Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Writer's Block: Post 1

This is going to be the first of a short series of writing posts I'm planning to publish here on the blog. It's something new for me to be posting writing advice, instead of discussions, so this is kind of a test to see if I like it, and also to see how interested you guys are in what I have to say.

I recently recovered from one of the worst writer's blocks I have been in, and it really caused me to think about the different ways I have been blocked before. Old strategies I had for avoiding blocks just weren't working, and in the end I realized that happened because every block is different.

For this first post, I want to discuss what I think is a pretty common struggle: Writer's block on a specific novel or idea. It seems to me that this is the most talked-about form of writer's block, which is why I thought it might be a good base for these posts.
When you have writer's block for only one project, you usually just don't know what comes next.
I have seen so many pieces of advice for this. If I'm honest, most of them have never worked for me. Common advice includes free-writing (something I'm terrible at; I think too much), or making a list of what could happen next in hopes that one of those ideas jumps out at you. (My problem with that one is that when I don't know what comes next, I don't have a list-full of ideas that could happen next.)

While I know and have heard that those ideas are helpful for other people, here are some strategies that I find more useful:

Begin looking at other stories. This takes time. It is probably best to look at short pieces, just to spark your own imagination, but sometimes you just have to take in large amounts of story. It doesn't have to mean that you're reading novels, though - I have been helped out of blocks like these by poetry, movies, and songs. Especially if you know something relates to the story you're trying to tell, this is the time to look into it.

That being said, make sure you're not taking the plot from that story. If you're unsure, you might want to wait a day and then compare. You don't want your new, major plot twist to be the same as someone else's, you just want to be inspired by their plot.

Clear your mind. Walk away from your work. The best way to do this, for me, is to do something that requires little thought. A change in scenery and a thoughtless activity can sometimes bring you right back to thinking about your project, and solving the problem. One thing that has helped me numerous times is simply going outside to sit or take a walk.

Work on something else. If you're not going to get any writing done on your current project anyway, you might as well be productive somewhere else! Even if you need to write a bunch of random scenes, or an outline to a project you will never start, you're at least writing. And it will probably be a lot easier to work through your problem once you have taken a break from it.

Talk it out. Find someone who is a good listener (or good at pretending to listen!) and tell them about your block. Explain what has happened up to this point, and what direction you're headed in (if you know). You might surprise yourself by thinking of an obvious answer during your explanation, now that you're talking and thinking about the story in a different way. Or, just maybe, the person you're talking to has a solution that will fit.
Of course, there is also the possibility that you hate everything you have written.
I have always found this problem more difficult to solve than the first. It can be extremely difficult to keep going when you dislike the work, and are left wondering why you're trying to write it in the first place.

You could try to simply continue writing. This is actually a really frustrating piece of advice. Sometimes, the worst thing someone can tell you during a block is to just keep writing! But also, sometimes it is the best solution. Most likely, after forcing yourself through a bit of the story, you'll find your love for it again.

Editing the beginning is not wrong. Many pieces of writing advice make it sound like the world will end and your project will never be completed if you edit before it is finished. But if you don't like your beginning, it can be difficult to write the middle or the end. If you feel the urge to edit before you move on, and you simply can't go forward until you do - then edit! Just make sure you don't get lost in the small details, and that you return to writing once you're finished.

Think about why you used to like your work. Chances are, once you begin to think about the foundation of your story, you will like it again. There was something that urged you to begin writing in the first place. There is something you want to convey in this piece - find it and use it to keep yourself from giving up!

You are allowed to not finish. If you don't like this specific piece, maybe you fell out of love with it. Don't feel forced to return to something you are not enjoying. Find a new project that is more important to you, that you enjoy working on, and that you will be proud to complete!

Do you have any advice for these problems that I have forgotten? What is your most common problem when it comes to writer's block?

Also, let me know if you've found this post helpful. This is definitely something new for me and for the blog, so if there is a way I can improve posts like these, please let me know!


  1. There's some great advice in here, and it's a good reminder that us writers need to stay healthy about our attitudes with our WIPs. Beating yourself up over a block isn't helpful, and if several solutions don't work, that's ok.

    Which reminds me ... I need give my current project a go again --- it's been a while since I've tried to write through/around my blocked patch (I'm on one of those awkward scenes where you know where you need to get to by the end of it, but not how to get it there).

    ~ Liza @ Classy Cat Books

    1. Thank you! It's definitely not a good idea to beat yourself up over a block -- we've all been there and it's easier to overcome if you stop stressing :)

      Those scenes are awful; good luck with it! Maybe if you can't write that scene yet, you can skip it and keep going?