9 Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block

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9 Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block

Chapter 1 “Beginning to Write” – Section 3 “Writer's Block”

Green Bat 1 by DesdemonaDeBlake
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“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
—Mark Twain

Sometimes we find ourselves at a point in writing where there is simply no motivation. Our muse or creative spirit simply does not motivate us like it normally does. And the trouble is that these moments can last a long time. A day without writing can become a week, a month, a year. And when enough time passes without having written anything, are we really any sort of writer at all? There has to be a resolution to this problem. When those moments come, we have to think of ways to cope with the situation so that our writing does not depend on fleeting emotions or feelings. The following are my top suggestions for overcoming writer's block and for continuing writing no matter what.

Tip 1: Differentiate writer's block as an abstraction from a literal condition.

Many people combat writer's block by stating that it doesn't exist (myself included). But when stating that, we don't deny that there is a point in time at which writing is painfully difficult. We simply mean that there is no magical force preventing our hands from making words. No matter how uninspired you feel, you can always put words on the page. And the cool thing is that writer's block actually isn't as devastating as it would seem because most of your earlier drafts, where writer's block is most common, will be thrown away anyways. You are simply creating a slab of marble from which to later carve out the art. So just get words on the page and move the story forward. I also recommend speaking of writer's block in a realistic way. Instead of saying or thinking that you have a writer's block (a barrier impeding your work), tell yourself that you are dealing with writer's block (struggling but proceeding, even though you have an impeding ailment). This can change how your brain deals with the block, and make you feel more able to get through it. The important thing is to strip writer's block of its psychological power over you, as well as to break your reliance on the abstract concept of a muse. 

Tip 2: Write something else.

If the lack of inspiration is so bad as to be unbearable (as mine often is when I decide to work on these tutorials), write something separate but relevant. Just like I write the articles, you can write your own literary advice, reviews, short stories, and even poetry and songs. These not only give a productive break that heightens our skill in the craft, but they kindle our creativity and get us back to our writing. If you have a second finished manuscript that you are working on, you can switch to editing work. Sharpen your skills and get your brain into writing mode manually by doing corrections, and working with material you've already struggled through once. And if you don't have a second novel to work on, edit for somebody else. The important thing is not always to be coming up with a fresh story or new material, just to be constantly immersed and growing in the writing process. 

Tip 3: Change how you are writing your novel. 

I think that writer's block is often more than just mental fatigue due to lack of inspiration or an increase in stress. Sometimes, I think writers just get bored and tired of their stories. This is especially true when you have laid out prep-work, and you are carefully trying to follow it as you create a carefully constructed story. You can get so focused on writing in a thoughtful way, that you forget to make it a fun journey for you. If you feel like this might be you, perhaps you should consider taking a new approach to the story. There is obviously something about it that interests you about the novel you are working on, otherwise you would not be writing it. But you are obviously trudging through something you find uninteresting. Change that. Make something crazy and interesting happen. Switch perspectives. Adjust your characters to make them more despicable or more funny. Just find a way to change the story so that every scene gives you some sort of delight; and approach every new page with an attitude that makes you say, "Now how do I make this page awesome?"

Tip 4: Have a writing schedule.

Like with exercise, going to class, or working, our minds adapt to the schedules we give them as to make us most productive. If you've always taken school classes in the morning, chances are that is when you are best at absorbing new information. If you like to work out at dusk with an upward incline, that's probably how your body works at its peak performance. We are creatures both of habit and adaption. So to create a schedule to write between certain hours every day can serve to kick-start your creativity and keep it fueled through your regular schedule. It's a way for us to tell our brains, "Hey dude, I know you're all sticky and don't want to help me with this writing business. But we both want this novel to eventually exist, so just give me this scheduled time. Then you can get back to being sticky and I will demand no more of you."

Tip 5: Engage in art that triggers your emotions of need.

In the realm of stories, there are two categories of emotions. The first are emotions that make you feel fulfilled, like the happiness you get when the hero is victorious and everything is alright at the end. The second are the emotions that leave you hungry, like the seemingly senseless tragedy of love being snuffed out by a family's petty quarrels (Romeo and Juliet). I label these emotions hunger-inducing because they leave you unsatisfied and with a need to do something or express yourself. If you listen to a song about the injustices that this world deals out, then you might feel an anger that burns inside you and makes you want to change that. They make your novel less of something to do just for fun, and more of a need to express yourself and feed the hunger in your soul. So try watching a show that makes you feel hopeless. Maybe look at paintings that stir up unresolved emotional pain in you. Listen to music that gets you all riled up. Just find a way to change your self-expression from a want to a need.  

Tip 6: Take a Creativity Walk.

