We’ve all been there, had those moments when even cleaning the toilet seems better than writing. Some days the words are not interested in you at all and you reciprocate in kind. However, you’ve got to finish this piece for the sake of your sanity/self-esteem/bill-paying/deadlines/professional reputation. Writer’s block is a condition some folk don’t believe in, but which unfortunately and most definitely believes in you.
Myself, I think it’s just fear.
Fear of the words not being good enough, fear of what everyone else will say, fear of someone reading what you’ve produced and shouting “Emperor’s new clothes!!!” Fear of writing something that is a brown best described as “fecal” and thoroughly unsalvageable.
The hard fact of the matter is that you need to overcome this feeling if you’re going to be a professional. So, here’s my range of techniques for defeating writer’s block ? a range, because every writer, just like every snowflake, is different … and even more delicate.
- Turn off the computer. Go and sit in another room. Revert to paper and pen. Jot notes. Sometimes re-establishing the connection between brain and hand and pen can work wonders ? and you don’t have the twin temptations of the backspace and delete keys.
- Find your favourite book, open a page at random and re-type it. When you get to the bottom of said page, keep going ? but write your own story. Obviously you won’t be able to publish that, but you’ll find that the typing is like working with clay: you’re getting a feel for the words, the rhythm of the sentences, and while you’re re-typing someone else’s tale you’re not responsible for it. Not responsible for the quality of the work or the technical aspects of it, no one will see it and judge it, but you can learn by doing – and maybe unlock or unblock your own story.
- Try a brief new project. I’m not advocating becoming one of those folk with four thousand new projects ? because the new beckoning project is always sexier than the old project demanding to be finished – but if you can give your creative brain a break from being banged against the wall of the thing that doesn’t want to work, it can sometimes help. Don’t start something huge; try a 500-word micro-fiction. That’s your entire story space; if you go over that 500 words, then you must edit it down (which is also good practice for your editing skills).
- Again, step away from the computer. Don’t just step away, but turn it off. Go into another room otherwise you’ll feel it’s sitting there, mocking you. Pick up a book, find a comfy chair, pour the beverage of your choice, then read. An old favourite or something new. Anything but your current work. Or substitute “book” with “movie” (good or bad).
- Leave the house. Go for a walk. Around the park, down the street. Make it longer than five minutes (and make sure you’ve got a small notebook and pen with you, or your phone with a note-taking app, just in case inspiration strikes) and just walk. You can think about the story more freely when you’re not in a Stockholm Syndrome situation with your computer. Or, even don’t actively think about the story; sometimes it will just work on itself in the back of your brain and present you with a surprise solution to whatever’s been bothering you. Not always, but sometimes; it works for me.
- Write a foundation document for your story world – culture, characters, how long a period does the action of the story cover, setting, personal histories of your characters. As with anything, put a time limit on it or you will get lost in a time sink. I only suggest this, not as a procrastination technique, but as a way of getting to know your story better. You’ll realise pretty quickly if you’re writing a tale in which you don’t know how the magic/relationships/technology works, that you’re just applying “handwavium” to everything as a solution to plot problems. Then you’ll know where to start fixing things.
- Write a haiku (3 lines: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables). Why? Because I like torturing you. No, not really. Well, yes really, but the point is to make you focus, think about words and meaning and how to pack as much as possible into a small space. Choosing the right word, rather than a series of almost-right ones.
- Walk around the park with a voice recorder and talk to yourself about your tale; sometimes hearing it aloud will show you where the potholes are and, conversely, the hidden paths through the story forest. You might realise you’re using the wrong narrator, wrong tense, wrong point of view, wrong setting. Sometimes you just need to hear it. I do this at the local park, arms waving, talking to myself, nodding, shaking my head, occasionally shouting “Oh, of course!” and generally terrifying the other park-goers (bonus!).
- Turn off the internal critic and just write; write utter rubbish and keep writing – because to paraphrase Kevin J. Anderson, you can edit crap but you can’t edit nothing! Yes, this one is the “Have a teaspoon of cement in a glass of water and harden up” option.
- Read something you normally wouldn’t read. Choose something outside of your preferred genre because you just never know: you might find a new technique in someone else’s work that will help you get over the hurdles in your own. Read with an open mind, don’t spend your time thinking “OMG, I hate science fiction/literary fiction/romance fiction/epic fantasy”; just read.
So, give you inner critic some whiskey and chocolate and send them off to sit in a corner. Mostly the above advice is about taking a break from the project, but as with anything, set a time limit so that a one day break doesn’t become a one month, one year, one decade break. Conversely, don’t sit there watching the clock while you’re supposed to be taking a break. Set an alarm. Forget the alarm, it will go off when it needs to. Let it go. The words will come if you stop following them, stalking them, telling them you’re really nice and they should go out with you. No stalking. Not just a good rule for writing, but also for life.
And remember: writer’s block isn’t an incurable disease, it’s just a fear.