The term writer’s block can feel ominous. It hangs over you like a dark cloud. It’s as if a thick, brick wall has been dropped on the path before you. You stare at your blank screen wondering where the great ideas disappeared to. You know, the ones you had in the shower fifteen minutes ago. It challenges you every step of the way. All you want to do is get words down. Instead, it sits on your shoulder taunting you like a vicious bully and mocks your lack of production.
Writers often question if writer’s block is real, or just a part of their imagination. And yet, enough people have struggled with it, that it’s been named. Why is it that you can have idea after idea swirling through your brain, but the moment you sit down the words disappear?
The fastest, easiest way to tackle writer’s block is by knowing where you’re headed. Often, not having planned your next step can be the cause of your fumble. That’s not saying you need to have an academic worthy outline. However having a small breadcrumb trail might help you alleviate the frustration of writer’s block.
What is Writer’s Block?
Writer’s block is a term that has been coined for those times when your mind simply won’t cooperate in a productive way. You sit down to write, and then it’s as if those thoughts you were having magically disappear. You stare at the screen, hopeful and wanting to write, but nothing comes forth.
It feels like a waste of time, annoys you because you knew what you thought you were going to write, or simply don’t have free time later if the words come back to you. It’s as if your brain went on vacation and refuses to play along.
Maybe you had an amazing idea while you were out for a run, or while driving. Maybe right before you went to sleep, the perfect idea popped into your head. Only, the second you try to make sense of it come morning, and form it into well-shaped words, sentences, and paragraphs, you’re left staring at your computer screen wondering what happened.
Some people question if this is real or something that we bring upon ourselves. Know that you’re not alone, but there are ways to get around this menace. Buying into the idea that you won’t get anything done is the worst way to tackle the problem. There’s no need to throw in the towel and walk away.
Let’s look at the functionality of your time and what you want to accomplish, along with the self-applied pressure that goes into writing. We’ll also look at the ways we feed into writer’s block, by sharing our disdain for it with other writers, and then getting locked into believing you can’t get beyond it.
Changing Your Perspective on Writer’s Block
Sometimes it’s not what’s happening, but what you think is happening. It’s easier to dive head first into the belief that you can’t write because some mysterious element is holding you back.
Maybe what’s holding you back is you…
Do you immediately give up if words don’t come right away? Have you tried writing prompts, or even simply typing out an idea of what you want to happen in your current scene, even if it’s not told in story form? Set a timer and go. Put your fingers on your keyboard or grab your pen if you’re a pen and paper writer and put something down. Anything. The words don’t have to be perfect, at this point, it’s more the act of going through the motion to get yourself in a writing mindset.
Remember, imperfect drafts will be going through edits. What you put down isn’t in its final format. It allows you the space to flesh out ideas, get into a rhythm, and get your juices flowing. You’ll often find once you start writing, things click into place. Rather than give into the idea that your brain is refusing to cooperate, rebel and try anyway.
Writer’s block is simply a challenge, like a hurdle on a running track. It’s there. You get over it, and you keep going. By staying focused with fierce determination, you’ll push through the self-imposed barriers and maybe even surprise yourself.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
If you’re stuck, here are some things you can do to help you overcome your lack of words.
- Speak aloud and tell yourself what’s supposed to be happening in the scene. Using a different tactic than your normal start may help.
- Try moving to another scene.
- Try writing from another character’s point of view.
- Think about the worst thing that could happen to your character at that moment.
- Change the weather. If it’s sunny, make it pour down rain. Shifting the mood or environment forces your character to react. It may be what gets you moving again!
Characters are three dimensional, not flat. That means they think, feel, and react. So, if you put them in motion where they are forced to react to something, it may give you the nudge to get the scene moving again. Think about the unique action of your character. We all react differently to situations. In a traffic jam, does your character curse and slam their fist into the steering wheel, or simply turn up the radio and enjoy the music? If they’re stung by a wasp, how do they react? Are they angry or whiny? Do they swat at the wasp or step on it? Do they growl out profanity or cry because they’re frustrated it happened because their day has been miserable, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back?
The tiniest thing can impact our days. Maybe they went to the library for quiet, but a baby is crying. Now, they can’t concentrate on a project they need to finish for a class. Do the unexpected. Your scene to get you moving doesn’t have to be massive, but that little change can be all it takes to get your words flowing again. Most likely, you’ll get caught up in the moment and keep going. It’s not about creating a pivotal scene that changes the course of your story, but rather about getting yourself thinking differently.
You can even use it as a warm up exercise, and simply go back and delete the scene. If it gets your fingers flying over the keyboard and back in story mode, you’ve beat writer’s block and you’re on your way.
Tips to Prevent Writer’s Block
Planning ahead is a great way to prevent writer’s block. One tip is to start a scene and leave right in the middle of it, so that when you sit back down, you already know what’s going to happen. You will dive back in and carry on where you were.
I like to leave “breadcrumb” trails, a line or two of what comes next when I’m wrapping up for the day. This way, when I go back the following day, I can follow that train of thought.
Another idea is to go in the opposite direction. If you’ve just written a low-tension scene, go the other way, and aim for a high-tension scene. Remember, this is about getting unstuck. If you don’t think it fits in with what you’ve written, simply go back and rewrite it, or use it as brain candy.
The idea of fun scenes is another way to be ready to go when you’re stuck. Have a scene that you’ve been wanting to write set aside for those moments when you’re having trouble writing. Make it a bonus, something special that you dig into when other words aren’t coming.
Figure out if the reason you're stuck is because there’s not enough conflict in your story.
Whether you’re a plotter or not, having a general idea of where you’re going can help you move forward when it feels like you’ve got nowhere to go. By thinking through your scene before sitting down to write, you can also jump into a situation easier, because you’ve put the character through the paces of what needs to happen in the scene.
Lastly, remember that each scene should move your story forward. If you find yourself writing in circles and nothing seems to be happening, it usually comes down to the fact that you didn’t figure out where you want your character to be at the end of the scene.
Just like a story has a beginning, middle, and end, think of scenes and chapters in the same way. Your character wants something, there’s a reason they can’t get it, and they’re forced to look at what they’re doing. They’ll need to make a choice about their next step.
- Look at the interactions of the side characters and check if you have enough going on.
- Dialog can sometimes be an area that moves quickly and will motivate you to keep writing.
- Maybe you adore world building, add a few more details and flesh out a scene from earlier to expand on it.
- Go back and read what you wrote the day before. Refresh yourself to get into the moment.
- Try pen and paper if you normally type.
- Change where you write. Take your laptop to another room, or to a new environment to see if it sparks your imagination and pushes you through.
Sometimes, it’s a little shift that makes a big difference.
Writer’s block doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Think about what advice you’d give a friend if they were looking for suggestions. What would you tell them to do? With smart planning, clever tactics, and the ability to think creatively, you’ll be back to your story before you know it.
Writer’s block is simply a hurdle. It’s your choice whether you’re going to climb over it, push it out of the way, or sit down in front of it and pretend there’s no way around.