There a million reasons why you can’t seem to write today/this week/the last three years... Writer’s Block is the catch-all diagnosis for what is actually resistance with a myriad of causes.
Fear of failure, fear of success, confusion, lack of planning, over-planning, burnout, a bottleneck of ideas….
And sometimes we aren’t exactly sure what is causing it. We just feel paralysed in front of the page.
The blank page. Staring at us.
But as a writer, getting words on the page is kinda important.
So how do we unstop that cork and get things flowing again? Every writer has a different process, a different brain, a different fear that is holding them back. You need to find out what yours is and short-circuit it.
BUT, I promised tips so here are some things you can try:
1. Just write.
Uh, but I can’t write. That’s the problem…. geez.
Okay, but hear me out. Sometimes when you’re stuck on a current project, it can be that you are afraid of the drivel that is going to spill onto the page if you keep going. You don’t want to ruin your precious baby like that, so you write nothing at all.
The thing is, that’s probably not true, for one. And even if it is, you can always fix it. A computer full of beautiful words in unfinished manuscripts does not an author make. At some point you’ve just got to get it done and worry about making it work beautifully later.
But it’s probably going to be easier to get the words flowing on something else first, something that isn’t your pride and joy. Something that you don’t even care if it’s total word vomit. The point here is to just start writing something.
So I tend to have another project on the go, one that can be as trivial or fanciful or nonsensical as I like. Just something I feel like writing about.
It never has to see the light of day – it just helps me warm up brain and fingers, bypass the fear, and then often I find it easier to switch over to what I really want to get done and use the momentum to keep going.
You could just open up a document and write whatever comes into your head. But I like it to be an ongoing side project, rather than just a random bunch of words each time I need to do this.
This way I am still in ‘story mode’, I’m warming up to think about characters and structure and plot, but it just circumvents the fear block. Because it is a project specifically to contain whatever I feel in the moment, I’m not worried about what actually comes out, because I never plan to show anyone anyway.
There something freeing about the sheer joy of writing a totally indulgent little tale where you break every rule, and do you even give a shit? Not one.
And if it does turn into a story you actually like, then so be it. Brilliant. Just file it as WIP 537 and create a new word-vomit tale when you need it.
That said, sometimes it is more the total randomness of a stream-of-consciouness expulsion of words that we need...
2. Just write, version 2.
Just open up a blank page and start writing. Freewrite.
Even if it’s I’ve got nothing to say, I’ve got nothing to say, I’ve got nothing to say, not a thing to bloody say… over and over for ten pages. I bet at some point in there you’ll think of other things to say, even if it’s just because that’s annoying to type and you’re bored.
And you might even find that somewhere in there, in the midst of all that writing whatever the hell you want just because you can, the blockage has been flushed out and you’re thinking about your actual project with a longing that borders on obsession. Quick, now open up that project and keep writing before the words start coagulating again!
But maybe you don’t need to write at all. Maybe you need to consciously not write for a little while....
3. Don't write.
Perhaps you’re burnt out from pushing yourself too hard, or perhaps the words haven’t percolated long enough in your brain. That coffee machine is not ready to flow, yet.
And like a coffee machine or a pot of water on the stove, if you just sit there and stare at it, it will never, ever, ever be ready. We all know that rule. I think there’s even some saying about it. A watched brain never produces. Or something like that.
So get up and do something.
Take charge and decide to not write, on purpose.
Take a walk. Paint the kitchen. Learn a new skill. You might just find that story pressure building up in your brain, so that by the time you allow yourself to come back to your project, the coffee is piping hot and the pot is boiling over. You can’t help but write or you’ll explode.
But perhaps you need to direct the explosion...
4. Make a plan.
And do it by hand. Sometimes the blockage is just that we don’t know where the story is going. Or there was a problem a few chapters back that we tried to write through, but has now backed us into a corner built of our own words.
A good way to sort through the mess is to write out a full outline of your story, and do it by hand. Putting pen to paper instead of fingers to keyboard helps your brain connect in a different way, plus it slows you down and forces you to think of it all clearly and in a logical order.
I usually draw two columns on my page – two thirds of the page for the dot point outline of the story, and one-third for scribbling notes, questions, ideas and plot holes that come up. You might just find that while you are doing this, the story seems to fix itself as you go. Or at least you’ll have a much clearer idea of where your story is going, and hopefully new ideas of where to go next.
Or maybe you need to throw out the plan...
5. Don't plan.
Maybe you have been too organised this time, and you have got your story in a chokehold with no place to go.
Perhaps the block is because the story you are trying to write isn’t the one that actually wants to be written.
Time to get rid of what you thought was going to happen, and throw some bombs around. Kill someone, send that embarrassing email to the wrong person, start a fight, throw in some ill-advised sex… all in the fictional sense, of course.
Save an alternate copy of your WIP first - for the love all things holy, save a copy first! And then rip into that thing. Go somewhere totally opposite to where you’d planned and see what happens.
Because this is your creation – you don’t need to play it safe in the world of make-believe. Even if it’s a total mess, you’ve got your original – right? You saved that thing right? – and you can go back.
At worst you’ve had a chance to expel some crazy ideas and get them out of your system, and can now see some more viable solutions. At best, you’ve had a stroke of brilliance and the story is off and racing again in an unexpected but totally perfect direction.
And bonus tip number six is... get over yourself! In the kindest way possible! You think the world is going to explode if you write some crap or it doesn't work out? If it doesn't, cut your losses and move on.
Stop comparing yourself to everyone else, because the truth is we're all out here just trying to out-write our fears before they catch us. The only difference between you and the writers you're envious of is that they decided to just keep going, no matter what!
Loosen up a little, sunshine, because it’s all going to be okay!
You’re a writer! You can do anything!
Any of these work for you?