If you are a writer you have likely dealt with writer’s block at some point. Days where the words do not come, where ideas do not spark, and where progress slows to a crawl. And then stops. Speaking for myself, I get days like this every once in a while.
Alright. At least once a week.
But to push through writer’s block is to raise ourselves to the next level in our craft. This can be hard, often brutally so, but there are some ways out there that you can jumpstart your mind and shove that annoying barrier aside to make progress in your work.
What You Should NOT Do
Getting That Perfect Draft
We all want to get it perfect the first time around. All the characters interacting the way we want, all of the setting pristine, the plot engaging. Essentially, we want all our ducks in a row from the start so that time is saved in the long term. But this does not happen. And the longer the project we are working on, the sooner perfectionism becomes unattainable. If you expect everything to line up neatly in yellow rows right from the start, all you are going to get is writing paralysis and a headache in trying to line up all your imaginary beaks. Better that you successfully complete several quick drafts with issues remaining to be fixed, rather than a pending first draft as you juggle all your ducks in the air, waiting to place them in the perfect position.
Waiting For Your Muse to Inspire
This is another common approach to writer’s block. Essentially we present the idea of an external force of inspiration as the fire that causes the words to burn within us. But this is not right. Our inspiration, our Muses, they are more akin to cold unfeeling stone than to bright flickering flame. Beautiful to look at, but unmoving in the darkness, in order for us to get anything we need to drag their unmoving forms into the open. Only then will the light loosen their joints, allowing flexibility and interaction to occur. Poetic, yes? But you likely want something a bit more concrete than just flowery prose.
Essentially the issue with leaving everything up to your Muse or some blast of lightning to energize your writing is to leave your entire craft up to chance. To let your writing happen to you rather than for you to happen to it. To me, being deliberate in writing is about selecting time each day, sitting down with a chosen writing implement, and turning your blood, sweat, and tears into those crisp black letters that convey all the thoughts and emotions of what it is to be human.
Not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But thats ok. All things worth attaining in life are difficult at some point.
But what about actually tactics to overcome writers block, you may be asking? Alright, there are a few that come to my mind that have worked for me in the past. Here are the five that I have found to work the best for me.
What You Should Do
Coming At The Problem Sideways
Sometimes when we start a project the first sentence, sometimes even the first word, is enough to spark a case of writers block. We get it in our heads that nothing can progress until we know how the article or the story starts. That without that bedrock to set up the structure of the plot, anything we might choose to write down will all inevitably just fall into ugly pieces.
You do not have to suffer though this, however. If you prewrite or outline (two things I recommend every writer do, but that is another pose) then you already have a means to over come this starting-at-the-beginning problem. With this roadmap in hand, why not pick a place to start in the middle somewhere? This will allow you to make some progress without feeling like it needs to be the perfect setup from the getgo. If you want, write a few sections in the middle. Once you have your confidence back, then strike out to craft a beginning to your work, and then fill in transitions to make sure it all flows together.
Sometimes trying to come at the problem from a different angle just is not enough. Even starting in the middle of the project somewhere just is not working. In situations like this, I will sometimes take a break to get some physical activity in. While i enjoy walking (it gives me time to continue thinking about a project) sometimes I will also go do a workout or juggle a soccer ball. Anything that gets your blood pumping and those endorphines flowing will be of help. Apart from the health benefits of doing so, often these activities will wake up our minds, spark our writing passions, and get us back on the path to making progress in our work.
Destroy Your Distractions
You know what I am talking about. The phone constantly at our fingertips. The T.V. running in the background with updates on politics or your favorite sport. Even the quiet dings of incoming emails in the background can be enough to completely derail our writing. Now, when I say destroy your distractions, I do not mean this literally. Though if that is what it takes, and you can afford to do so, then by all means have at it.
No, what I mean by destroy your distractions is that you need to remove their existence from touching on your own for however long you are working on your writing. Set your phone to silent (though I leave it face up in case someone contacts me in an emergency). Turn the T.V. off and make sure you are not facing it. Sign out of your email(s) until later when you are done.
Setting these distractions aside will allow you to more completely focus on writing you are trying to get done. If you want, you can even integrate them into a rewards system. Write X number of words or get to X part of the story, then you can spend Y minutes browsing instagram / watching T.V. / checking emails. Using an approach like this turns your distractions into rewards that can help, rather than hinder, your writing process.
Embrace Your Distractions
Sometimes resolving to set aside our distractions is not enough. Maybe a big game is about to start on T.V. or maybe you currently have a strong desire to paint some of your miniatures. In such situations, if these desires do not fade from your mind after you remove them from your presence, sometimes it can be worthwhile to give in. Just give in for a bit, whether its 15 minutes or 1 hour. Let you distractions rule you. Sate your desires and your mind. Then, once you have gotten your fill, set them aside again. Having indulged briefly sometimes it is easier to go back to doing something else, in this case your writing.
An important caveat to this, however, is that you should only indulge every once in a while. Each time a desire other than your writing pops into your head should not lead you to abandoning your tasks to dive deep into your distractions. Doing this will lead to a stagnation in your writing. With this in mind, sometimes it is beneficial to use this approach with the previous one to set up certain distractions as rewards (such as spending time painting your miniatures or playing a video game) and other, lesser, less time consuming distractions (such as a football game) as something to be indulged in every once in a while.
The last of the approaches I take to overcome writer’s block deals with writing prompts. Though not directly useful for undertaking the specific projects you are working on, they can prove useful for jumpstarting your writing in any given day, or in setting a writing habit in terms of long-term goals. Sources of writing prompts that I have used include Medium, Writer’s Digest, some Pinterest profiles, and sometimes blogs like this one, though if all else fails do not be afraid to google your way to prompts that work for you.
So concludes the five approaches that have worked the best for me. Use or discard them at your discretion. If none of them work well for you, keep looking for something else. Most of all, do not give up on writing just because it is hard or if you are currently suffering from writer’s block. A final quote for you all:
“I believe myself that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it.”— Chinua Achebe
So keep at it. Do not give up. All your words will eventually break free, and even if you doubt yourself, the work you create will be cherished by someone, somewhere. The World is waiting. Get back to writing.
If you are a fantasy writer and wants some tips or an exercise to make progress in your writing, check out my other posts here:
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