Writer’s block. Feared and mocked and denied and suffered, it happens. It can be debilitating. But writer’s block is not the end.
Some writers say they don’t believe in writer’s block. Carpenters don’t get carpenters’ block. And surgeons don’t get surgeons’ block (thank goodness!) So writer’s blocked is “made up” or “an excuse.”
I thought that, too. Yet, I’ve experienced writer’s block. And I’m not alone. Many, many writers have experienced writer’s block.
What Is Writer’s Block?
It’s nothing–and everything. It’s one writer’s block. Particular to each individual writer and their lives, writer’s block reflects their life challenges, their fears, and the lies they tell themselves.
There’s a wall, a giant brick, unscalable wall between the creator and the words. You face the blank page or the blank screen and the words won’t come day after day after day–that’s writer’s block.
For some, it is momentary–minutes or hours in length. For others, it’s temporary–days or weeks. There are some who find writer’s block to be chronic and debilitating for months or years. The words. WON’T. Come.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
All kinds of things–most involve fear. Fear that the writing isn’t good enough. The writer may be afraid that the project is too big. There are fears about money, or food, or medicine. Fear that the words will never come. The fear of success before you’ve had any success can stop you cold. Sometimes the writer fears never being able to repeat a success.
Sometimes the block is time, as in you don’t have enough. You work a job or two, have family obligations, the maintenance of a home or vehicle to do. There will be folk who scold you and say get up earlier and write. Sometimes that’s an option. Sometimes it isn’t.
One of the most common causes after fear is the lack of understanding of story structure and how it helps you.
Then there are the physical causes. Sometimes your body has a breakdown. A physical problem can occur that will not allow your brain to operate at the creative level.
Tragically there are also family dramas and losses that can trigger writer’s block. Death and dying and divorce aren’t the only family dramas, though they are big ones. Sometimes it can be an illness and the adjustments that come with those kinds of changes. Some family dramas are about dysfunction or economic issues. Make no mistake, these can trigger days, months, or years of writer’s block, too.
Sometimes writer’s block is procrastination disguised.
What to Do
Be Kind to Yourself.
Change your routine.
Create a routine.
Write the same sentence over and over for ten minutes.
Brainstorm 10 of the most unlikely things that would happen in the next scene.
Do Character Studies.
Write scenes out of order.
Read a good book in your genre.
Change to a different point of view character.
Read a badly written book in your genre.
Read something outside your genre.
Write in a different location.
Read and analyze Fairy Tales.
Write with different tools. (Computer, ink pen, crayons, etc.)
Talk it out with a writer friend.
Listen to music.
Watch a movie for fun.
Analyze a movie’s plot.
Take a nap.
Take a walk outside.
Do a headstand.
Put the project aside for a time and write something else.
Copy paragraphs from books you love.
Do writing exercises from a How-to book.
Challenge yourself to write badly, the worst you can imagine.
Write a letter to yourself.
Write a resignation letter to your writer’s block. Here’s what I once wrote to mine.
Dear Writer’s Block,
It’s not you, it’s me. I’m done. Over it. You’ve been a blockhead on my shoulders for far too long. Yes, I know that over the years you’ve provided me with numerous excuses for not getting the job done, but I’m on to you now. Your first name is Fear. When I am not looking, you come sneaking around. With you on my shoulder, each word becomes a labor almost too intense to bear.
Sometimes you are in the guise of Envy. Yeah, I know that “everyone” is going to that expensive writing conference in a city of delights. They will all get agents and book contracts and contacts. And I gotta stay home which means I’ll never get contacts. I’ll never get an agent or a book contract. And the fear grows.
Doubt is your real name. You’ve got a thousand voices that say this word is not good enough, that sentence is too much, too plain, uninspired. I’m untraveled, uneducated, a plain jane. Well, you know what?
I flirted with you for a while, but that wasn’t an invitation to move in and mooch. You’ve eaten up days, months, years, decades, centuries of time. But no more. I have chosen to listen to the lone voice inside, the one that says I am unique, that I have a story to tell, and that my stories will soar. I will sit at the keyboard, and I will write stories that my readers will love.
So, Writer’s Block, be gone. I’ve got work to do.
Whatever you choose to do, make it fun.
What Not to Do
Do not treat it like it’s a disease. (It’s not.)
Don’t hide until it goes away. (It won’t.)
Don’t eat or drink yourself silly. (It’s another way to hide.)
Don’t shame yourself.
Don’t give up. Writer’s block is not the end.
Some say that if you outline you’ll never get blocked. Others swear that if you never outline and write without editing or looking back, you’ll sail through and finish your manuscript. I’ve never found either of those methods effective one hundred percent of the time.
I’m uncertain that you can completely prevent writer’s block. What I’ve learned to do is to recognize it and change tactics. (See the list above.)
Work on more than one project at a time. If you get stuck on one, move to another project. This can be very helpful if you have projects at different levels of completion.
Eat well. Exercise. Get plenty of rest. Take breaks from writing.
Find the right kind of support. People who will build you up and cheer you onward.
I said that I don’t believe in writer’s block. What I meant is that I don’t believe it’s a malady in and of itself. I believe it’s a symptom. There’s an emotion, a physical malady, or a knowledge deficit that stops the flow of words. Figure out what caused it and you will find away around the writer’s block.
Have you had writer’s block? Do you know what caused it? How did you overcome it?
If you have writer’s block, however you decide to treat it, be kind to yourself. Don’t make a hasty decision to throw in the towel. Writer’s block does not have to be The End.