We all get writer’s block at some point. It’s part of life. No matter how fast your fingers might be flying over the keys one day – hell, even one minute – the next you could be crashing up against that stone wall that seems a thousand-feet high. Your fingers are immobile, your breath is caught in your throat. The very idea of hitting a single key or writing a single letter seems a herculean task.
Everyone has their own ways of dealing with it. You find what works as time goes on. And I wouldn’t dare pretend to tell you that I’ve got any secret recipe for making everything hunky-dory. Unfortunately, writing just doesn’t work that way. Most probably it’s going to be a real pain in the arse for the rest of your life, and it might take days to get over the humps even when you do everything right. In fact, sometimes you’ll have to just plum give up the project you’re working on, and move on to something else. If you get the block bad enough, like I’ve had in the past, that WIP may sit in the drawer for years, and never see the light of day again.
But there are a few things you can do to make it that bit easier. They’re not fool-proof, and they’re not quick-fix solutions, but below are just a few bits of common-sense thinking that might kick-start the process.
1. Don’t Force It
A big no-no. Anyone who has spent time writing knows that putting your arse in the chair and churning out the words, no matter how little you feel like it, is essential. Even when you know whatever you’re going to produce is utter tripe, and can be thrown away immediately after you’ve dotted the last ‘i’ (which is called a tittle, by the way – I love trivia) and crossed the last ‘t’, it’s always worth sitting down to do it. Keeping your mind exercised and focused is an indispensable asset.
But, at the same time, when you come to a roadblock, there’s no use in banging your head against it. Sitting down and slogging your way through the meadows of treacle that lie between you and the other side will only lead to something that will make you wince and wail later on.
Instead, use that time for something else. Write, certainly, but something else. Anything else. You might just find that those words come easier, and might even give you the momentum you need to get back to your WIP.
2. Don’t Stop Reading
A writer who never reads is like an artist who spends all day staring at the same plasterboard wall.
Your inspiration comes not only from looking at the world, but from other minds – especially other writers’ minds. The moment you stop reading, one of your primary lifelines falls dead. Books are your windows to worlds beside the one before your eyes and the one behind it; in fact, they’re doorways to infinite worlds. Surely surrendering such a resource for even the shortest time is sheer insanity?
So, whether you’re stuck or in the slickest flow, read. Read anything and everything. Sure, it’s all well and good reading around your own genre or subject (in fact, doing so is vital if you’re going to be successful in the publishing arena). But don’t limit yourself to that. Doing so would be closing yourself off from the vast majority of those doorways I mentioned.
Grab a dusty tome on literary analysis. Read some chick-lit. Pick up that automobile magazine. It’s all good writing, and it’ll open your eyes to alternative flavours of those sacred creative juices.
Sometimes you hit a block because there’s a problem you’ve been subconsciously ignoring, something you’ve been working your way up to without a clue how you were going to leap that hurdle. It’s true, often enough there’s no reason at all, and your luck is just that sucky. Still, it’s worth taking a pause and going back to read over what you’ve done, start to finish if you feel you might need it.
The mind has a habit of clinging to what it thinks it’s written, rather than what it has. That’s why we need proofreaders: no matter how many times you edit that manuscript, you’re always going to see what you meant to write, and not what’s on the page. Therefore you might find that the reason you’re stuck is because of a fundamental fracture between what you wanted the project to be, and what it’s becoming.
Reading it over and seeing what you’ve actually produced may go some way to forging a bridge between the discontinuities. Further, it might give you a running start, a la ‘Don’t Force It’.
4. Do Your Thing
It doesn’t matter what it is, but on top of writing something else and reading whatever you can get your hands on, you need to do something else entirely. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it has nothing to do with writing.
Go for a walk. Put up a shelf. Play in the garden with your kids. Do some yoga.
Whatever takes your fancy. Make it something so far removed from writing that the concept of a keyboard or a pen scarcely enters your mind. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Just make sure you end up back in the chair before long. You don’t want to end up in Procrastination Land. The road back from there is a long one.
5. Forgive Yourself
It’s okay to be stuck. It’s okay to sit around for hours on end and not produce anything worth keeping. It happens to the very best writers. Always has, always will.
Accept that this is part of the game, and go with it. Even better, try to enjoy the challenge. You will get past it.
So there’s my 5 tips. I have to admit, these kinds of lists usually make me sneer in derision, mostly because they’re a run of overly-specific quick-fixes. But these principles have come in some use to me. I always try to keep my writing mantra vague and loose. Hopefully, they’re vague enough to be of some worth to you too.