I remember my second grade teacher… whenever a student would complain about getting writer’s block, he would pretend to pull a Jenga block from their ear and hand it to them.
“See?” he would say, “I took care of it. The block is gone, now, so you can get back to writing.”
He was the best.
Anyway, I remember looking at him when he did that and thinking to myself, “That’s a nice trick, but there’s no way it’s that easy.”
Though his placebo didn’t work on me, he was definitely right about one thing: writer’s block is all in your head.
There are a few different kinds of writer’s block you might be dealing with.
- The “lack of inspiration.”
- The “lack of direction.”
- The “I just can’t make it work.”
– Point One: No Inspiration
So there you are, halfway through your project. One day, you sit down to type, and… nothing. You stare at the words vacantly, not really seeing them, and when you try to add more, it feels like there’s a weight on your soul—a weight on your hands—that’s keeping you from working. So instead, you go back to Twitter or Tumblr or the T.V. You find page after page of inspirational quotes, you reread your writing handbooks, you skim thousands of pages of blog in the name of writing, but for some reason, you can’t actually write.
The reason? Deep down, you’re bored. You don’t want to write. You want to want to write, but you’re sick of your characters, you’ve lost faith in your plot, and you’re struggling to make yourself care.
The solution? Well, there are a few.
- Go for a walk. Step away from the computer for a bit and do something to get the blood pumping. Sometimes a bit of fresh air and a break for your brain is all it takes to melt away that block.
- Talk to a writing buddy. I know a lot of people say that talking about your story is the surest way to make sure you never write it, but I disagree. There are few things I’ve found to be more inspiring than a good conversation with a good friend.
- Set a deadline and have people hold you to it. Not necessarily a “finish the book by X date,” deadline, but a smaller deadline. I like to have a few friends read my stories as I write them—when I know they’re expecting so many words at the end of the time period, I find it much easier to force myself to get it done. I can’t bear to slack off and to disappoint them.
- Push yourself to write anyway. Even if it’s hard, even if it sucks, you can drill through the block with sheer force of will and get the words flowing. Oftentimes the only way to get writing again is to… well, to get writing again.
– Point Two: Lack of Direction
You sit down to write, you’re ready and raring to go, but when you start typing, you realize you have no freakin’ clue where your story is going.
(This is me more often than I’d like to admit.)
Let’s go back to the bullet points to discuss solutions:
- Write an outline. It’s a lot harder to get lost when you have a map. This doesn’t always work—I’m one of those people who likes to let a story grow organically—but sometimes charting a course forward is the best way to get forward. I usually favor simple outlines. Really simple outlines. They look something like this: “intro -> wyvern -> knights -> ??? -> ??? -> wedding -> figure out rest later” but that’s usually enough for me to have some idea where I’m headed, while still leaving enough room to make new things up as I go.
- Wing it. Seriously. Just throw yourself at the scene and see what happens. Even if you don’t know what the heck you’re writing, if you just keep typing anyway, your characters might surprise you. If you’re desperate for direction and your brain shouts “PICNIC!” send your characters on a picnic. Who knows? Maybe a picnic was exactly what you needed. If nothing else, writing the one scene might give you ideas for the next.
- Skip to the next scene you have planned. This one doesn’t work very well for me personally, because I’m a very linear writer, but I hear a lot of other people say it works very well for them. After all, you can always go back and insert a scene in between later, right? You can connect the dots once you see the shape of the picture.
- If you’re really stuck, try writing a summary. Sometimes it’s not just “I don’t know what happens between point A and point C,” sometimes it’s “Point C? What’s point C? My alphabet stopped at A!” If this is you and you have literally no idea what happens next in any way shape or form, a summary might be the way to go. Take your whole plot and condense it into a sentence, if you can. “Frodo must go on a dangerous journey to destroy an evil ring of power.” This sentence should tell you your main conflict. Having that refocused in your mind can help you figure out where your story needs to end up.
– Point Three: The Scene Won’t Work
You know exactly where this scene should go. You’re itching to write it, but every time you start to type, it just feels… wrong. For some reason, you’re wandering in circles, there’s no life to it, you can’t move forward, and you can’t figure out why.
This is where you need to trust your intuition.
If something feels wrong, there’s a good chance it is.
-Maybe the scene you thought you needed actually comes later, and you’re getting stalled because you subconsciously know you need another scene as a buffer between now and then.
-Maybe it doesn’t feel right because you’re trying to write from one character’s point of view, when really the scene works best from his friend’s perspective.
-Maybe you’re just coming at the scene from the wrong angle, and the character feels differently about things than you thought he would.
-Or maybe your timing is a bit off, and the scene needs to start sooner or later than you’d anticipated.
One way or the other, the best way to overcome this third breed of block is to identify the flaw nagging at the back of your brain and correct it before you drive yourself into a corner. If you can identify the reason things feel off, you can get through the scene without having to skip around or reimagine the entire plot from the ground up.
In summary, if writer’s block has you stuck,
- Stop and think about the reason you’re stuck.
- Keep a selection of tools in mind to help tackle the problem—everyone writes differently, so different strategies work better for different people.
- Trust your gut. You know more than you know you know.