Do you have writers’ block? Really? Seriously? Are you sure it’s not “Procrastination Block” or “I-have-to-do-other-things-block”? I know there is a point in time when the ideas won’t come but I would say those are born out of some other issue that’s related to living life, too many competing tasks and yes, procrastination and even fear, feelings of inadequacy, and any old bout with regular dissatisfaction with what you’re writing at that very moment and a host of other “blocks” that affect everyone in different ways.
People ask me how I get unstuck. I’m writing almost 100,000 words as are every other full-length novel author out here and there’s got to be a point when I get stuck. There are points when I get stuck but it is not a lack of ideas, at any given point, I have about ten titles all in various stages from 30 pages written to 145 pages written so my problem is that I usually have too many. This constant state of what to do or which one to work on, makes me feel overwhelmed so I just stop to take a break and sometimes that break can last for a week. That is Not good!
My point, these tips are more about digging deeper to uncover a larger issue that keeps you from writing (or use this for tackling any issue/project that you want to make progress on,) or causes angst so you keep having recurring difficulties. Before you chalk your experience up to just a type of creative constipation, try these and see if you can break your block and breakthrough:
- PRAY – seems like a no-brainer but why are we often led only to pray for big, life-changing issues and healing? Why not pray for the ideas and your writing life, too?
- Do something different, (out of character) – if you have a stagnate character that’s being a bit obtuse, have him/her do something completely OUT of character. Sometimes our characters may seem redundant, stale and we need to freshen them up a bit. So go against the grain and turn things upside down.
- Adopt the Qualities of Your Opposite Writer Type – if you are a plotter, this may seem terrifying. I’m a ” pantser, ” but surprisingly, if my work becomes stuck, I may also take a moment to plot out the order of what I have so far, using just a sentence to describe each chapter. This is “plotting” but I’m simply employing it after the fact and for me, that’s usually about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through the book (my usual sticking point). I also consider what I’m doing more of a timeline but I’ll let you call it an outline if you’d like. Doing this tells me where I still have to go. So whatever you are, adopt the tips of what your complete writer-type-opposite would do, to assist you in getting unstuck.
- Put a Placeholder – IF I can’t think of something I use a “placeholder” -write something like – “describe this here” or “go research this more”- and I highlight it so it sticks out for me on the next pass through and I just keep going. Why force yourself to figure out something when it’s just not coming hot and heavy right that minute? If your belly is full, you wouldn’t make a meal and eat it just for the heck of it, would you? Hopefully, by not forcing yourself to keep going, and writing past the blanks, by the time you write other stuff and permit yourself to simply keep going, the idea will return. You also have not had to stop your flow, taking yourself completely out of the story, just to go fact-check something you can find out later when you research it (which can become a time suck if you’re not careful). Keep going and don’t stop.
- In lieu of putting a placeholder from number three above, the oppositive of that is to Write Some Crap. In our RWA Chapter, the Washington Romance Writers workshop, mega best-selling author Eloisa James told us to give ourselves permission to write trash. I prefer to call it gibberish: stuff that looks good, makes some sense but will ultimately be refined (improved upon) or replaced (delete!) with something much better. Don’t beat yourself up about lackluster writing (in spurts). Put it down because you can only improve and massage bad stuff, you can’t do much if nothing is on the page at all.
- Make a list of scenes (they can be standard or backup content) -This actually just came to me but sometimes I make a list of scenes that I need to write, I don’t feel like writing them but they are there and they need to happen…eventually. IF I can give myself a little time to simply mull over a potential scene I need to write, I can come up with it and write ten pages when I’m ready to. A list of scenes I’ve recently finished include:Nursing Home visitFirst dateFirst kissDinner and dancingHospital sceneMeet your father
In my recent book Anchored Hearts, I’ve also named my chapters. I have not given ANYTHING away but I let the chapter title be something intriguing which also helps.
Yes, you know what you will have to do in order to advance the story and you know what your characters will need to experience but some scenes aren’t that fun. Make a little backup list that you can refer to when things are not flowing.
Next, KEEP EVERYTHING YOU WRITE and EVERYTHING you cut and paste – I have cut A LOT from my stories and I never, ever, EVER just delete it. I may never use it but at least I always have it if I need to. Whatever I cut, I paste it into a new document and save it as that story’s “cuts and pastes”. I do clean my computer files periodically and I may delete it – but I usually only delete it AFTER the book is published and other times I’ve used my “cut and pastes” and put them into a different story. I have always been a believer of honoring the ideas God gives you and to keep them is one way, I feel, to do just that. What do you do with what He gives you???
- Finally, this is likely the hardest but the most liberating thing you can do and that is to take a moment and write a letter to yourself about what’s really going on. I have done this for one of my books. I was concerned it would fail. It wasn’t that the writing was so bad, it was the larger idea of releasing my work out into the world and ultimately wondering what’s it all for? That was holding me back. Every single writer has a moment just like this. Many writers have recurring angst before each release that just never goes away from project to project (and I would argue you SHOULD feel this way before each project). In this letter to self or feel free to write to a fictitious person if it gives you some autonomy from yourself; put the truth out there. Just let it all go, write lies that you believe are true, write out current issues and vent if need be. There is something about expressing yourself truthfully and putting down your fears that make them less powerful. Put it out there and after that, go one step further, and ask yourself the following about each item, “Is this true?” and/or “How can I make this not be true (if it’s a detrimental or a negative thought)?” “What will I do to overcome these thoughts and not meet this end (if negative) result?”Your brain will start finding ways to allay your fears and to help you tackle things that bring you down or overly concern you. You’ll also be cognizant of the ways lies can become true and work that much harder either through your writing content or the way you approach your release, to ensure you’ve thought of every pitfall and learned everything you can to ultimately help yourself meet success.
Want some more tips? Here ya go!
- Ditch the computer and exchange it for pen and paper, talk your story using recording then dictation and aesthetically use another method besides typing to help bring about a brain-hand connection -some people always write their entire story on paper first – try it
- Open a random book, place your finger unseeing on a sentence, and write where the original author left off, and then,
- Perhaps, take leave of your writing space entirely, switch it out for a coffee shop, library or another public venue, where you may be able to hear lots of varied, but interesting conversations. Use those snippets, finish them yourself or have your characters finish them for you.
Whatever blockage, there is a cure for it. Try some of these and let me know how they work out in the comments below.
Now, Write Away!