How I Deal with Writer’s Block
Writer’s block can feel like a vise, slowly squeezing every word and creative thought out of you, until all that’s left in the world are your glazed over eyes and the mocking blink of the cursor on your screen. To avoid smashing my laptop and giving the dastardly cursor the demise it deserves, I take two approaches: 1)avoidance and 2)just deal with it. Avoidance is more of a strategy, whereas dealing with it is tactical, so let’s start with tactics.
When I find myself flush with words of hatred for the cursor, but grasping for the word or idea that will tie everything together, I first break time into small increments. I tell myself “work for five more minutes, then take a break if needed.” Generally, a few minutes into this approach I’ve forgotten the time and am immersed in working through the issue confounding me. The psychological boost I get from setting an easy goal, “just five minutes” is often all it takes for a breakthrough.
If having the simple goal didn’t work, I turn to my “examples” file. Anytime I read, I highlight things I like and later type them into a master file. When, I’m stumped, I read through the examples and see how other authors tackled situations like what I’m confronting.
If the examples don’t work, pacing is often the next step. I get out of my office, go to a quiet corner of the house near windows and pace. Words and phrases seem to come with the steps. Most the words and phrases aren’t useful, but among the refuse, I’ll generally find something that sets me on the right course. I keep a notepad with me so I can jot down anything I like before it slips away.
Saying the words and phrases that might work aloud is usually a second step in pacing. I pretend I’m reading the passage I’m trying to finish, or explaining the point I’m trying to make to someone, and that process helps me get to the core of what I’m doing. What am I really trying to say, what point am I making? If I’m still stumped, phoning a friend is often the next step. It builds on the speaking aloud concept. Explaining my goal to someone else can force me to articulate clearly. And, hearing them say how they’ve interpreted what I’ve said, or saying it back to me in a slightly different way can ungunk the works. If none of these things has worked, I’m down to two options: 1)write something else or 2)give up for now and come back to it in a little bit.
Giving up may not be the advice, so having multiple projects and switching to another might be best for you. But, I find if I “give up” and stop physically writing, my mind is still usually turning over the problem as I go about my day. Usually, my mind will break the logjam at some point (as going through the day mimics pacing) or something from my day will inspire an idea (this is less frequent).
Going about my day while ruminating ties into my strategy to avoiding writer’s block all together 1)stop writing in the middle of something. When you’re in the groove it’s easy to push on to the end of the page, scene, chapter, but I try to stop right in the middle of a sentence/thought. Then, I note what I wanted to accomplish with the second half of the sentence for when I come back. This prevents me from sitting down to start a session and feeling I have a huge task to confront, e.g. a whole new chapter. And, while I’m not writing, I’m ruminating about the unfinished sentence which often sparks ideas for how to proceed when I’m back to it.
A second strategy is 2)having a detailed outline. I can spend months thinking about and outlining a project before I start. Currently, Insecticide 2 is on its third incarnation as an idea and an outline. The idea I have for the book is simple. But, the first narrative I constructed around it had too many holes to push through. The second narrative was better, but it was contemporary. When I decided to take the idea and set it in the Winged Survivors World, so the those who enjoyed Insecticide might like the second book, that necessitated a third narrative and outline. That outline is growing in detail daily and I won’t start writing until I’m confident I’ve thought through, planned for, and outlined any major holes I might encounter in the story. Many writers won’t have the luxury of planning for months, but doing as much planning as you can before starting the first paragraph may save you from the vise.
The last and most important advice I have for avoiding writer’s block is to 3)like what you write. If you like your story, characters, and themes, writing truly becomes an outlet rather than a chore. If it feels like a chore, maybe you’re writing the wrong thing?