Here’s an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 49 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!
Rule #34: You don’t have “writer’s block”
The most important thing you need to know about writer’s block is this: it doesn’t exist.
Seriously. Writer’s block does not exist. It is not a worm that suddenly lodges itself in your brain, it is not a mysterious goblin that sneaks up on you and poisons you with an anti-writing serum, and it is not something that you need to fear coming down with.
Now, when I say writer’s block doesn’t exist, I don’t mean that you will never have the feeling associated with writer’s block or that people who say they have writer’s block are big fakers. I’ve felt the feeling! I’ve been there.
But when people encounter the phenomenon otherwise known as “writer’s block,” what they are really describing is one thing and one thing only: writing stopped being fun.
That’s it. That’s all it means. The writing process stopped being easy and the words were no longer flowing as readily as they were in the beginning. Writing, in other words, just got really, ridiculously hard.
Writer’s block is what happens when novels stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World: Writing!
But remember: it’s a feeling. It is not something that will stop you from finishing, nor is it something that you have to give into because it’s inevitable. You can’t treat it like a virus that will pass in time if you just wait it out. You must seek a cure.
There are ways of dealing with “writer’s block,” and they all have one thing in common: work. Here are the strategies that will help:
Figure out the problem you need to solve
Chances are you will, at some point, feel completely and utterly stuck. This isn’t writer’s block (which, again, doesn’t exist). You’re just stuck.
It’s completely frustrating. And this is okay. There are going to be setbacks. Don’t stress yourself out thinking that everything should always be easy.
Instead of focusing on your exasperation with your own writing abilities, it’s eminently important to figure out why you’re stuck. Does something in particular need to happen in your story that is stymieing you? Do you need to figure out how characters get from Point A to Point B? Is something just not feeling right, and so you need to go back and fix some things leading up to the sticky spot? Has a plot thread gone astray?
The first step to getting unstuck is understanding the problem you need to solve. Once you’ve identified the main issue, the solution is just around the corner. You might not know what to do immediately, and your brain might need to work itself toward the solution, but knowing the problem is a crucial nudge toward writing again.
Go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine
Once you have a general sense of the problem at hand and what you need to accomplish, it’s okay to take a break. Give your brain a breather, get some Vitamin D, stare at some flowers, and ponder how in the world you ended up writing a novel and how maybe it would’ve been simpler to take up gardening instead.
Changing your location and experiencing some peace and quiet can help dislodge the clog in your brain. Find as much nature as you can, depending on where you live. Trees and grass and oxygen are magic.
Get the blood flowing. Lift some weights. Punch a punching bag. Really punch that bag stupid novel argh *#&%@.
You’ll be amazed at the ideas you’ll have while exercising.
And not only this, but, as I’m sure you know, the brain is part of the body, so you might want to keep the whole enterprise healthy. You’ll be happier and more creative if you spend time getting your heart rate up.
Whenever I was stuck with the Jacob Wonderbar series, I headed straight to the gym. The problems had often been solved by the time I got back to my apartment.
Force yourself to stare at a blank screen until you think of something
This is the ripping-the-bandaid-off approach to dealing with writer’s block. It is painful but utterly effective.
Turn off your Internet connection and cell phone. Close the blinds. Hide the TV remote. Lock the doors.
Open up your novel. And stare stare stare at the blinking cursor.
This is my absolute favorite technique for dealing with the affliction formerly known as writer’s block. You just power through.
It is absolutely agonizing to stare at a blank screen and a blinking cursor. It can inspire feelings of panic and despair. You may start wondering if you’ll ever think of another idea again. You may start to wonder if the blinking cursor was originally invented as a torture device.
But then, after ten minutes or more of staring at the blinking cursor of death, you’ll eventually start to calm down. You’ll do the only thing you can do in a quiet, Internet-less room with nothing else to occupy your attention: you will start thinking of ideas. If you concentrate and don’t let the feeling overpower you, you’ll eventually come up with something that will get you out of the writing block hole.
It may take minutes, or it may take hours. It may be the most agonizing few hours of your creative life, or you may be surprised at how quickly you get going.
But here’s what happens after you’ve overcome your blockage and you get back into the flow: you’ll be so euphoric that you’re back on track that it will start feeling fun again.
You’ll realize that the whole writing block thing never existed in the first place.
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