If a bit of procrastination is what you need, try creating Pinterst boards – a nice distraction that will keep you thinking about your story. Good luck!