Writer’s block is a clever foe. It sneaks up on writers and gets in their heads. It creates a wall that feels like it can’t be climbed over nor smashed through.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you deal with it? What’s the best strategy for beating it?
Alexander Field says
Dealing with writer’s block: I put myself in a chair in my favorite coffee shop and I turn on my laptop. I open up my latest project and I begin to type. The copy is rarely any good at first, but then it picks up….and after a while, we’re off and running again.
I often have other stories in progress as well, so maybe I’ll leap into another story/novel for a time.
As Anne LaMott and Hemingway have said, every first draft is sh#*ty, so I may as well get on with it so I can get to the far better second draft!
Great question, Nathan!
With writer’s block, I find there’s always a reason behind the block. Sometimes that reason is that I’m overworking myself.
When that’s the case, I take a break and write something fun that doesn’t matter. Like fanfic, or even just a silly scene with my characters that won’t ever make it into the book.
Other times the writer’s block is become I’m coming up on a part that I’m not sure how I’m going to execute. If it’s the first draft, I push myself to write through it. I promise myself that no one has to see the crap that is the first draft and I will fix it later. I also remind myself that most of my first drafts aren’t so bad in hindsight.
Sometimes if I’m really stuck at the first draft stage, I remind myself of scenes and pivotal moments coming up later that I’m excited to write. I don’t let myself skip ahead to write these. These are my carrots dangling overhead to keep my writing so I can get to that wonderful point that is so clear and so excellent in my mind.
And yet other times, it’s just a lack of confidence which means I have to ask my husband for the umpteenth time “I’m a good writer, right?” I’m lucky he’s patient 🙂
Richard Fife says
Personally, I walk away, watch a movie, play with my kids, something completely not writing, then perhaps I just write something else, a short story or like. Just to vent my creativity elsewhere.
If that fails, I step back and re-evaluate the scene. For me, writer’s block usually means that I have fallen out of my character’s heads, so I need to find out why, which sometimes turns into major plot changes cause what I had intended just didn’t fit with the goals/motives/conflicts of my characters.
Barring that, I just force through wherever I’m blocked and I’ll fix it on the edit.
Write through it. It’s hard, the writing can be quite awful,and large chunks are discarded eventually but if I persevere I know I’ll get back on track, and sometimes there is something salvageable in all the muck.
B.E. Sanderson says
It depends. Sometimes I forge through writers’ block, and sometimes I lay there whimpering while it kicks the crud out of me.
Michelle H. says
I don’t get writer’s block. But when asked this question I tell people the best way is to write a journal of the day’s events and then change what happens. Put something exciting in that you wished had happened or change a conversation. This can get the creative juices flowing.
David T. says
Writer’s block is a myth made up by people who are really not writers, but pretend they are. If you can write, you can do this at any given moment, about any subject you know about. If you are one of those who do have trouble writing, the only way to deal with it is to read and inform yourself about your subject.
The thing that helps me most is to either go do something completely unrelated to writing or the story or read to something new.
Also, believe it or not, sometimes a video game break helps. The characters in the game make me better understand how to make interesting characters and give them depth, and sometimes that helps me move my story along.
For a long time I thought I had gotten over writer’s block, but then it hit again recently.
When I’m in the middle of a project, I find it easier to keep from getting blocked if I have good notes and if, at the end of a session, I summarize what comes next. That way, when I pick up again, I always know what I want to write.
Crystal Waring says
For poetry, I have a personalized pre-made list of subject prompts for 31 days (I match to the date)
For stories, I keep a running list of story ideas. If I’m stumped on one, I put it aside and work on another.
For me, writer’s block happens when I’ve come to a gap in the plot. Usually the writing just flows because the story is already gelled in my mind. But sometimes characters surprise me or unexpected events pop up to challenge them, and then I have to take a moment to ponder. There are overlapping minor arcs that have to relate to the main arc in a way that is exciting and entertaining for the reader. Weaving those pieces together in a way that is compelling, true to the characters, and a tension-builder is … an artform. Sometimes you have to pause and let it all simmer in your head for a while.
