The amount of times I have actually wanted to smash my head against a wall because of my stories is concerning but expected as a writer. It’s one of two reasons I keep a football helmet close by when I pick up a pen and paper.
We writers are the gods and goddesses of our stories. We control everything in them. And yet, somehow, they can fly out of our hands like a slippery bar of soap in the shower to knock all of the bottles off the shelves of our minds in one great swoop. Then we’re just standing there, shampoo and conditioner at our feet, naked and afraid, wondering “what in the world just happened?”
It’s not a fun day when your own story throws you a curveball.
If you’re a writer, I shouldn’t need to explain much about writer’s block—it’s adding salt to the wound if I make you remember those three drafts you have sitting open on your computer because you somehow think that will help you get the motivation to write for them (spoiler: it won’t).
So how do we beat it? What are some things that we, as creators, can do to get back to actually writing our stories instead of binging Netflix in an attempt to forget about the problem? Well I’m sure there are tons of ways, but I’ll list five points that I have found effective in beating down writer’s block:
Problem solving. A writer friend told me that one of the most common reasons for writer’s block is a writer failing to understand some aspect of their story. As writers, if we don’t understand some aspect about our story, we cannot continue until we figure it out. Whether it be world-building, character motivation, or continuity between scenes, we need to figure out the why. A lack of information stops all progress if an author can’t even answer the burning questions that will be on readers’ minds.
So, sit down and focus on right now. Back-peddling can help. Think of the events that led up to the part of the story you’re stuck on. Did you miss adding a crucial detail along the way? Look at it from the eyes of a different character, or a different scene. What can you take away from alternative perspectives?
2. Talk with fellow writers. Joining a group of writers online, in your library, or wherever your town’s writers decided their local haunt would be can be extremely beneficial. They know what you’re going through! They each have their own unique perspective and ideas and can help you brainstorm instead of giving you a general “I don’t know, you’re on your own” type of answer.
3. Exercise. Okay yeah, I just gagged writing that, but trust me, it’s true. Exercise is scientifically proven to help you think and feel better. A good walk, some yoga, even doing some cartwheels in your living room will help release those sweet, sweet endorphins that will make you think more clearly. Reaching for the TV remote does not count. Get up, do some stretches, and watch as your mind opens to possible solutions for your block.
4. Take a break. Whether it’s for twenty minutes, a few days, or even longer, give your brain a rest from worrying about the block! You wouldn’t push your body to run twenty miles every two hours and expect to be fine, (I promise, you will die if you try to do this—or at least pass out) why would you expect your brain to? Reading your favorite book or watching a good movie in your down time could also help you gain the inspiration needed to get over writer’s block. Rest, recuperate, then hop back on your story. Show it who’s boss.
5. If all else fails, start fresh. It’s hard when you’re attached to an idea to even think about getting rid of it. But, you might be thinking, this event will help show readers how important this character is! Yeah? Well, that event is also preventing the rest of the story from moving forward. Stephen King’s advice isn’t just for your characters, it’s for your great (but ultimately ineffective) ideas: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Sometimes, the best way to get over a problem is to get rid of it entirely and start again.
There are tons of other things you could do to get yourself writing again. Experiment. Figure out what for you, as the author, works best. Everyone is different, but every writer can understand The Block. And let me reiterate again: if the problem won’t move, go after it with fists up.
As the wise Dr. Seuss said:
“But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me!”