What is writer’s block?
A lot of people wonder: is writer’s block is a real thing? They go to search the topic on Google, and get told that it’s simply procrastination if they jump to the wrong website. And then, they wonder, can they overcome writer’s block or beat writer’s block?
It’s not procrastination, and it’s not laziness. There’s a reason writer’s block happens. Let’s dig into what causes this issue, then keep reading for a list of helpful tips. Sound good?
What causes writer’s block?
You’re humming along, getting words down on your latest chapter, then it happens. You’re stuck. Your brain refuses to cooperate. You sit and stare at the screen, and for the life of you, the words simply will not come.
It’s so frustrating!
I’ve been there and know what it feels like. Don’t let people tell you that writer’s block doesn’t exist. I get it. I’m a full-time writer, and believe me, it does. I guarantee you, when it strikes, I’m not being lazy or putting my writing off for another day.
Okay, so you’re wondering, what exactly causes writer’s block? One simple answer is a lack of planning. There are other reasons, but let’s tackle this one first.
You jumped into your story, excited to get moving. You’re fired up, are having a blast writing your scene, then nothing. It can be that you didn’t take the time to think through the scene to see what comes next.
When you give yourself a pathway, your mind works to get from point A to point B. Without that pathway, you’ve thrown hurdles in your way. Now, I’m not talking about a full-blown outline of thousands of words. No worries!
Try to consider what you to happen in your scene before writing it. A single sentence or two can guide might be all it takes.
Maybe you’ve outlined, planned, and you’re still stuck. What else can cause writer’s block?
One big issue is an unexpected distraction. I’ve had this happen. I’m not talking about the dog needing to go outside, or your kid needing to bend your ear for a few minutes. I’m talking about big things.
Maybe, your daughter just called and got into a fender bender. Now your mind is racing, thinking of everything that could go wrong, that you need to go check on her, is there a report to pick up at the police department, did anybody get hurt, how much damage is involved, and so forth.
Yep. Life can toss you a big one, and you may be rightly distracted.
I was writing a romantic comedy when my son ended up in the hospital. Hard to write funny when your kid is in ICU.
All I cared about was knowing that he’d be okay. He’s okay, this was years ago. My brain refused to cooperate. This was my full-time gig. I’m a professional. I’m not lazy, and I wasn’t procrastinating. My brain simply told me that my son was a priority. It focused on what was most important.
How did I cope? I’ll fill you in on that trick shortly…
Another thing that can cause writer’s block is playing the comparison game. Maybe you read something and were blown away. You loved the author’s book, or the prose left you speechless. Suddenly, you’re questioning your own ability. It’s hard to focus on words when all you can see is how much further along somebody else is in their career.
I’m still learning to improve my game after years of writing. Here’s the thing, we all start somewhere. That means you start from the beginning. No short cuts. You do your best and move on.
The great writers didn’t go from crawling to masters of their craft. Start now, and improve as time goes on. You’ll look back and be amazed at how practicing daily and taking time to put effort in will enhance your work.
How to break writers block
How did I break my writer’s block when my son was in ICU? I changed gears. Let me tell you, first I fought with myself. “You’re a professional. You should be able to work through this.” Yeah. Right. Sure. Get a grip, Deb.
We all beat ourselves up. I even brought my laptop in my bag thinking I’d be able to write at the hospital in the quiet moments. Okay, stop laughing. I was naïve, but as you can see, certainly not lazy or trying to procrastinate.
What did I do to break my writer’s block? I stopped trying to be funny, which is where I was supposed to be in my story. I jumped into a different story (which is how I started writing mysteries, but that’s a story for another day).
See, the thing is, I write. It’s therapeutic for me. It’s how I express myself. I opened a blank page when I got home, and started writing something else. I didn’t turn off completely, I pivoted.
I put my romantic comedy aside temporarily, because I was stuck. My brain wouldn’t go into funny mode. I was sad. Frightened. Terrified for my son. Seeing him so helpless was heart-wrenching.
I couldn’t write lighthearted words with a comedic edge…
But I could use those emotions and work with them.
I wrote about fear, pain, and used the feelings I was experiencing for something else. I had no intention of writing mysteries, but it was an outlet. As I said, therapeutic. Who knew I’d go on to write many more. I enjoyed the change of pace. To this day, I write both romance and mystery.
What does that mean for you? It means, if you can’t get words on what you’re working on, try writing something else. It doesn’t have to be another book. Write a poem, maybe a letter to yourself…
The point is that it’s not a lack of words that you have, but a lack of words for a particular story. Once you get your confidence back, it’s easier to jump into what you were working on when you got stuck.
- Set time aside to think where you want your story to go, and think of different ways for your character to get there
- Think about how the scene can impact your overall story theme
- Can you go back and try to rewrite the scene from the start
- Read something that inspires you, maybe a favorite passage in a book
- Read a writing book on a topic your stuck on, ex: raising stakes
- Try writing something different
- Try writing longhand if you usually write on your computer
- Try another kind of background music (Brain.fm is awesome)
- Try dictating. Speaking your words aloud may get you flowing again
- Skip the chapter you’re stuck on and write another chapter
- Consider what you could change earlier in your book
- Edit what you’ve written so far and see if it helps you get moving
- Add a twist or element that would completely change the mood of the scene
- Pretend it’s a television show you watch that just ended on a cliffhanger. What would you want to happen next?
How to cure writer’s block once and for all
I find the best way to cure writer’s block is to plan what I’m going to write, before I sit down . I think about whether I want my character to go through something particular in a scene, or want my reader to feel a specific emotion. How else can I move my story forward?
If it is procrastination in some form, figure out why. Are you bored? Don’t feel like writing? Think it’s not good? Really take a good hard look at what else could be bothering you. Do you not feel supported in your writing?
Join a writer’s group or class and vibe off of the others. Being around people who “get it” can be motivating. I can’t understate that. Being around like-minded people is great for a writer’s journey.
How to start writing again
If all else fails, write a letter to yourself. Explain how you’re frustrated that you can’t get words down on your story, and why you think it’s happening. Sometimes the subconscious can spill our deep secrets onto the page, and you just might find an answer you didn’t know you had inside of you all along. Whatever you do, don’t give up. You’ve totally got this!
Interested in reading more? Check out a full list of articles and writing resources here.