Today we're talking about writer's block, that little bitch . . . Writer's block is when you don't know what to write next, or you don't know how to write it, and it's a pain in the ass. Bottom line, all writers at some point in time struggle to know what to write or how to write it. But writer's block isn't the end of the world; it’s just your brain being a bully. Stop it brain, go to your room!
Fortunately, I'm here to give you my ten best tips for conquering writer's block. And honestly, you will not need all ten of these tips. If you’re feeling creatively blocked, these tips will do you a world of good. Let’s get to it!
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Number 1: The Only Way Out Is Through
Often I save my best or most important tip for last, but I'm saying this first because I want it to be the very first thing you try. Quite often nothing is actually preventing you from writing except your own mental state. You're not blocked by anything but yourself, which means you need to be the one to change that. And how do you do it? By putting your fingers on the keyboard and typing. Just write something! Whatever content for your novel, no matter how slow, painful, or terrible it is. Get words on the page and keep typing until it starts to feel natural.
Think of this process as unclogging a drain. Right now you're pulling out all those gnarly clumps of hair. It's gonna be disgusting. You're gonna write some foul sentences that absolutely need to be deleted, but you're doing this for the sole purpose of getting over the hump. You're releasing all that garbage so your inspiration can once again flow freely.
I'm telling you, nine times out of ten, this is the solution. If you're feeling blocked, write anyway. And if you give yourself enough time to write through that feeling, the block will pass. But if on the very rare chance this doesn't work for you, we can move on to the remaining points.
Number 2: Outline
So you don't know what to write next. Have you consulted your outline? Oh, you don't have one? Did you ever consider that might be the problem?
Listen, people who outline do occasionally experience writer's block, but they experience it a whole lot less than people who don't outline. That's because the outline literally tells you what to write next. That's the whole point!
The pantsers I know who thrive with that method do so because they love the freedom, but for a lot of people that freedom just results in block after block. If you repeatedly find yourself not knowing what to write next, put the manuscript aside and craft an outline. Your future self will thank you.
Number 3: Create a Habit
Sometimes writers claim they're experiencing writer's block, but really they're just experiencing a lack of motivation. They know what to write next, they just don't feel like it. The thing about motivation is that it’s unreliable. Here one day, gone the next. What you need to do is create a habit. Make writing a consistent facet of your weekly routine and stick to it. I gotta warn you, it'll take at least a month to make the habit stick. That means you have to toughen up and put in the work. Create a routine that works for your schedule and power through it no matter how much it sucks. Once you plow through the suckage, the habit will start to stick and whatever routine you've created will begin to feel natural.
Number 4: Take a Break
I am so hesitant to list this because I know a lot of people are gonna take it and run with it.
“Did you say take a break at the first sign of hardship?
Awesome! I'll get back to my manuscript in a year or so.”
Most of the time taking a break isn't helpful, but there is one specific situation when it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes what writers are experiencing isn't writer's block. It's burnout.
Burnout shares a lot of similarities with writer's block, except it's a whole lot worse. Yes, you're creatively constipated. But on top of that, you have no motivation, your body feels heavy–maybe even painful, and you are so incredibly tired. If this is how you're feeling, you are burnt out, which is your body's way of telling you to stop.
Writer's block is the least of your problems. You need to focus on your physical and mental health. This means stepping away from your manuscript and taking some time to rest. This usually entails extra sleep, extra downtime, and limiting your work to the bare essentials. People who experience true burnout usually need at least a few weeks to recover, so don't feel guilty about giving your body the relaxation it needs. But again, if you're not actually burnt out, taking a break probably won't do shit.
Number 5: Ask a Friend
This is exactly what critique partners are for. If you're stuck on a scene, ask them about it. During the drafting phase, the only person who will likely know your manuscript almost as well as you is your critique partner, so they're the ideal person to ask for help when you're stuck. What are their suggestions? Maybe they're considering an angle you hadn't thought of. Additionally, critique partners usually have expertise in areas we're lacking in. That means if you're struggling with an issue, it might be their specialty. I know you're a big proud author, but there's no shame in asking for help. And if you've got writer's block, you need all the help you can get.
Number 6: Rubber Duck
“But Jennaaa! Are you having a stroke?”
