It happens to us all in the end – we reach an impasse and the words just won’t come. It can happen out of the blue. One day our stories can be flowing beautifully and the next day nothing happens. We can sit in front of our laptops all day and all we end up doing is moving a comma. And then putting it back again.
Writers’ block happens to us all
And it can come from anywhere. It could be technical – we’re not sure how to get from this point to the next point in the action, it could be reluctance – we’re really dreading writing this chapter for some reason or other, or it could be completely non-writing related – other stresses in my life have often caused writers’ block in some way or another. I’ve started to see it as a normal part of the creative process, we can’t be on top form every single day. But, at the same time, if we don’t get on top of our blocks quickly they can last for a long time and they can be hard to get over at all.
Here are my top five ways of kicking writers’ block in the arse!
- Skip Ahead – You don’t have to write the whole story in order. Sometimes there will be a chapter that you’re reluctant to write, or that needs more research before you can do it justice. Sometimes you will realise that you don’t know how to take the story smoothly from A to B but that’s OK. Don’t panic! Just skip ahead for a while and write a chapter that you want to write, or that you are clear on. I tend to leave a note on the part that I’m skipping – just a sentence or two in bold to remind me what I think needs to happen or what I think I need to research and then I move on. I often find that as I write another chapter (or sometimes writing the end helps too), I realise where I’d gone wrong in the bit I skipped and everything becomes clearer.
- Write Character CVs – If you need a bit of a break from the action of your story but don’t really want to take any time out of that particular world then it might be time to really get to know your characters instead. I really love writing character CVs to help with this. I list out each characters eye and hair colour, favourite clothes, food and drinks. I write about their previous jobs, if they went to university, where they studied. I think about their families and their exes and I wonder about what they were like as children. None of this detail will end up the book of course, but you just might find, as you get to know your characters better, that they will help you to understand where you story needs to go.
- Write something else – Put your WIP to one side and write a short story (if you’re still feeling reluctant to leave the world of your WIP it could be about one of your minor characters), a poem or a hiaku. Get a notebook out and journal your writing block frustrations. Start planning out that next book that’s already niggling the back of your mind.
- Leave your desk behind – Go for a walk, do some yoga, go for a swim, have a bath, meditate, do some housework. Do something else that isn’t writing related at all and lets your mind slip down a gear and relax a little. Sometimes we can let ourselves feel way too guilty about not writing but I believe that sitting down in front of your laptop is just part of the writing process. We need to allow our minds to have time away from churning out the words and be free to daydream because often that’s where the lightbulb moments of writing happen. I came up with the plot for my fourth book while cleaning out the shower drain!
- Nap – If all else fails, kick guilt in the arse and take yourself off to bed. I’m always amazed by the clarity I have about a problem when I sleep on it (and that applies to non-writing things as well!)
It might be time for a rethink
If you try all these things and you’re still blocked, your story still isn’t going anywhere and you’re still blocked it might be time to ask yourself if you’re writing the story you want to tell. Sometimes a book idea might not work and that’s OK. Sometimes we might have been writing a story for the wrong reasons, and that’s OK too. Sometimes the story might be right but you’ve set it in the wrong place, or you’re telling it from the wrong point of view (more on POVs next time!).
Know when it’s time to let an idea go and start again. The first draft of my second book was set in the wrong place and told from the wrong point of view. I struggled on even when I knew it wasn’t working – but then rewrote it anyway. If I’d gone with my intuition I’d have saved myself time and heartache!
What tips and techniques have helped you when writers’ block hits?