Writer’s block: is it even real? Many say it’s not. Others say that it’s a combination of problems, like lack of ideas or planning. Others still prefer to look at writing like they look at magic: either you can do it, or you can’t. Well, if you think you might have writer’s block, the place to go for advice is other writers. They’ve definitely been stuck themselves, so their take on it should be reliable. So how do you overcome writer’s block? And why are you stuck in the first place?
You Only Work When Inspired
You only write when you feel like it. Not many can afford this luxury, but you’re somehow in a situation where you can afford to wait for a muse to come to you. So what do you do if the muse isn’t coming?
“Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it.”
— Wil Haygood
“If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.”
— Anne Tyler
“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”
— Jane Yolen
Start writing on a schedule. The problem for this kind of writer is that they think writing is a kind of faucet that is either on, or isn’t, and the only thing that can turn the faucet on is inspiration. This kind of thinking is what leads to unproductive weeks and unfinished drafts. Writing, ultimately, is a process of figuring out what the problems are, and their solutions. So start writing every day, even if you have to ditch everything you’ve made at the end of the week. Setting quotas and meeting them is the only real way to overcome the writing-is-magic delusion.
You’re Scared of Producing Bad Work
All writers are readers, and all writers have refined, if different, taste. When you read the work of your favorite author, it’s always the best thing they’ve written, and you know, deep down, that you’ll never be as good as them. Just look at this rough draft you made!
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
— Ray Bradbury
“You can’t say, I won’t write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.”
— Dorothy C. Fontana
The only way to make good writing is making more of it. The complete volume of your writing can’t stand next to the work of your favorites if only for the fact that you’ve never seen the problems they’ve had in their first draft. You’ve never seen them at their worst and most embarrassing, but you get to read your worst stuff all the time. So get some perspective, and start producing more work.
You Don’t Know Where It’s Going
You’ve opened up the document with your latest draft, you’re looking at the point you stopped writing last night, the cursor is staring at you, and… nothing. Sometimes, you can get just stuck. This state isn’t writer’s block, per se, this is not knowing where your story is going next.
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
— Ernest Hemingway
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
— Hilary Mantel
The best advice for this type of writer’s block is to just give it time. There’s no way you can’t be thinking about the problem you’re having when not writing, so the solution will come to you eventually. Go do the laundry, wash the dishes, anything but sit and stare at a screen. When you have a possible solution, go write it. To prevent this from happening again, stop when you know where it should be going next. When you go back to the computer next morning, you’ll be finishing what you started yesterday, and before you know it, you’re on a roll again.
You’re Scared of the Volume of Work
Writing a novel, or any lengthy narrative, isn’t easy, and the task gets even more daunting when you read that it’s taken some authors years, and, in some cases, decades to write theirs. You’re looking at the total amount of work you have to produce, and you’re scared that you’ll never be able to do it.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
— Mark Twain
Break it down, and plan it out. Divide your work into parts, and work on each one of them separately. It’s really important to take your work one step at a time. No one writes anything the way it’s read, from beginning to end, and no one writes in one burst. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the next New York Times bestseller won’t be, either.
You Get Distracted Too Easily
Ooh, shiny! No, focus. Distraction in the digital age is a constant problem. Every second spent in front of a computer screen is a battle between “I should be working” and “I bet there’s a new Cyanide and Happiness cartoon”. If, when idle, you constantly go to open a new tab, you might be someone who gets distracted easily.
“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer. “
— Ray Bradbury
Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.
Get creative. Locate the problem, and create a solution for it. If your vice is social networks, get blocking software. If it’s information overload from your text editor, get one that won’t get in the way of writing. Since this problem is individual, every solution to it will be, too.
Writer’s block is not one problem, it’s a collection of issues. Just like when a car doesn’t start, the problem isn’t “car block”, it’s an engine problem, or oil needing a change. Each of these problems falling under the umbrella of “writer’s block” are individual, ergo, the solutions to them will be, too. If you keep encountering the same issue time and time again, figure out what causes them, and of course correct. If you’re applying the same diligence to solving the issues in your process as you are to writing, you’ll be on your way to being a non-stop writing machine, just wait.
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”
— Terry Pratchett