It’s that moment that every writer fears. You’re sitting at your computer, staring at the last sentence you wrote over and over again. But your mind as drawn a blank – at least where your novel is concerned. For some reason, it wants to think about elephants riding unicycles while washing windows. Somehow, you just can’t figure out how that fits into your middle grade urban fantasy book. That blank white space and blinking cursor are haunting you, filling you with more dread and anxiety as each heart beat passes faster and faster.
Finally, you succumb to the obvious: you have been stricken with the dreaded Writer’s Block.
So what’s a writer to do?
Take a deep breath. Close your laptop. Grab your favorite mug of tea, coffee or cocoa, and read on.
Who gets writer’s block?
Right now, you probably feel like a failure. You’re wondering if you can even consider yourself a writer, because no good writer ever gets writer’s block! Right?
Wrong. Everyone gets writer’s block at some point in their life. Everyone from Maya Angelou and Ray Bradbury to Ernest Hemingway and Neil Gaiman have experienced writer’s block in their lifetime. It is absolutely, 100%, completely normal! Don’t beat yourself up about it.
What is writer’s block?
Writer’s block is general one of two things: A lack of ideas, or the inability to see the pathway / connection between the ideas.
Perhaps you have written the most amazing first half of your novel. You’ve ended your chapter with a clincher line of dialogue. And now you’re blanking out.
Or maybe you have been making notes and outlines on your novel for over a year now. You think you’re ready to sit down and begin writing, but you came seem to figure out how to get from one awesome scene to the next.
There are many different scenarios that fit into the writer’s block box, but all of them involve a lack of forward motion in some way.
Why does writer’s block occur?
Generally, writer’s block most commonly occurs for a couple of reasons.
- A lack of planning.
Discovery writer’s become stricken with writer’s block quite often. They didn’t have a plan starting out, so once they’ve exhausted their initial, knee-jerk ideas, things seem to fizzle out.
This one is generally more subconscious in nature. Writers that are filled with a fear of failure, a lack of self-confidence, and are scared about the consequences of either putting their work out to the world or keeping it locked up forever, will protect themselves by stopping the flow of ideas. If there are no more ideas, then there is no worry about what agents and publishers might think of their story. There is no need to fret about finding out they are a horrible writer. If there is no completed story, none of these scenarios will ever play out.
Families, day jobs, deadlines, holidays, etc… It may have been very easy for you to come up with ideas as a child. Your life was not filled with scheduling baby showers and bosses trying to move up your deadlines. Throw some in-laws for the holidays and training the new puppy into the mix, it’s no wonder our imaginations have become stifled.
How can you combat and prevent writer’s block?
There is no sure-fire way to prevent writer’s block from ever happening. As stated above, it happens to everyone at one point or another. But planning ahead is a great first step.
This can be difficult for discovery writers in particular. However, no matter how much you hate outlining, at least carrying a notepad and pen with you to jot down ideas can spark an idea that may have been lost if not for this recording practice.
If you can power through forcing yourself to do an outline, this will keep you from fizzling out completely. Remember, there is nothing wrong with coming up with a new idea that you may not have thought of while initially working on your outline. Just make sure you go back and review your outline to accommodate your new idea. Outlines (and drafts) can always been changed, just as the route you take to and from work or school may change on occasion. As long as it gets you from point A to point B without a bunch of nonsensical twists and turns along the way, then who cares how you decided to get there? No one will ever be the wiser that your novel’s path strayed from the original outline if it is well written.
Another common writer’s block solution is writing. Go figure, right? But we aren’t talking about your current WIP that you’re struggling with. If you are stuck on your Cowboy Romance, take a break and come up with a short poem. Maybe your collection of short stories has come to a halt. Start jotting down ideas for a screen play you’ve been thinking about for the last few years. No matter what kind of writing it is, it takes your mind away from the problem at hand, but allows your brain to continue pumping its creative juices.
Lastly, when you just can’t take it anymore, the best thing to do is take a break. We all reach a point where we sometimes need to take time for ourselves. A day, a few hours, even a week. Even with a looming deadline, there is no point in continuing to beat your head against the wall. It’s like hitting a traffic jam on an empty stomach. You might be making slow progress, but is it quality? Often, it’s best to pull over at the nearest diner, get a little snack and wait for the traffic to dissipate. Then, when you get back on the road, even if you end up at your destination 10 minutes later than you would have, the quality of your trip will not have suffered for it.
Taking time for yourself is vitally important for a writer. If we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we expect our stories to have the impact we had hoped for? So spoil yourself with your favorite specialty chocolate. Binge watch your favorite movie or TV show. Just take some time for you and see what wonders a refreshed mind can conjure.