I’m here again today to talk about writer’s block. I’ve talked about it before, but I’m revisiting the issue again because, well, it’s pretty prevalent in most writer’s lives. So many of us have just accepted that sometimes we’re going to open up a scene, super excited to get writing and find that we’re simply unable to get the words down. Whether you can pinpoint the cause of your block or not, it’s still frustrating to deal with. I’ve put together what I think is a decent list of tips and tricks to get rid of writer’s block.
I do have another post, Writer’s Block – Fight Back!, written a little over a year ago which contains a few other tips you can try if none of these ends up suiting you. There are a few repeats from the linked post, but I tried to not include it if I didn’t have anything new to say about it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New
When I try to help someone with their writer’s block, one of the persistent responses I get when I suggest things is “No, that won’t work, that’s not my process/style.” I’m absolutely here to say that most of the time I get writer’s block, trying something that’s not part of my normal process solves the problem, at least enough to get me through the part that’s causing the block. Even if it’s maybe something you’ve tried before. Give your brain a new way to think about the piece that’s maybe not part of your usual process.
If you’re a ‘plotter,’ try pantsing
Might sound a little weird, but it can actually help. Maybe you’d prefer to call it ‘free-writing’ or stream-of-consciousness, but writing in a way that breaks you away from your pre-determined plot might help you find exactly what you were looking for. Especially if the problem lies in “I built this character with x personality trait, and this finite plot point needs to happen to keep the story alive but I can’t see character doing it anymore.”
Even if you don’t do it in the same document, even if you write a bunch of words that you delete later on, it might help you figure out the plot point you’re having trouble with, or find a different direction to go in.
If you’re a ‘pantser,’ try plotting
This has recently gotten me out a few troublesome situations. Instead of writing yourself around in circles trying to figure out what’s going to happen, take a few minutes and make a list of plot points you know need to happen, even if you’re not sure of exactly what’s going to happen next. Writing down your plot can make you think about things in a more sequential way, and it might help you come up with the point you’re missing.
I personally like a pen and a bunch of notecards, but really, there are a hundred ways to plot, from using Scrivener’s ‘notecard’ feature on a scene document, making an Excel spreadsheet of plot points, a notepad document on your desktop, to my favorite – sitting down with a stack of note cards and going to town. The great thing about plotting, too, is that it can be as detailed or as abstract as you want/need it to be. From a single word or sentence to an entire page or more describing the details of the scene. Whatever you need it to be.
(I actually found a really cool way to use an Excel Spreadsheet for outlining a novel here.)
I know, you might be thinking that this only halfway counts as writing. This isn’t getting words onto the page. And in a way, that’s right. When I get stuck, sometimes, instead of trying to painstakingly put the words down on the page, I play the scene I’m stuck on in my head, almost like I’m watching a movie. I suppose it might not work unless you’re something of a visual thinker, but if you’ve tried everything else, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
When I say play the scene like a movie, I mean do it over and over until it feels right. If you’re stuck between multiple things that could happen, play it over again, making the changes and seeing which one flows better.
Take a break
Seriously. There’s a good chance you’ve just burned yourself out focusing too hard. Take a night off and read, watch TV, do another craft if you do one; give your figurative batteries a chance to recharge.
Write something else
Or edit something else (not your current WIP). If you have another project, maybe you’ll be able to work on that one instead, giving yourself a decent break from what you’re blocked on while still leaving you feeling good and productive.
And, as a bonus, taking active thought away from what you’re experiencing the writer’s block on means that you might just dislodge the answer while you’re working on your other piece. If not, you may be able to go in your next writing session with a clearer head to get to the bottom of it.
Ask yourself if the action is in character
Sometimes when I’m stuck, it’s really just that I’m trying to force my character into something they wouldn’t naturally do based on the personality/traits they’re made from. While you are, of course, the master of your own universe, and your characters are your own creations, you’ve also designed them with certain character traits. If the action/plot point is outside of how that character operates normally, that may be what’s causing your writer’s block.
Try some free writing
If you don’t have a second WIP to focus on, maybe trying something completely different might help. Google writing prompts or simply open a new document and start typing whatever comes into your head. Even if it’s nothing. Even if you hate it. Even if it’s just random thoughts being strewn about. Freewriting is a good way of thinking on the page, and you might just knock an idea loose you hadn’t known was there.
