One of the top questions I get asked by readers and new writers alike is how to overcome writer’s block. Even if you aren’t a writer, you’re probably familiar with the idea of writer’s block. Before writing became my career, I pictured some poor soul locked in a study, up all night, staring at a blank page. In my mind, said writer looked a bit like Einstein, with all that crazy hair sticking up and a slightly manic look on his face. For some, this may actually be what writer’s block looks like, but not for me. No, for me it’s a little more subtle, but no less debilitating.
My experience with writer’s block has never been a lack of ideas, it’s been dealing with moments when I feel like I’ve lost my way. Usually, I’m stuck somewhere in my story and can’t see my way to a solution. This experience incites crippling self-doubt, and I think, “I really have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just posing. This project is going to be an utter failure, if I ever finish it all.”
Honestly, we don’t need to be writers to feel this way. I’ve been stuck, confused, overwhelmed, and lost in other areas of my life - in relationships, in my previous career, many times as a parent. We all have. Some of the practices I’ve learned to overcome my writer’s block definitely translate elsewhere. Here are some of my favorite tricks to get through the sticky stuff…
Work anyway. Keep to your schedule, even if it turns out that any writing you do has to be tossed the next day. I often find the more I write, the more the ideas flow. Except when they don’t.
So, take a break. This is the exact opposite of my first suggestion, but sometimes it really is necessary to step away and gain some perspective. Maybe you’ll only need a walk to clear your head. But maybe you need a real break from the pressure of a daily word count goal. Stay focused on your story, but use your writing time to brainstorm instead. Keep a notebook with you and capture the ideas when they come.
Go somewhere that inspires you. I’d once committed to writing a short story for an anthology - the prompts were an old photograph from the 1800s, an event, and a name. It was a speculative fiction collection, and I immediately wanted to write a ghost story. I had a great story idea, as usual, but unfortunately, very little substance to go with it. With the deadline fast approaching, I started to panic. During a weekend getaway, I had the chance to visit an old New England village, well preserved and complete with actors in period dress. Strolling up creaky old stairs and surrounded by real artifacts from the nineteenth century, I allowed my imagination to flow, and the pieces of my story finally fell into place.
Talk it through with another writer. Sometimes, when you talk about it, you realize your story is more well-developed than you thought. Brainstorming with a creative friend might also help you see things from a fresh perspective.
If there’s a scene that excites you, write it. Sometimes, you’ll have a very clear, pivotal scene worked out in your mind, but it isn’t happening in the book for a while yet. You don’t have to write in order. If focusing on that scene gets the words flowing and reminds you that writing can be fun, go for it!
This musing was mostly for those writers I’ve met who’ve asked for help breaking through a block, but feel free to exchange the word “write” for any project that’s got you spinning in circles!