If we hang around writers very long we’ll hear the phrase, “Writer’s Block.” If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced it in one form or another.
The late Terry Pratchett is quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”
I don’t know if I would go that far, but I do wonder sometimes. When I worked in public child welfare, there were many days when I didn’t want to go to work. I guess you could call it work block. I knew there would be crises to solve. New ones as well as those still hanging from the day before. There would be very hard decisions to make about returning a child home. There would be competing forces pulling at me: courts, lawyers, parents, schools, advocates for various programs, my own staff. Yeah, really something to look forward to. But giving in to this work block was never an option. It had to get done.
As a writer, times of writer’s block do come. But like work block, they have to be overcome.
I like an attitude attributed to Jack London. “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”
When I face what some might call writer’s block, I find I may have written myself into a corner and I don’t want to do the rewriting to get myself out of it.
On one project recently, I realized I had lost my enthusiasm for the idea. It was a real slog to keep writing the story.
What did I do? I admitted the problem. In this case, I acknowledged the idea wasn’t working. I had either lost the thread or it wasn’t a good idea in the first place.
Rather than stare at the screen, I closed the project. I didn’t delete it. I may go back to at some future point if the boys in the basement stir it up.
Instead, I pulled out an idea I had filed away about a short story about the history of the main character in my fantasy series. Immediately, energy flowed and words poured across the screen. Writing was fun again.
Here are some tips for dealing with writer’s block:
- Admit you’re stuck.
- Take a few minutes to analyze why. Is it the characters? Interview them. Ask them why the story isn’t working for them. Maybe you’ve asked them to do or say something they wouldn’t naturally do or say. You’ve forced them off track. Examine your story, examine their motivation and goals. Characters will tell you where you’ve gone astray and help you get back on track.
- Maybe a particular scene isn’t working. Are you trying to force the story into your outline when it naturally wants and needs to go somewhere else, somewhere more interesting? Maybe you do need to scrap this scene.
- If your still stuck, consider stepping away from the story. Take a day off, go the movies, wander a bookstore, stroll the beach or a park. Have coffee or lunch with a trusted writing friend and brainstorm.
- Write something else. Pull out another story idea and free write a couple of pages. Or write a scene or two.
- Seriously consider scraping the project. We put a lot of time and effort into our stories and it’s hard to admit something isn’t working. As in my example above, it’s better to put it aside than to try to bulldog our way through it. I’m not saying to kill the darling. Put it on life support. Then revisit it later. We may have a fresher perspective or we may have developed the courage to pull the plug and move on.
What are some techniques you’ve discovered for dealing with writer’s block?