Sometimes, the only thing you need in order to get your inspiration back is to get your blood pumping because your psyche is tired. Sitting in a dark room drinking coffee and occasionally whiskey while you write is fun and even fulfilling, but it does not give our brains everything they need to work at peak efficiency. We need those nice chemical releases that come from exercise. We need some occasional sunlight to give us that dreaded vitamin D (the devil's vitamin). And as much as it offends my brooding self, we sometimes just need to enjoy the fresh air, smell the flowers, and watch the bumblebees. So go outside and take a creativity walk for about twenty minutes to an hour. In the meantime, just let your brain drift where it will and unclog itself of any thought that may be interrupting your process. I advise walking where there are no people and doing it without music or any distractions. Let your thoughts be your music.

Tip 7: Pace around in your room and have a serious talk with your characters.

Your characters are real in that they are a part of you. And sometimes your lack of inspiration is the result of a flaw in communication between yourself and those characters. You want them to go forward and face the dragon, and you are so dead-set on it that you can't figure out why you can't think of a believable way to make them go. Or else you force them to go, but can't understand why this feels so unnatural. So pace around in your room with a notebook in hand, and ask your characters some questions. What do you want? What are the extremes of what you are willing to do to get what you want? What is standing in your way? You might just figure out that your character is very afraid and needs to be built up more before they'll ever be the hero you need. And when you can better understand your character, the direction of your writing will be much more clear.

Tip 8: Break apart your project into manageable chunks.

Another trigger for writer's block is the overwhelming nature of the novel. If you begin to do your research and talk with people who have worked on writing, you'll quickly discover that learning to write a novel takes a long time and a tremendous amount of effort. And once you start, you'll quickly learn that it is an activity that takes a while to get the hang of. Because of this, writing a novel will eventually feel like a monstrous task that can never be completed. But the truth is that it can, as long as you just keep moving forward. Apart from forcing yourself along one paragraph at a time, there are other ways to break down writing into manageable chunks for yourself. You can create character biographies, you can design a narrator, you can map, you can outline your plot, you can outline chapters, and you can do many other things. We'll be working on these as we progress through the tutorial. And by completing the exercises, you can begin to break down your novel into bite-sized pieces that you can get through one at a time. 

Tip 9: Write in the most difficult ways possible, and create challenges for yourself. 

Yet another trigger for writer's block is the inner critic. It is that inner force that drives you to halt your progress, turn around, and edit before moving forward. It is the force that makes you rewrite your first chapter a hundred times, until you hate it and dread the thought of moving forward. The first step in dealing with this inner critic is, of course, to ignore it and refuse to edit until you finish a draft. But there are some people for whom the inner critic is a lot tougher to beat. In these cases, I recommend writing at a disadvantage, where you don't have enough brainpower to fuel your inner critic. Some authors overcome this with heavy drinking, smoking, or abusing drugs (as you've no doubt heard about and seen in movies). Please don't. While these methods may work (and while I refuse to judge artists who take this route, as it is their life to live), you will create more work and be able to enjoy them longer if your life isn't cut short. On top of that, there are other ways to achieve the same effect.

Write at a disadvantage, during those times when you are struggling through writer's block. Try writing while you are sleepy, so that you are just mindlessly typing away. You'll make a lot of mistakes and write a lot of stupid things, but you'll be moving forward. Write while standing up or while you have to go to the bathroom (some people believes this actually helps with test-taking too). Write with music blaring in the background or with annoying music that you hate playing. Write in public, in a place where everybody is chattering and you can't hear yourself think. Write while typing with two fingers or while sucking on a lemon. If you have a writing partner, give one another writing challenges like writing three pages while having to do 10 push-ups after each paragraph. And feel free to make it fun. Just mix it up and find what makes that inner critic so irritated that it finally throws a temper tantrum and runs away. 

Write-A-Novel Exercise 1.3

In the comments section, share what method you use to write when you are enduring writer's block. Give others some ideas and maybe pick up some for yourself.


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serana98's avatar
My writer's block manifests in not writing regularly and continuously on one story. I enjoy writing, and I like my stories, but beginning them always runs out in the sand; whether that's when I write on my laptop or by hand. I'm still struggling to handle that :D But when I just can't put pen to paper or let the words out, I either have a talk with myself or check off everything else on my to-do-list. For the first one, it helps to e.g. go for a walk as you suggested (sometimes I prefer biking) and just think things through. Analysing why I can't write instead of what should the sentence or next word be. The second one is practical because when I have a lot on my plate, I can't focus on either my tasks or my writing. But finishing my tasks forces me to eventually sit down and write when I'm done. In the meantime, it's often been a while, and doing mindless tasks often give my mind time to relax, and spend my energy. When I then return to writing, my mind is ready to offer up new ideas :D