All writers, from time to time, experience the dreaded block. I’m not referring to the chopping block (though it may as well be) but rather ‘writer’s block’. This is a condition otherwise known as a withering, about-to-be dried up landscape once it descends upon a writer’s corpus callosum, kind of like a dust cloud. Writer’s block is a loathsome annoyance, and there are plenty of images of the greats (think Hemingway) who’ve demonstrated various coping skills by swigging unlimited bottles of wine or whisky to dredge up something from the recesses of their dusty skulls.
If you find yourself suffering from this malady, don’t stomp on your keyboard just yet. I’ve devised a list that may assist you (and myself for that matter) in keeping that pesky condition at bay.
- Switch your routine
People who write tend to be creatures of habit. A certain time of day may normally fuel your productivity but let’s face it, we all need a change once in a while. Leave your table, couch or desk behind. Find a nice park bench or cubicle at the library. Do you find that sentences and paragraphs come flying at you just as your head hits the pillow? Maybe your most creative sparks fly at night when you’ve been writing during the day. Switch your schedule as much as possible and net those wandering thoughts when they appear.
- Engage with people
Books come alive with characters. If you’re having difficulty with dialogue, or with the advancement of your characters’ relationships, spend time interacting with people. Writing can be a solitary pursuit but sometimes you’ll need to do a bit of research before your writing can continue. Because characters are often inspired by someone you know, engage him/her in conversation and learn more about his/her personality traits. Details go a long way in making characters three-dimensional and believable to your story.
- Imbibe in one of your vices (within reason)
Maybe you’re developing a hum-drum mood, or stuck in stagnation. Loosen up. It’s okay to have a glass of wine (just not a keg, mind you) to ease your mental straitjacket. Go buy a decadent dessert. Do something to reward yourself. You should avoid criticising yourself and your work. All work and no play is never a good idea. Just don’t get lost in your playground every day.
- Read in the genre you’re writing in
If you’re plowing through a science fiction novel while trying to write historical romance, your linguistic word building may lead you in the wrong direction. Read what you’re currently writing to get a sense of vocabulary and setting details. If you find you keep reading certain genres and the one you’re writing never evolves, you might want to re-consider switching to a new genre. Your story, if you’re passionate about it, will not leave your head. If it does, you may not love it as much as you want to.
- Recall your past angst
Delivering powerful, emotional scenes requires the ability to convey emotions into words. That’s where your own recollections of exciting or traumatic events will help. Tap into a time that made you feel fear, anger or joy. What caused those feelings? Who was involved? Taking a trip down memory lane may ignite a chain reaction of memories that could serve you well in constructing that next chapter.
- Plot your story
Okay, you’ve got a rough storyline idea with characters meshed out. You’re 20,000 words into your manuscript and then . . . the cobwebs resume clogging your skull. This can be frustrating and cause you to toss your work into the trash pile or at the back of a drawer. This stage of writer’s block can be overwhelming. Take a step back and plot your storyline out on a piece of paper. You had a great idea to start with and your idea is still a good thing. Sometimes a visual marker or graph can help you strategize and construct further plot points. Think of this approach as being similar to following a recipe. Once you see how far you’ve moved along in your manuscript you may feel your motivation resume. Or, as an old familiar saying instructs us, “it’s easier to see where you’re going if you’re eyes are open”.
- Keep notes handy
A while ago I finished a time travel manuscript. Moving between time periods and getting different historical facts correct was dizzying. I found keeping a notebook handy for all my spontaneous reminders and fact building came in handy. Sometimes I need a reminder when to include a landmark detail or when my character is going to say something specific to move the story along. With so much information swirling in an author’s mind small details can quickly be forgotten. Write stuff down as you think of it.
- Apply humour
Humor is one of the best strategies for coping with anything in life. Writing requires so much internal, right-brain thinking it can become exhausting. Humor, either for yourself, or introduced in your writing, can unleash a floodgate of ideas and a new perspective. A good belly laugh is always appreciated – by the writer and the reader.
- Visit local writing group/classes
Beyond engaging with a neighbor, store clerk or random person, spending time with people who ‘do exactly what you do’ is a proven winner. Who else knows better the issues you’re dealing with? Need motivation, inspiration or advice? Your fellow writers will provide a support system with tangible and constructive feedback. Can’t get to a local writer’s group? Join one online, there are several. Google your options and reach out to other writers.
- Think of writing as a job and not a hobby
All people with jobs have tasks to perform and most have deadlines to meet. Writing is no different. Begin with a schedule and set a goal. Even if you only manage to carve out 250 words a day, you’ll have a thousand words completed in a few days. Keep an eye on your word count, but don’t become a slave to it. The purpose in moving forward and being productive is to form a writing habit that works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other writers who seem prolific with their daily word count. Seeing something on paper, or computer screen is far better than staring at a blank page. You may consider joining NaNoWriMo or engaging peer support. Instituting challenges will help you achieve your writing goals.
Writing is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. It is also one of the most difficult. Without a doubt, writing a novel requires talent, effort, and perseverance. The most successful writers are the ones who don’t give up. So assemble a notebook, your laptop, pick a time of day, a location, and begin plotting out your next chapter.