Rubber duck debugging is a technique used among software engineers when they're dealing with all sorts of bugs. The engineer will explain their code line by line to a rubber duck and, in doing so, they usually figure out the solution. This method works in all kinds of fields, especially the writing industry, and it's a godsend if you are having writer's block.
Explain the scene you're having an issue with piece by piece, either to a critique partner, a family member, or even an inanimate object. More often than not the act of describing the issue out loud will allow you to hone in on the solution. I hit up my critique partners all the time just to rubber duck. I'll chat with them online about whatever I'm struggling with, and every single time I come up with a solution. Then I run it by them to make sure they think it's a good idea, and if it gets the green light, it's time to write.
Number 7: Find the Source
What about the scene are you most struggling with? Say you know the exact location. That means world-building or setting the scene isn’t the issue. Say you know the characters involved. Then characterization isn't a problem, as well. So what is the problem?
Is it the dialogue? Is it the action? Is it the plot point? Maybe you don't know what actions need to happen next. Finding the source of the block makes it a million times easier to fix it because now you have a goal. You've located the problem and you can focus your attention there.
Say the issue is the plot point; you don't know what action needs to occur next in order to move the story forward. You can then research structural templates to see what types of plot points usually occur at this part of the story. If you're approaching the climax, then maybe the plot point should be a crisis or breaking point. Boom, just like that you have a direction, and writer's block is a thing of the past.
Number 8: Look to the Future
What is supposed to happen in the next scene? Not the scene you're stuck on, the scene after that. In my previous point, I mentioned how the writer realizes they're approaching the climax. This means the scene they're working on should probably be the breaking point.
If you know the next scene occurring in your story, it makes it a whole lot easier to navigate writer's block. You have Point A and Point C. You just need Point B to bridge these two moments together. Think about it logically. What needs to happen to bring characters from A to C? Say Point A is the first kiss, and then in Point C one of the characters is mad at the other. What would need to happen after that kiss to warrant anger? Maybe one of the characters told everyone about the kiss, and now their partner is super embarrassed. Maybe they think their partner kissed someone else. There are so many options to bridge the gap, and look at that! Writer's block is gone.
Number 9: Tap Into Your Go-To Inspiration
This is especially helpful if you know what to write, just not how to write it. Say you have a battle scene coming up, and you know people gotta fight but that's it. “Fight” is a pretty vague word here. You need to know the maneuvers, the characters involved, the injuries, and the death toll.
In situations like this, I recommend tapping into your go-to source of inspiration. Whatever gets your writerly juices flowing. A lot of people scour Pinterest looking for mood boards or aesthetics. If that's your thing, I totally support you taking an hour to scour Pinterest and take notes. My go-to inspiration is music, so if I'm struggling with a scene, I will pause my manuscript, put in my earbuds, and listen to my writing playlist. I will flip through song after song looking for the perfect match to the scene, and then I will listen to that song on repeat until I have the entire scene choreographed in my mind. Then I write a skeleton outline for that scene. If it's a fight scene, I write down each important maneuver, each sensation, and each death. After about an hour of listening and note-taking, I have a scene ready to be written.
Number 10: Reassess
Has your writer's block lasted for months or years? Do you really not know what to write? Or do you just not want to write? Maybe you truly don't know what to write, but you also kind of don't care.
If this sounds familiar, it's time to reassess the situation. Your passion for the story has withered away, which could be the result of a few things. It could be burnout, which we already covered. Get some rest! It could just be that writing isn't what you thought it would be. Maybe you got into it because you wanted to be famous, not because you love to write. Or maybe you're not writing the right story for you. Sometimes we write a story because it's trendy, or we think it's what people expect, but it's not actually what we're passionate about. If that's the case, maybe put this manuscript away for a while and start brainstorming. What it is that you want to write?
Most of the time writer's block is just a bump in the road, but on rare occasions, it's a message. If this story isn't for you, there's no shame in that. Take some time to figure out what it is you're truly after.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Hopefully, I was right and you only needed one of these tips. If not, you have a ton of options available. Try out these solutions and once you decide what’s right for you, put on your big kid pants and get to work!
Which of these steps works best for you? Let me know in the comments below.
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