COMMUNITY LEARNING HUB: ONLINE MODULES

3.6 WRITER’S BLOCK

You might not have writer’s block right now, but chances are you’ve had it in the past, or you will have it in the future, like some inevitable and dreaded Dickensian ghosts haunting your publishing dreams.

Those ghosts, however, really are just ghosts. Writer’s block has no substance. It’s not a real, solid, insurmountable wall. It shouldn’t scare you.

Here’s some advice on how to exorcise writer’s block from your brain.

Writer’s block in a brain thing. Brain things require some psychoanalysis. So, firstly, some pseudo-scientific reasons for writer’s block.

  • It’s not the right time or place to write. You might be tired after a day of work, or distracted by another task, or simply wanting to do something else. 
  • Your ideas might not be ready to move from brain to page. You might need to think about them for a while longer, so that they can grow and develop into something more tangible. 
  • You want your writing to be perfect, so you get stuck on every word and phrase. The unwelcome guests of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and fear all crash the writing party.
  • You’ve deviated from the initial idea or purpose of your story. It feels stagnant or flat, or at least it’s lost the spark that you that excited you at the beginning. 
Image credits: Ivan Aleksic [Source: Unsplash]

Here’s some advice on how to overcome writer’s block:

  1. Put some words on a page. Anything. Complete nonsense will do. As author Jodi Picoult wisely said: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
  2. Practice some self-care. A writer’s brain is their great asset, so look after it. If it’s feeling foggy, find something you enjoy doing that will help you relax and refresh. Maybe walking, meditating, drawing, baking, or sitting down to your favourite film.  
  3. Chat to someone about your ideas. They could be part of a formal writing group, a fellow writer pal, a beta reader, or just a friend or family member. They don’t even have to help you with your writing. Sometimes talking through a problem out loud can lead you to a solution on your own.
  4. Change where you write for a bit, if it’s convenient. Switch rooms, or even switch up the room you’re currently writing in. A different view of your real world can give you a different view of your fictional one. 
  5. Write something else. It could be entirely different to your current manuscript or related. For example, write short stories about your characters in different situations. This refreshes any creative stagnation but also keeps your mind in the world of your manuscript.
  6. Break up your current project into short, manageable tasks. Emphasis on manageable. Don’t do your future self a dirty by setting up a schedule of four chapters a day. One sentence is an achievement. You’re a sentence closer to finishing.
  7. Remind yourself that your first draft won’t be perfect. Not even your second, third, fourth draft. Even when you land yourself an agent/publisher, your manuscript will still be rung out in the editing mill. The most important thing is that you finish your book so it even gets a chance to be edited. A bad first draft has a future as a published book. An unfinished manuscript? Bleaker prospects. Give your brilliant story idea the glittering future it deserves.
Image credits: Steve Johnson [Source: Unsplash]

If you prefer a bit of activity, here are some practical solutions:

  1. Switch up the perspective. Change the point of view from first to third or start telling the story through the eyes of a different character entirely.
  2. Play around with chronology. Move to a different part of the story for a bit. Jump to the end and work backwards to the point where you got stuck.
  3. Find some writing prompts related to your genre. 
  4. Do some free writing exercises. For five minutes, ten minutes, whatever time you can spare, write non-stop without worrying about what you’re writing. Let your ideas flow unhindered by thoughts like “is that the right place for a semi-colon?” or “is that metaphor too clichéd?” 
  5. If words aren’t your friend, turn to the visual instead (even if your artistic skills don’t extend beyond stick figures). Draw up maps of your world. Doodle your characters. Design mood boards. Any creativity is good creativity. 
Image credits: Kelly Sikemma [Source: Unsplash]

And finally, how NOT to overcome writer’s block:

  1. Stop writing. Wait until inspiration hits; until the muse whispers into your ear. 
  2. Procrastinating or making excuses. 
  3. Delete everything you’ve just written and swear off writing altogether. That’s called self-pity, and we’re having none of it.

So go on. Write a word. No, write it now. Just one word, and then another. 

You can do it.

Suggested writing task

Write 8 words. Just 8. Then see what happens…