9/14/2015

My Top 10 Strategies for Getting Over Writer's Block


Writer's block is pretty much guaranteed to happen to you sooner or later.  A lot of aspiring writers begin their careers with a seemingly insurmountable case of writer's block; they feel crippled by the fear they have nothing meaningful to say.  Even those of us who have enjoyed great success--the Stephen Kings and Ernest Hemingways--feel the block from time to time.

Writer's block is best defined as the inability to initiate what John Gardner calls "The Fictive Dream".  It's that state where your story "writes itself", and you feel like you're just watching it unfold in your head.  It's an amazing feeling--better than drugs, in my opinion (and I've tried drugs).  And just like drugs, its absence can be a painful thing.

The key is to accept that writer's block is inevitable, and prepare for it.

More than anything, I feel that plotting has saved me from writer's block most of the time.  Having some kind of plan supporting you ensures that the dreaded blank page is never truly blank. [Read more on why I think Plotting is great]

But beyond the basic defense of getting organized, how can you fight the frustration?  Below are my Top 10 ways.  I can't promise they'll work for everybody, but they work for me.

  1. Re-read.  Sit down at your computer and take another look at the last 2-3 chapters you wrote, or the last short story you finished.  (If you've never written anything, this method will not work for you).  Re-read everything, editing as you go.  The feeling of improvement over your previous drafts immerses you in your own writing, which in turn helps you kick-start the fictive dream.  This is the most common method I use.
  2. Meditate.  I don't meditate regularly (though I sometimes wish I did), but if I'm feeling particularly frustrated, it helps.  There are numerous types of meditation, but the goal of most is to clear your mind of all thought.  In my experience, it is possible, but it takes time.  When I meditate, I don't fight the inevitable torrent of thoughts, I simply wait it out.  I focus on my breathing, and eventually, my mind is done dumping out all its clutter, and I'm relaxed.  Afterwards, I find that writing is much easier.
  3. Drink coffee. It sounds asinine, but I'm serious.  First off, coffee is delicious.  Second, you shouldn't really call yourself a writer unless you drink lots of it.  Third, caffeine actually enhances neural connections in the brain, which make it easier to think.  So if you're feeling the block, take a moment and focus on a hot cup of coffee.  Not only will it help speed up your brain, but a quiet moment with a cup of coffee is like a mini-meditation.
  4. Blog.  About anything.  Even if it's stupid.  It's a good warm-up--it gets your fingers on the keyboard at least--and it gets you closer to your 10,000 hours.  Even if it sucks, who cares?
  5. Freewrite.  It can't hurt.  And again, it's like a form of meditation, and it gets you closer to your 10,000 hours.  I kind of hate freewriting, because the first few lines are always something idiotic like "I can't write today" or "So here I am, freewriting, hum-de-dum..."  I know it feels stupid.  Do it anyway.  You might be surprised.  And it's not like you're going to show it to anyone, right?
  6. Read.  Books are a great source of inspiration, but don't get too sucked in.  Read a chapter of whatever book you're into at the moment, and pay attention to the rhythm and flow of the author's voice.  Or think about the setting and characters, and let the ideas inspire you.  Reading great books is why we want to be writers in the first place, so hopefully reading will remind you of that.
  7. Find a Writing Prompt.  I tend to dislike writing prompts as starting places for actual stories, but as a form of directed freewriting, I think they can be immensely beneficial.  The internet is replete with these things, and some sites even make a game out of it.  Find a prompt you like, and just go with it, without worrying about the quality of the story.
  8. Edit/Critique Someone Else.  Sometimes, helping a fellow author can be a great source of inspiration.  Maybe one of their ideas will spark something in you, or maybe their struggles will help you see and overcome your own.  The back and forth with another writer can be a real boost to your confidence as well.  We all struggle with the same issues, and sometimes all we need is a little solidarity.
  9. Plot.  Sometimes, a setting or a character will spark a story.  A lot of the time, when I'm feeling frustrated, I take a break from my current project and work on background notes for another one.  Just being immersed in my own world helps, especially when I'm producing things that I know nobody will read.  It frees up the flow of ideas, and when I'm done plotting, it's easy to keep that flow going.
  10. Take a Break.  If nothing else is working, take a break from writing.  No more than a day or two, and use the break to do something.  Work in another artistic medium, like painting or music.  Go for a hike in the woods.  Sit quietly and really listen to music.  Take some time to catch up on yard work (I've found that digging in the dirt is immensely calming, and the garden is a great place to get some thinking done).  But don't use the break to goof off:
    • DO NOT play video games.
    • DO NOT passively watch TV or movies (if you watch with your writer's hat on, that's a different matter, but be careful).
    • DO NOT watch Youtube videos or get sucked into Wikipedia holes.
    • DO NOT play with social media, except to share your blogs.

Hopefully, this list is helpful to you.  No matter how you deal with writer's block, just remember, it happens to all of us.