There are so many tips out there for overcoming writer’s block, which shows what big of an issue writer’s block really is. There’s nothing more frustrating than that feeling you get as you sit down in front of that blank screen or sheet of paper ready to create an explosion of colors and magic only to find that the words just won’t come out. They sound clunky and unimaginative. Maybe you can’t muster up any words at all.
I think that there are two kinds of writer’s block. The first kind is when you know that you have something to say but you just can’t for the life of you organize the thoughts in your mind into a coherent sentence. We’ll call this Disorganized Writer’s Block. The second kind is when you’re writing with a deadline, say NaNoWriMo, and the inspiration, motivation, and will to write completely vanish. You’re stuck on a scene as your characters stubbornly disagree with your instructions. We’ll call this the Empty Writer’s Block.
Both kinds are frustrating. But I’ve been through both so many times that I’ve learned to recognize which one I’m dealing with plus applications that almost never fail.
Move to a different part of your story.
This application can work for both types of writer’s blocks. I’ll give some examples.
A couple of years ago, I spent months furiously staring at my computer screen. I knew what was supposed to happen, but I didn’t know how it was supposed to happen. No matter what I said, or how I said it, the process refused to work. So, after wasting a lot of time getting nowhere, I continued on with the book as though I had written that chapter.
During NaNoWriMo in 2019, I found myself struggling writing the battle scenes of my project. Battle scenes have always been particularly difficult for me to write. I just didn’t know what the characters were supposed to be doing, or how to describe them. Because I was on a deadline, I didn’t have the time to be staring thoughtfully at a screen. So I cut the battle scene short and moved on.
Now, here’s the thing with this application. The scene is still unwritten, and you’re going to have to go back to it eventually. Sometimes, when you skipping over it, you regain your writing pace and motivation, and when you return to the troublesome scene, it comes easier. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t work. This is when I move onto application 2.
Change something up.
When I returned to that first troublesome scene, I felt just as lost as I had been before. Then, I decided to make one simple change. I changed the setting from an open field to an enclosed forest. That was just the thing that fixed everything. For some reason or other, my brain finally went, “Ohhh, I get it now!” and I busted out that chapter with ease. I had been struggling with it for months, I tell you, and that one simple change obliterated my writer’s block.
When I feel Unorganized Writer’s Block coming on, I tend to make notes. When I write nonfiction, I write out things I want to say, points I want to make, and sources I want to draw from. I’ll usually do this in a notebook. Then, when I feel as though I’ve written out a lot of material, I’ll chose several highlighters of different colors and read over my notes. When two or more rambling notes seem like they could fit together, I highlight them in the same color. Once that’s all done, I copy down the notes again, this time putting the ideas that fit together on one page, separate from the other ideas. From there, I can make an outline.
When I write fiction, I do more or less the same thing. I shorthand scene prompts, jot down important character interactions, and try to locate a theme. Then, I re-write it all in chronological order. Again, from there, I can make an outline. It doesn’t have to be very detailed, especially if you’re a pantser, but it’s nice to have something to refer to as you move along in your projects.
Determine whether you need to motor through or take a rest.
Sometimes, I’m so burnt out that my brain refuses to write. A few weeks ago I needed to get paper done for school, and I just couldn’t think of one thing to say. So I set my timer for twenty minutes and took a nap. When I woke up, I felt so refreshed and I went right back to work. The paper practically wrote itself!
Now, this might not seem applicable to Empty Writer’s Block. After all, when you’re in that final week of NaNoWriMo and that deadline is flying at you like a swooping eagle, a break might be the furthest thing from your mind. But a break doesn’t have to be long. It can be a twenty minute nap, or a ten minute walk, or an hour to make some banana muffins. In the long run, if you pace yourself, you’ll be more productive than if you burn yourself out in one day.
The problem with breaks is that people (myself included) often use them as an excuse not to write. The break might last much longer than it ought. Plus, it might not be a beneficial break. Breaks are meant to refresh you and, trust me, a 20 minute YouTube video is not going to do that.
In the end, you need to determine for yourself if you need to take a break or press on. If your eyelids are drooping and you’re falling asleep at your desk, maybe it’s time for a break. But if you really just want an excuse to watch just a liiiiittle more Netflix, then maybe you just need to cut distractions and focus. Write rapidly, write heedlessly, and write recklessly. You can fix what’s on the page. But it has to be on the page before you can fix it.
Writer’s block is something that will threaten to steal your writing as long as you write. It’s not about destroying it once and for all, it’s about constantly battling it in such a way that it’s no longer a nuisance. Now, go ahead and try these applications next time you need to. Let me know how they work. And happy writing to you!