Combating Writer's Block

What is writer’s block?

 

I see a lot of new writers asking this question because they, luckily, haven’t come across it yet - or perhaps they just haven’t yet discovered the term for that dreadful, deadening feeling when all inspiration, all confidence, and all ideas are killed in one fell swoop.

 

That is writer’s block.

 

Wikipedia says: Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown.

 

Have any of you experienced it? I bet you have.

I have had quite a few writers ask me to give tips on how to combat the infamous condition, but first let’s look at the causes. Understanding the causes may very well help you to avoid the condition.

CAUSES OF WRITER'S BLOCK

Timing

Sometimes you have a fabulous idea you are desperate to work on, but it just isn’t the right time to start. You don’t have to stick with your first idea and, a lot of the time, writing down your first idea sets it in concrete. It makes you feel stuck with it. So don’t write it down. Not just yet. You may need to sit on the idea for a while longer and let it stew. Let the characters form slowly; let the plot change over and over.

 

Fear

A lot of writers have very little self-esteem. They think they’re rubbish at writing. Who doesn’t? I guarantee you, even Joanna Rowling and Stephen King fear that the novel they’re writing isn’t good enough. In fact, for them, the pressure is even worse.

Perfectionism

This is the most common reason for why writers get writer’s block. Writers have this strange notion that, firstly, they’ll write the book starting from chapter 1 and ending with the epilogue and, secondly, that the first draft will be a gem. It won’t. But that doesn’t matter. Nobody is going to see it (unless you’re foolish enough to show it to someone. Don’t ever show anyone your first draft! It’s like showing someone a half painted portrait and expecting them to see an angel when all they can see is a gargoyle).

Now, let’s assume you didn’t avoid these common causes, like many writers before you. You have fallen head first into the chasm that is writer’s block.

 

You’re probably feeling like you’re not good enough to be a writer, so why bother? Some writers churn out at least a book a year, while you haven’t written a word in 3 months! You’re clearly not a ‘proper’ writer. Besides, everything you do come out with is total rubbish. You have terrible ideas and they’re even worse on paper. You might as well abandon your dream.

 

Okay, so I may be exaggerating a bit (though a lot of writers feel exactly what I’ve just described - I know I have).

 

You need to get yourself out of that hole. Nobody can do it for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.

 

But how?

How do we vanquish the enemy?

 

Every time you get writer’s block (yes, you will get it more than once), it’s likely you’ll need to vanquish it in a different way. It really depends on your circumstances, the way in which you got writer’s block, and the kind of block you have.

HERE'S HOW NOT  TO DO IT

  • Wait for ‘inspiration’ to magically appear

  • Wallow in self-pity

  • Procrastination

Here are some tips for getting through the ailment - you will likely need to try more than one and, as I say, each time will be different.

VANQUISH THE ENEMY:

Exercise - like, outside...

We writers tend not to enjoy that ‘exercise’ thing - some do!

If you’re one of the types who avoid it as best they can, it’s time to get outside.

Talk a walk, wherever you live; through the woods or the park, to the highstreet, round the block. Your brain needs to refresh itself and exercise can really help take your mind off things at work and home and works wonders on your stress levels.

If you want to take it a step further, you could even go on a run, go to the gym, go on a bike ride…

Get outside, get your body moving, press ‘restart’ on your tired brain.

Eliminate distractions

Distractions cause procrastination. While procrastination isn’t a cause for writer’s block (if it was, it would just be called ‘laziness’), it is certainly a side-effect. It won’t help you get through your block and will only make it worse.

Close all of your internet tabs. Better yet, close the internet. Turn off all notifications on your laptop and your phone. Put your phone on silent.

There’s a marvelous app I recently found for google called Boomerang. It enables a ‘pause’ button on your email. You can even set a time for your email to automatically become unpaused. There are also phone apps which turn off your notifications (facebook, twitter, instagram) and penalise you for checking your phone.

Play music

You’ve got rid of all your distractions and yet the blank page still glares at you.

Think: what film does your novel remind you of? Is it a romance? A thriller? Crime fiction? Fantasy?

It’s time to make a playlist on Spotify. Find the soundtracks to films in your genre. I tend to use The Hunger Games or Notes on a Scandal soundtracks. I also like to listen to Jazz; particularly Thelonious Monk or Charlie Parker, but that may just be me.

Play this music while you try to write. For me, it conjures up scenes in my head and, using the right kind of music for the right chapter, it helps me ‘feel’ the scene.

Sometimes I use Youtube, but only when I’m 100% sure which music I want to listen to, otherwise, 2 hours later you’ll find yourself watching yet another video of ‘Funny Celebrity Moments’ or ‘Best Clips of You’ve Been Framed’.

 

Freewrite

Some writers find this the scariest practice.

Write whatever comes off the top of your head and see what comes out. Do this more about 15 minutes a day.

You may end up writing ‘blah blah blah’ a hundred times but the page will no longer be blank. The ‘blah’s will get boring and something will appear, however rubbish it is.

If this sounds really silly, try writing a diary entry about your week.

Change how you write

Do you write using a laptop? A pen? A typewriter?

Try something different.

I usually write on my laptop, but if I know I’m going to struggle with a chapter, I write it on paper - my logic is, it takes longer to write words on paper so your mind has more time to think while you write. If I want to write something really poetic and thought through, I get my typewriter out (watching me on a typewriter is like watching your Grandma on an Iphone...it’s very slow and methodical).

 

Change your diet

I know this sounds boring, but it’s true: your diet can really affect your writing habits. If you drink too much coffee, your brain won’t be able to focus. Stop drinking coffee and you’ll find that, firstly, you’ll have a lot more time spare in the day without having to go to the kitchen yet again and, secondly, your brain is capable of waking up on its own!

Don’t forget to eat lunch!

Drink lots of water!

Do something else

Literally, anything.

 

If you’re still at a loss and don’t mind so much about the urgency of needing to write again:

 

Carry on with your life

Stop worrying about writer’s block. Shelve the project, carry on with what ever else you have going on. Get out and about, have new experiences, explore the city…

It’s like when you can’t remember someone’s name and it’s just on the tip of your tongue. If you simply stop worrying about it, the name will come to you from out of nowhere. So it is with writer’s block. Stop stressing, and something will inspire you - at some point.