How to Beat Writer’s Block

Writer's block? I have produced two shelves of rough drafts and partial material.

Writer’s block? I have produced two shelves of rough drafts and partial material.

A lot of beginning and would be writers are amazed when veteran writers say they never get writer’s block. I don’t. I struggle with the exact opposite problem. I have so many potential story ideas that I doubt I will ever get them all written. Here is how you, too, can join the ranks of people who never get writer’s block.

There is a direct correlation between writer’s block and the myth that writing is easy. According to this myth, writers become inspired and then they write. The words flow easily from their brain to the keyboard. They start their novel at the beginning and before you know it, they are typing “the end.”

There are three problems with this myth, and all three contribute to writer’s block. Writers can’t wait for inspiration, they need to learn to go find it. Even when you are inspired, writing can be hard at times. Every writer will have to find their own style, but few will start at the beginning and write straight through to the end.

What to do when you are not inspired.

Wanna be writers write when inspired. Real writers learn to write even when they aren’t inspired. Often, by doing so, they become inspired. Real writers learn to chase down inspiration, beat it with a stick and drag it home.

What can you do when it’s time to write and you don’t feel inspired?

1. Journal

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing is getting started. So write in a journal. My personal journal is filled with entries that start out “I am not sure what to write today…” I will write for five to ten minutes, often listing off the things I should be writing. After awhile I get in the flow of writing or I start to feel guilty about the writing I am not getting done. Then I start writing for real.

2. Write something stupid.

You can write an essay about why you hate flossing. Write a blog post about things your dog does. It will probably be complete crap and that’s okay. I have folders and folders filled with short pieces that will never see the light of day. But they got me writing.

3. Write anyway.

If you are well into a project, sometimes you just have to sit your butt in the chair and write anyway. Here’s the funny thing, later on it’s almost impossible to tell the inspired writing from the writing that dragged on and on.

4. Realize there is more to writing than writing.

In the past I didn’t know what to do when I was completely unable to get myself to write. Now I realize there are tons of writing related chores to do instead. I reread old writing and edit it. I organize my writing folders and decide what project comes next. I read books on the craft of writing. I read books and analyze them for what works and what doesn’t.

How to find Inspiration

1. Use writing prompts

I am not a big fan of writing prompts now, but I used them a lot in the past. You can find books filled with the beginning of sentences (you finish and then start writing). You can use pictures, one sentence or phrase, short ideas. You can take a page from the fan fic writers and writer your own version of your favorite book, movie or TV show. Once again, anything to get the juices flowing.

2. Daydream

Daydreaming is just telling yourself a story. And if it’s a story you are engaged in, it will probably interest readers as well. For me the best part of being a writer is giving myself permission to daydream.

3. Write down ideas/characters you want to explore some day.

When you are feeling inspired, brainstorm some ideas you want to explore. When you are having an off day, return to that list.

What to do when writing is hard

Sometimes the problems isn’t writer’s block at all, it’s just that writing is hard. Emotional scenes can be both inspired and hard at the same time. Dialogue is another area where you may know exactly what you want to say, but struggle with just how to say it. Neither of these problems should be surprising, think about real life. Moments of intense drama are tough, so is depicting them accurately. What do you do when the writing gets hard.

1. Keep plodding along.

I have learned over the years to accept that there will be times when I struggle with my writing. The most important thing to remember is to keep writing. You might have to reduce your expectations. You might miss word count goals. But as long as you are still getting some writing done, rest easy. This too shall pass.

2. Take a short break.

Take a walk. Meditate. Watch a movie. Let your mind rest. Your subconscious mind will keep working on the problem and when you come back to writing things might be smoother. Just don’t let the breaks become too long.

3. Write something else.

Sometimes being stuck on a story means you just aren’t ready to tell that story yet. There might be pieces missing. Write something else. I have several works in progress going at any time.

Finding your own style.

There is a Hollywood stereotype of how writing works. The writer locks himself in the attic with a typewriter, intent on writing the next great American novel. They put in the first sheet of paper and type something cliche like “Once upon a time.” The sheets of paper fly by, with typewriter clicking in the background. Finally “the end” rolls by.

The most annoying thing about this stereotype is that script writing is writing. Surely the writer knows how unrealistic this idea is. Why do they perpetuate it?

There are many ways to write a novel as there are writers. What works for one person might not work for another. Writers tend to describe themselves in one of three broad categories. “Pantser” write by the seat of their pants, plunging into novels with little or no planning. Outliners outline the entire plot from start to finish. Storyboarders use copious notes and lay out their novels scene by scene, like you would a movie.

If you always seem to find yourself stuck at roughly the same point in each piece of writing, maybe you are trying to fit a square peg in to a round hole. I am a storyboarder. For years I would write on the fly, and then get stuck a few pages in. It wasn’t until I learned how to storyboard that I realized I needed to understand how the story flowed visually before I could write it.

Storyboarding helps me in two ways. Planning novels out means I know what’s coming at each step. There is no place to get stuck. However, when I do get stuck anyway, I turn to my notes. Maybe I don’t understand the characters motivation well enough. Fine, open that character’s sheet and start writing. So even when I am stuck, I am writing. Eventually I will have the “aha” moment and get unstuck.

That’s me. Other writers might have the opposite problem. A seat of the pants writer might become stuck when confronted with an outline that prevents the story from evolving naturally in their heads. An outliner might be daunted by last minute character changes that storyboarders thrive on.

The point is, get rid of the notion that you have to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end. Instead play around with different styles. Write a scene here or there. Download some storyboarding software, or run out and buy a stack of index card and a corkboard. Draw up an outline, but if the outline stifles you, scrap it.

The myth that writing is easy and the myth that you must be inspired to write are the two foundations of writer’s block. Ridding yourself of these myths will help rid yourself of writer’s block for good. It will also rid you of another myth. Many beginners assume that successful writers are more inspired than the rest of us. That’s not true, they just work harder.

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