I guess this isn’t writer’s block per se. It’s just part of the process of creating.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had writer’s block. I’ve have experienced a lot of Writer’s Avoidance, as in I would rather clean the kitchen than work on the POS my project currently is.
When I am at such a place, that means my story has gone awry and I need to do, at minimum, the exact opposite of whatever is going on at the place that’s stopping me.
It’s easier to do this when you have a deadline looming. I also make sure I take some time to clear my head — exercise (it feels so good when it’s over!!) is a great way to stop the conscious mind from interfering. A good movie. Something that is not writing-related.
I’ve written enough books now that I know I can (and must – because my publishers won’t like me if I don’t finish the books!) get through those deep deep valleys.
As a general rule, I think Writer’s Block is a sign that you’re going in the wrong direction with a story. It’s the story’s emergency brake.
David Russell Mosley says
I’m sorry, David T., but you need to say that to some writer’s who are/were probably a right sight more successful than you are. People get stuck, it happens, writer’s block happens and you have an arrogant view of the whole issue.
Mrs. Feat says
Escape your block and lack of words by jumping into something completely different! Advice from Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” suggests turning your attention to hobbies and other interests! Digging in the dirt, playing with my sweet 3 yr.old outside, finish sewing this baby blanket, or falling into my domestic cleaning routine. I’m bound to hurdle The Wall at some point!
I read the first 1/3 of a really good book that I haven’t read yet.
When I have trouble with a scene, I close my eyes and watch the movie version of the action in my head. This comes from my film background, I suppose, but it works. I can rewind and redo the scene as I like, adding in details along the way. When I feel confident I’ve got to scene right, I simply open my eyes, and write down what I saw. It’s actually a lot of fun.
Kate H says
If I’m blocked it’s usually because I don’t have a clear idea where the writing needs to go. Often it’s helpful to read a book on craft, in which something will very often click with regard to the MS I’m working on and help me figure out how to proceed.
Other times, the problem is a crisis of confidence, and then it’s time to call a writing buddy or non-writing faithful supporter and ask for a shot of encouragement.
Walks on the beach or in the forest (I’m lucky, I have both close by) also help to clear the brain.
In a word (well, more than a word) – force myself to keep writing till it passes.
Take a Vicodin. Not really! Oh, maybe…
Take hold of your pen or pencil and rest it on the paper. Begin moving it around in a relaxing manner. You’ll nod off, wake refreshed and ready to write.
Another fun thing to do is randomly open a dictionary, close your eyes and put your finger anywhere on the page. Write about the word nearest your finger. It doesn’t have to relate to your current project. But perhaps what happens will surprise you.
Keep a notepad next to your bed. Your best ideas come right before you fall asleep.
Thomas Burchfield says
I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” You can always write “Bob opened the door.” The Muse and I are in communication more on some days than on others and I just ride with it. Sometimes I’ll read some poetry or a favorite writer (like Nabokov). Sometimes it clicks, but sometimes my brain is a lead lump of flickering tissue. What I don’t do is get bummed out about it.
Take a Vicodin. Nooo! Well, maybe…
Take hold of your pen or pencil and rest it on a piece of paper. Move it around in a relaxing manner. You’ll nod off; wake refreshed and ready to write.
Another fun thing to do is randomly open a dictionary. Close your eyes and place your finger on the page. Write about whatever word is nearest your finger. It doesn’t have to relate to your current project. Just write.
Keep a notepad beside your bed. Your best ideas come right before you fall asleep.
I didn’t used to believe in writing blocks, until two years ago when I got hit by a really big one. I had just finished a massive rewrite of a major project so I expected some down time. We were also going through some personal and family medical issues, and that was taking a lot of my energy.
I tried every trick I knew or could find. Nothing worked.
It wasn’t like I thought a block would be. I could write words, sort of, and did a couple of decent nonfiction pieces. But I couldn’t get the emotional connections that make fiction work. The fiction was as flat as a high-school literature essay. Permission to write crap? Well, yeah, but at some point writing crap gets pretty disgusting.
Eventually, and gradually, it went away. Looking back, I think I mainly underestimated the amount of strain I was under and didn’t enough steps to take care of the muse/creative wells/back brain/whatever you like to call it.