Talk to yourself
Even if it feels a little silly, you may end up talking yourself into the solution. I usually end up doing this when I’m talking to someone else (or rather, talking at someone else) about a plot I’m stuck on, and almost every time, I’ve managed to talk myself into a solution.
If you have a voice recorder on your phone, you may also find it helpful to talk it ALL out and play it back for yourself later on. There might be an idea hidden in all those words that you completely missed the first time around because you were so stuck on getting out of your writer’s block.
Not literally, but think about the ending of your piece. Then think of what happens just before that. And then just before that. Follow a reverse-trail of breadcrumbs to come to a plausible solution for where you’re stuck now.
I absolutely swear by writing backward for horror stories. After having a few “what if…” ideas fall completely flat when I started writing and found I had nowhere to go (since no ending would come to me) I’ve found out that before I start writing, I need to know the ending or I’m going to find myself floundering around looking for a lifeline.
If you hadn’t given your ending much thought, go back and see if you can find one, even if it ends up changing. Thinking about where your story is in terms of where it needs to be might help you get where you need to go.
Remember, your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect
Perfectionism is a huge cause of writer’s block. One of my friends is having a hell of a time writing a story that she absolutely loves because she can’t turn off that inner editor. She’s one of the reasons I’m revisiting these writer’s block tips again.
I know that people want their first draft to be not just good, but great. They want it to be perfection they can simply draft a query for and send out into the world. The fact of the matter is I don’t know a single writer who’s ever written one draft of a novel and called it done.
Honestly, your first draft doesn’t even have to be all that good. It just has to be complete. You can edit the absolute hell out of it once it’s done, but for now, you’ve just got to push through this annoying little block to get one step closer to the finish line. It’s okay to fudge the scene a little bit to get through it. You can always knock it out again in editing.
Jump ahead to a different scene
that you’re more excited about, then connect point A to point B later. You might even find when you’re going back to add the missing scene, that the piece works better without it, and you’ve saved yourself the trouble of having to figure it out.
I only do this one when I have no other options. I have a tough time going through and writing out of order, and I think it might be due to the fact that I usually write things without a plot, so I’m learning the plot as I write the first draft. I’ve also done this and then realized that the action wasn’t nearly as important as the repercussions for the action, and was able to work around having to write the scene that was causing the writer’s block.
Power through it.
Sometimes, to get past some tough writer’s block, I just write. I write the scene, knowing it’s going to be garbage, knowing that it’s almost entirely going to change later on. I write words that don’t work, descriptions that are sorely lacking, so I can at least get the facts down because I can’t fix it if it’s not there.
Don’t censor yourself.
Sometimes, when we’re writing, we get really caught up in things like proper grammar, syntax, the perfect word, etc. While these should be in your mind during a first draft, if you’re having trouble, sometimes it helps to just write the simplest phrasing instead of trying to ‘get it right/perfect’ the first time.
Remember that it’s okay to write garbage. I said it above during a different point, but I can think of exactly 0 (zero) authors who only wrote one draft of something.
For myself, personally, my first drafts often consist of long gaps of almost stream-of-consciousness writing with maybe a few lines of dialogue. While I’m working on this in first drafts so I don’t have to work so hard during revision, I also know it’s one of the best things I can do to get the thoughts out, and often can lead to ‘learning’ new things about your character, if you’re the ‘panter’ type and go into things without clear character outlines.
I hope that some of these could be helpful. Every time I get writer’s block, I try to remember what I did to get out of it so I can keep compiling these little lists and things. Really, the big point here is don’t rule anything out before you’ve given it an honest try. I never thought plotting would help me, but I did it, and it saved an entire idea I had that I was getting ready to scrap. I never thought that “just writing it” would work for me, either, but it not only got me through the scene (which granted does need a lot of work to fix) but through writing it, gave me an idea for what was to come that I hadn’t previously considered.
What do you do when you’re going through a bout of writer’s block? Did you try any of these and solve your block? Leave a comment and let me know what you think about writer’s block.