By Kallie Hatfield
Writing a story, whether it’s a novel, short story, memoir, or even just flash fiction can be notoriously difficult. There are times during the writing process where you are truly motivated to write. The ideas flow smoothly from your fingertips and the inspiration feels endless. But then you hit it; the dreaded Writer’s Block.
Writer’s Block is common and an often-cited excuse for writers who are struggling to start or continue a project. Extended Writer’s Block especially can be very discouraging and tedious to work through. The feeling of inability to write can often build on top of itself until it feels like an insurmountable wall between you and your story. Being on a time crunch to finish a project only adds to this stress. Luckily, there are a number of different ways you can attempt to rediscover the ideas and inspiration you need to get your creative juices flowing again.
1. Just Write
You don’t have to write about anything in particular. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or grammatically correct, or even logical. Sometimes just getting words onto a page is enough to get you thinking about a story. Free-writing is a good example of this methodology. Try to clear your mind of whatever you’re currently writing. Take away all the stressors and anxiety that comes with a bout of Writer’s Block. Then, set a period of time, maybe five minutes, and just write continuously until that time is up. Most of the time the writing you get from this technique will be unusable, but it can often be enough to break someone out of a Writer’s Block.
2. Keep a Journal
In the same vein as the first idea, keeping a journal is a good way to keep writing when experiencing a block. Journals are great because they derive their inspiration from daily life. When you are feeling like you’re suffering from a lack of inspiration, keeping a journal about your day can provide you with endless things to write about. Sometimes, the things that you write about in your daily life can even give you a better idea of how to write your characters with respect to their inner feelings and motivations surrounding the plot. Writing about things that happened during your day or week is a good way to gain some self-introspection as well.
3. Get Your Blood Flowing
Let’s be honest, writing isn’t typically a physically strenuous activity. Sitting anywhere for long, extended periods of time can make the experience feel dull and boring after a while. If you sit in one position for long enough, then you will inevitably become tired and stiff. When this happens, getting up and moving can be the spark you need to make writing as invigorating as it should be. Exercising increases your heart rate, which then pumps more oxygen into the brain. Getting up and moving around for a bit a couple times a day can help your learning and memory power, as well as helping you to get some fresh air and a change in scenery every once in a while.
4. Change the Format you are Writing in
There are times when the repeated monotony of typing in a word processor with the same font in the same style over and over again can make whatever you’re writing feel uninspired. When this is the case, try changing the format surrounding your writing. This could be as easy and changing the font to something more interesting and less common. You could change the background of the paper you are writing on; give it borders or clip art, or paste pictures that fit the mood of your writing in the corners of the page. Or, instead of typing, try writing with a pen and paper for a while. Write on notecards and put them in order on the floor. Write in the margins on a newspaper or a magazine. Then do some editing while you transcribe that writing back into your word processor.
5. Tell Your Story to Others
There is a method that software engineers use to debug code called “rubber duck debugging.” It is called this because programmers can carry around a rubber duck, and when they run into a problem with the code, they describe that problem line-by-line to the duck. This can often help the programmers to find out where they went wrong or what is missing from their work. This method can also be used when you are stuck with your writing. Describe the story you are trying to tell. Tell it to a rubber duck, stuffed animal, or even a trusted friend. Go over every character, setting, and plot device you have so far. Talk about where you want to the story to go, and what you have so far as a plan to get the characters there. Talk about the things you haven’t written. The character’s inner motivations, feelings, and nuanced relationships that don’t need to be fully explored in the text. This can help you to figure out where you are stuck and why, while also giving you a better understanding of your story as a whole.
Most of the time if you are a writer, you are also a reader. Sometimes taking a break from your own writing to read someone else’s can recalibrate your brain back into a productive creative mode. An important note when using this method is that you most likely don’t want to read a novel. Novels keep us occupied for extended periods of time, and often linger long after the story has finished. This can distract you from your own writing rather than help you work through it. Instead, try picking up a packet of poetry, a journal of short stories, or even a magazine. Giving your brain a break while still being in writing mode can help you find inspiration and dig out the Writer’s Block hole.
Editing the work you’ve done previously can help to give you a break from your current project, while also still being productive. Well-known author Stephen King described his own editing timeline in his memoir On Writing. Once he has finished a work, he puts it aside for a set period of time before reading it again and editing. So, while you are stuck in a Writer’s Block, try going back and editing some of your previous work, whether it’s for your current project or not. Editing requires a significant attention to detail as well as a good knowledge of the overall plot and flow of a story. Editing the beginning of a story can be a good way to get new ideas if you or your characters are stuck in one place.
This one is somewhat similar to editing in that you are going back over your old work. But instead, this time try reading it purely for enjoyment. Try to choose something that you wrote a while ago; something finished and polished off so you can see the full final product. Sometimes reading your own work for the first time in a long time can be therapeutic because it allows you to experience your writing with a fresh mind. Writer’s Block can sometimes be a result of becoming disenchanted with your own writing. Reading the same thing and going over the same plot continuously can become repetitious and boring if it’s done too often. There is no surprise or tension for you in your current work because you already know what’s going to happen and when. Going back over works you’ve successfully completed in the past is a good way to give yourself a confidence boost and break out of the self-deprecation Writer’s Block can often create.
9. Do Small Amounts Consistently
When looking at the overall scope of a writing project it can seem pretty intimidating. Trying to corral all of your characters into the plot that you’ve designed is hard work, and Writer’s Block can often happen as a result of the pressure to get everything down on the page. Instead of looking at your story as one whole work that nobody can reasonably expect you to do in one go, try breaking it up into pieces. There are a couple different methodologies to breaking up your story. One way would be to break it into bite-size scenes according to the plot. Another way is to set a minimum word count for yourself and try to reach it every time you sit down to write. When Writer’s Block hits, it can be easy to make excuses like “I just don’t have the time to write anymore.”
So, it’s important to set a specific time each day that you can set aside to write. It doesn’t matter whether it’s first thing when you wake up, just before you go to sleep, or even during your lunch break at work. The most important thing to keep in mind is consistency. As long as you are dedicated to something and work on a little bit each day, the words you type will add up much faster than you might be expecting.
10. Take Some Time
The most common solution to fixing writers bock is to take some time off from writing. The mistake that people tend to make with this solution is that they don’t do much with that time off. Writer’s Block can sometimes be a symptom of much larger things going on in your life. Things like depression and anxiety can both spark Writer’s Block, and make it much harder to escape. If this is the case, it is important to use the time you take off from writing to take care of yourself. Talk to friends, family, or other people you trust, take some self-care days, focus on finding the little joys in life. Then, when everything is looking a little bit brighter, sit down in front of the computer and write. It doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy, just some thoughts put on the page for you to see. As important as writing may be, whether it’s your career or just a hobby, remember to take care of yourself first.
Writer’s Block is common, and almost every writer gets it at some point in their lives. It isn’t fun, and is often discouraging. Extended Writer’s Block especially hurts your motivation and focus because people tend to concentrate on the negative impact it has on their work. Hopefully some of these tips will be the spark to keep you writing. Just keep in mind that Writer’s Block doesn’t have to last forever, and there are methods and people who can help you break its destructive cycle.