The most effective thing I did was cut back on the amount of time I spent trying to write. I had set myself a five-page quota and was making myself sit there until I wrote five pages even if it was crap, but that was taking all day. When I cut back to “Okay, two hours in the morning and then do other things,” I finally started to recharge.
Michelle Miles says
If I’m blocked, it’s because something isn’t right with the story. That’s when I know it’s time to chop. Usually when I do that, the story gets back on track and the writing starts to flow again.
This will probably be buried under so many comments, but …
Picasso said once: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”
I’m a bit late to this discussion, but wanted to put my two cents in.
This rarely happens to me because I’m constantly writing something. I have a magazine, 8 blogs, several WIPs, short stories, poems, school papers… whatever. On the rare occasion it does happen, I read until something sparks. Funny, had a great idea the other night during British Lit class while my professor discussed The Canterbury Tales. Wrote the note. Will get to it soon.
Just keep writing something. It doesn’t have to be something great or perfect or wonderful, as long as you’re writing.
I just soldier on through it. And usually write something so crappy it needs to be rewritten almost instantly.
WV: Potter! a wizard with messy hair. Or someone who makes pots.
I’ve always heard you just have to keep writing til it passes… that seems to work for me
Chumplet - Sandra Cormier says
Promise an editor a manuscript in three months, then watch the fingers fly.
Three reliable remedies:
1. Read something that greases my imagination. Montaigne does this for me.
2. Freewrite while looking out the window, I usually come around to the matter at hand.
3. For creative binds: figuring angles, plot points, overall themes: Smoke a joint and go for a walk (with a recorder).
Venus Vaughn says
This is so woo-woo, but I examine what’s preventing me from writing – what is in my head each time I put pen to paper that is preventing me from getting actual words out. Then I write about that.
If it’s a houseguest, my husband, my protagonist, my sense of self defeat… whatever. I spend some time giving in to it, allowing it to have its head. I whine, I indulge in self-pity, I complain… and then when it’s out, I get back to work.
Please note: Writer’s Block is not at all to be confused to Procrastination, which I embrace fully and indulge on blogs or various other bits of jetsam in my life.
Lystra Pitts says
I’m an American, I drive. I put on music with little or no lyrics, so I don’t have anybodies words in my head but my own. Instrumental, classical, techno, doesn’t matter. I get in my car and haul ass, sooner or later my mind figures out what I want to write and how to write it. Then I stop, get a burger, and head home.
Kenny Celican says
I honestly don’t think this has ever happened to me. It sometimes takes me a bit to get the words flowing, and once in a while I’ll stumble when I can’t find the word I want, but for me the question of ‘what do you do when you get writer’s block?’ is akin to ‘what do you do when you can’t eat?’. If I can’t type the words into teh word processor, there’s probably some other problem, like the computer is unplugged, or my fingers are broken.
Of course, I procrastinate all the time, but that’s not the dreaded Writer’s Block, or so I’ve been told.
One side note; I have very little time to actually sit down and write, but quite a lot of time when I’m doing fundamentally mindless activities. Those times I wind up thinking about what I want to write when I write next. It’s possible that if I wrote 40 hours a week, I’d hit a wall more often…
The Journalizer says
I just walk away. I only write when I have the urge to — when I know what going to happen next in a scene. In this way, there's no forcing, and the plot and story usually turns out better than anything I could have come up with when pressured.
Of course, this method doesn't work when you're on a schedule, but I'm trying not to think of that right now . . .
Nakabunot Kay says
Doing college admissions essays is a habit that I cannot stop. The only thing that is stopping is this crazy writer's block. Believe me, it's a traitor. It leaves you nothing but a blank mind.
It's normal to have this. I experience this whenever I'm stressed with work. The best way to defeat it is to stop, relax, and divert your attention. It works for me.
I meet once a week with writer friends. We bring our coffee and our snacks, socialize for 10 minutes, and then split up and write for several hours.
It's like the old study hall in school. You can meet in a college library (where it's okay to bring coffee and they have quiet zones, versus the public library), or you can meet in somebody's house (more comfortable than a library, but the host can get sucked into housework, the dog, the phone, etc.).