It’s the bane of any writer’s existence–Writer’s Block–like a monster in the closet, creeping out when you least expect it and stalking you with relentless determination. It can be devastating to your sense of creative flow in a project and frustrate your word count and other goals, when you’re on a deadline. For years writers have debated what to do about it. I’ve interviewed a lot of writers this past year and frequently ask advice on writer’s block. All of them have their ways of dealing with it. And many agree. Here are some tips to help you.
1) Write Anyway. As author John Pitts puts it: “Concert pianists and pro football players practice every day. Why shouldn’t writers?” Whether the music is good or bad, musicians work on their technique and craft daily to succeed. So should you. Don’t let this bane block you from your necessary exercise. Write anyway, even if the result is a crumpled page in the trash can. Some suggest this is a good way to get the block out of your system. Others merely that by writing you may push through it. Either way, you exercise your writing chops and that practice does you good.
2) Always Have Multiple Projects. Writer after writer has told me that when they get stuck on one project, they switch to another. I frequently have short story projects going while working on a novel just for such contingencies. And I also work on revising other projects, when I’m stuck on my main one. I find this keeps my creative juices flowing in ways that help me feel good and productive that day. Positive reinforcement and good psychological satisfaction is important for writers because motivation can be easily lost. It’s more fun to sit around and imagine the story than to actually work it out in words. So having multiple projects allows you to get word count and make creative progress on something, even when something else is blocked.
3) Identify The Block. To get past a block, you have to first identify the blockage. Where does the problem lie? Author Mary Robinette Kowal suggests: “Look at what’s causing the block. The way you react to working on the story can often tell you what’s wrong with it.” What spot are you stuck on? Where is the stress occurring which makes you just stop? Figure it out and you’ll be well on your way to figuring out why you’re blocked and seeking a solution.
4) Skip It. Author Paul S. Kemp writes scenes out of order: “ I’ll write according to my mood or as inspiration strikes. “ As a result, he struggles less with being blocked. There’s no one who says you have to write scenes chronologically or in any particular order. If one scene is giving you trouble, put a place holder in and move to another. Write something you have a good image of, where you know what to do. It’s better than not writing at all. You’ll keep to your word count and you’ll avoid the distraction of frustration by getting back to it later when you know what to do.
5) Change Your Approach. One way to work through a block is to approach what you’re trying to write a different way. This does not refer to pencil and paper instead of laptop and Microsoft Word, but rather to changing the Point of View of the scene or starting it in a different place or even changing the sequence events. Experiment. By finding a new approach, you can often overcome the block.
6) Ask Fellow Writers. One of the things authors often say about the community of writers is how advantageous the encouragement and support is that they get from their peers. After all, no one understands what you’re going through like someone else going through the same thing. Wherever they gather, authors discuss things like contract terms, agents, publishers, stories, and sometimes problems like blocks. Just by running through the issue with another writer, you can find yourself sorting it out before they say a word. And sometimes, they’ll solve it for you with a creative suggestion or by giving you a needed perspective. Don’t be afraid to make use of this resource. After all, the next time around, it could be you helping them.
7) Take A Break. Nothing frees up the creative juices from a block like walking away. Don’t just sit there getting more and more tense. Author/Editor Jennifer Brozek suggests: “I go exercise because then I realize how much I’d rather be writing.” It may not fix your exercise block, but it can fix your motivation block and motivation is key to writing. Similar to getting a fresh perspective, it’s like getting a second wind–of motivation by reminding yourself how much you enjoy writing, something it’s very hard to remember when sitting at your writing station in a block.
8 ) Turn On The News. Author Nnedi Okorafor says: “All I have to do is turn on the news–stories galore.” Whether it’s to find a new project to work on when you’re stuck on the one you’ve been writing or to find a new way to look at the project on which you’re blocked, news stories are often full of varied perspectives which can shake you out of your thinking box and help you look at it with new eyes. And sometimes new eyes is all you need to break the block.
9) Switch Art Forms. If you’re creatively blocked in your writing, try making music instead. You paint? Switch to that for a while. Stimulate your creativity in a different way. It’s not only satisfying to your muse but it gives you the joy of creating and gets your mind off the issue. If you’re not obsessing over it, sometimes a solution will present itself the next time you sit down to write.
10) Accept It. Sometimes life just overwhelms you. In two years, writer Ken Scholes had major deaths in his family along with the birth of twin daughters and other crises. Despite signing a contract for multiple novels, he found himself unable to write. And he had to give himself permission to let that go and focus on what he needed to at the time. Once he dealt with grieving and family, the freedom to write returned. Sometimes you just won’t be able to get past it. Sometimes you just won’t be able to write. And sometimes there really are more important things you need to be doing. Forget the deadline. Forget the pressure. Get your priorities straight. Dealing with what you need to is the quickest way to get back to writing again. It’s hard to do for many of us. But sometimes the best thing you can do get over a block is accept defeat and refocus. This doesn’t mean you’re accepting it forever. Just for the moment. Once you’ve focused your energy on what you really need to, you’ll be writing again.
Well there they are, 10 Tips For Fighting Off Writer’s Block. Lessons learned from my personal experience and that of many successful writers. Have others? We’d love to hear them in the comments. In the meantime, I hope you find something you can use. Happy writing.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.