I imagine writer’s block as a sort of monster. He’s slimy, has a raspy snake-like voice and halitosis, and he preys on your mind. Maybe he feeds off creative thoughts, a bit like dementors? You’re on a roll, writing page after perfect page of glowing copy, interesting dialogue and 3D descriptions, and then he finds you…
The appearance of the writer’s block monster is debatable – as is the idea of him being a monster in the first place. But what’s not debatable is the fact that writer’s block has happened to all of us, and it (word redacted) sucks.
So today, let’s discuss how to beat it. Perhaps we can create our own patronus of sorts, eh? After all, writers do, in a way, weave magic. It’s spelling instead of spells and we fly using our imagination rather than Firebolts, but hey – magic’s magic!
Now let’s gear up and learn to beat the creativity and confidence-sapping monster that is… writer’s block. He-who-will-not-let-you-write, if you will. So here’s how to get rid of writer’s block – in three simple steps.
Step 1: Acknowledge it
Writer’s block can leave you feeling uncreative, untalented, worthless. It can reduce you to tears, drive you to despair. It can make you think you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. It can make everything you’ve written seem like crap – while what others write seems to positively glow in comparison.
The first step in defeating writer’s block is to realize that you have it. Here are some of the questions you can use to spot it:
– Have you always felt this way? Really always? Flip through a diary if you have one. See how long you’ve been feeling this way for.
– Is your writing objectively bad? Send it to a close friend, or see it through the eyes of a friend. If a friend sent you that exact copy, would you think it’s crappy?
– Could any recent events be negatively affecting your writing and creativity levels?
Your honest answers to these questions will help you figure out if you’re dealing with writer’s block. Remember that writer’s block can go on for a fairly long time – so if you’ve felt this way for months, it doesn’t immediately discount the possibility.
Step 2: Fight it
Now here’s the real stuff – the place where we’ll discuss the writer’s block exercises and such. Let’s talk about how to get rid of writer’s block.
1) Write about what you see
This works excellently for me. If you can’t write a particular blog post or scene, shove that project to the side and try something altogether different. Pick any object near you – preferably something large and/or an object with character, like a desk, a fan that appears to be smiling, or maybe your fridge which goes clink clank at night. That probably means you should get your fridge checked, by the way.
Write about the object. It’s in your home so you see it often enough. If you don’t, go and take a good look. Describe it as a character. Pretend that expression is a real smile, or that the weird sounds are done by the fridge to annoy you. Or hell, just describe the damn thing.
Now look at what you’ve written. Guess what? You’ve just written something that doesn’t suck! Try forwarding it to a friend to get their input. Writing one good para can be the snowflake that causes the writer’s block-beating avalanche.
2) Write your latest conversation
Just had a chat with your friend? Great! Now write it down. This is one of my favorite writer’s block exercises, because it works excellently and is pretty amusing. Make notes in shorthand if you’re afraid you might forget things, and then write the conversation in a simple script format.
But where’s the twist in that? Where’s the creativity?
Well…what you do is, once you have it all written down verbatim, you tweak your speech a bit. Maybe give yourself an accent (Scottish is one of my favorites), add a lisp, or replace offensive words with metaphors or something along the lines of “clucking bell” – if you get my drift.
Now read it through. You can send your friend this one too. If you pick up the average YA novel and read through some dialogue, you’ll realize how amazing you are at writing dialogue!
3) Take a walk
Writer’s block can make you feel frustrated and depressed. Sometimes, you’re just not in the right mental space to write – even if it’s a simple description based on sight. How to cure writer’s block at such a time? The key is to take a break. Take a walk or go for a short hike. Watch birds, feed some ducks, sit under a tree, smell the outside air. That’ll take your mind off things and give you a fresh start.
Once you return from the walk, start with something easy – like a journal entry, something interesting that happened on the walk, a conversation you overheard, or whatever you don’t have to work too hard on. You’ll find it much easier going, and getting this piece finished will give you the encouragement you need to write further.
4)Re-read what you’ve written
The points above are helpful if you’re out of ideas for what to write. However, what if you know exactly what you’re supposed to write – you’ve got the research done, the outline ready and okayed, you’ve got the dialogue somewhere in your mind – but you just can’t bloody do it. You sit there waiting for the words to flow, to write something that sounds like the character, to write one paragraph about the importance of testing semiconductors, but you come up blank. How to get rid of writer’s block then?
Let’s go off-course for a second. You know what I do when I want to write sci-fi? I read Douglas Adams. Writing comedy? Jerome K. Jerome and Terry Pratchett are sure bets. Sure, research is just an excuse, but the purpose is accomplished.
So what do you do when you want to write like you? Go read something you’ve written. If it’s fiction, read the last chapter you wrote, re-familiarize yourself with Sandra’s overuse of “um” and Tony’s tendency to lean all the time. Is he a man or a plank of wood? Writing an article? Go read a recent article you wrote – if possible, something in the same niche.
Now that you’ve “remembered” your writing style or characters, go and give it another try. I suggest reading for an hour or reading 4000 words – whichever is greater. Anything shorter won’t be enough, and you’ll end up doubly frustrated.
Step 3: Guard against it
Prevention is better than cure. For one, it’s less effort, and it’s less upsetting. I suppose many of you are surprised to see this here, because writer’s block is a mental issue and preventing it seems rather complicated. Surely it’s not as simple as wearing full sleeves or saying your prayers before bed?
You guessed right – it’s not. But it’s still doable.
The best way to prevent it is to keep reading. As writers, you must know the importance of reading – especially reading fiction. As Stephen King once said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
One of the many tricks I use to overcome writer’s block is to read. I tend to go for full-sized novels so this isn’t a ‘quick tip’, but if you make it a habit it’ll guard you against the big, bad, slimy monster over time. Reading fiction opens your mind to the creative processes of other writers – and if you pick books wisely, it’ll feel restful and fun.
So now, when you’re feeling uncreative your mind will borrow some help from your favorite writers. It may mean that you write in their style sometimes, but trust me, a hint of your style always shows through.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you beat writer’s block.