Let’s begin with the one thing you had always suspected but were too scared to accept: There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block
It’s a masterfully crafted excuse by some definitely talented writer who was also a good salesman, because not only did he convince himself that he was suffering from some legit creative problem he got the whole world to sign up too.
Yes, we all have blank page blues, we all have ‘off’ days, but by giving it a name and a very negative one at that, we want to wallow in it a little more. It justifies prolonged rest. And that’s what most writers are seeking – a long period of rest.
“Hey, not fair! I really can’t get anything written.”
I am not trivializing your problem. You have hit a wall; you are having a bad day at the end of a bad week; you don’t feel enthused enough to get back to work. Yes it happens, and it happens to everyone not just writers.
The good part is Writer’s Block should be anticipated (it’s natural) and it can be prevented. Let us look at some simple yet effective preventive measures
- Your story should excite you first.
Most writers focus on what’s hot in the market. They think from the reader’s point of view and make conjectures about what they will love. The end result is an idea that you are enthusiastic about only because you think the market will be enthusiastic about it. And somewhere around page 110 you will hit a wall, because it’s not the story you wanted to write. Of course, you will call it Writer’s block.
Well no one can predict what the next flavour of choice will be. However, you can rest assured it will not be about a boy wizard or a billionaire abuser. The next big thing will obviously not be the current big thing, or maybe it will. No good will come from trying to predict people’s choices.
Think of it like this: If my story doesn’t excite me, it’s hardly going to excite anyone else.
- Write regularly
Writers who write everyday also have bad days when nothing seems to flow. After 10 days of writing, if the 11th, 12th and 13th days are unproductive you will feel bad but you are less likely to label it as something as monstrous as Writer’s Block.
If, however, you are not a regular writer and write 3 days a week, then 3 days of no output will feel like one week of no output and soon you will be making a bigger deal of this slump than it is.
- Writing time is for writing ONLY
You must set aside regular writing time, even if it’s only an hour a day. And, do nothing but write during that hour. Writers often set aside only 30 minutes a day and then use it for plotting, research, etc. This creates an illusion of a long gap in writing and before you know it, it feels like, well, Writer’s Block.
Also sticking to a schedule instils discipline and encourages creativity. Most importantly, you can now have a word count target and get that book finished.
- Feedback shouldn’t set you back
Writers often have an annoying need for approval and they pretty much go about showing their unfinished work to anyone they can.
First, your book isn’t complete. Objective evaluation of unfinished work is tricky business even for professionals, have mercy on your unsuspecting aunt.
Secondly, and this brings us to the Writer’s Block, iterations and revisions on existing pages based on multiple feedback from different sources leads to the sense of stagnation. If you have reworked your first 30 pages and actually written 60 pages only to shrink it down to 30, you will feel like you haven’t progressed, and you really haven’t. 10 days after seeking feedback and 30 pages later you are not on page 60, you are still on page 30. Don’t edit and don’t seek feedback till the first draft is done.
Third, your first 30 pages will change more than the rest of your book so sending it out before the first draft is complete is purposeless.
TIP: There will be some small amount of editing that you will absolutely need to get done as you go along, try to do it on the weekend when you haven’t scheduled a writing time.
- The 60 day first draft
I have observed a pattern and it has so few deviations that it should be a rule. Any first draft that is not completed within two months of writing the first word is never completed.
The first draft must be ready within 60 days.
Think about it, if you have 8 weeks and you are writing only 5 days a week, you have 40 days in which you can finish between 40,000 to 80,000 words.
This isn’t some crazy talk about mathematics and interpolation. Think of it as a relaxed NaNoWriMo with 2 months instead of 1 and a target of 40k to 80k instead of 50k.
Unless you have the first draft down in 8 weeks, you will lose interest. Those brilliant plot points will seem riddled with holes, and perhaps they are, but now’s not the time for editing, now’s the time for writing.
The well rounded characters in your story will appear to be rough around the edges and the arcs you saw playing out so well will now seem silly and formulaic. Time is not the healer in fiction, get the first draft done in 60 days and then beat the crap out of it till you get a book worthy of putting your name on.
Now supposing you somehow find yourself inside the writer’s block, precautionary measures will not help. Let’s look at some ways to move out of the Writer’s Block
- Shut out your inner critic
Most are in this writing rut because they feel the story isn’t good enough, the characters are lousy, the writing is juvenile. And maybe that’s all true but your aim right now is to get out of this spot and you can do that ONLY if you shut out the critic in you.
Give free reign to the creative part in you and work doggedly to get out of the rut. It’s similar to getting your car tyre out of a ditch, you will have to accelerate, maybe give it a push or do whatever it takes, because you know once you are out of the ditch it’s smooth sailing again.
There’s no point criticizing your driving skills or your vision or your level of alertness, FIRST GET OUT.
- Write a short story
Sometimes you are in a generic writer’s block, it’s got nothing to do with your book but rather your lack of practice in writing. You haven’t written in a long while and suddenly that complicated storyline seems undoable.
Write an unrelated short story or write the back story of one of your characters.
Once the writing machine in you has warmed up, get down to the book again
- Do the unfamiliar
If you type your novel, then use a desktop instead of your laptop or simply use a pencil and paper to write the next few pages. This is new and changes the way your mind responds to the task at hand.
Draw a picture (no matter how crude) of the next scene, the one you are stuck with. This is storyboarding and you suddenly get drawn into the picture and can get started on writing. Many screenwriters use this technique.
Start by describing the setting of your next scene, get elaborate. Keep the action to the minimum. You will turn it around once you edit. This will help you get out of a bad scene and who knows, once your draft is done you may not even need the scene anymore.
Change your office. If you work from home, go to a cafe. If you work from a cafe, change to another one. Drink tea instead of coffee while writing.
Change the time slot for writing. Write in the wee hours of the morning or in the afternoon, change your time.
Change the scenery, refresh your mind, do the unfamiliar.
Now let’s look at some instances of the writer running into a plot wall. Your plot and story has stopped and therefore so has your writing. These are plot problems that appear like writing plateaus. Let’s see how to get out of them.
- Get back to the drawing board
Sometimes, though not often, you will find yourself in a corner. Be warned, it’s not the so called writer’s block it is much more problematic: You have written yourself into a corner.
This is complicated since the only way t get out of the corner is by retracing your steps. In other words, undoing all that you did from the point where the story still has alternatives.
Did your hero just sleep with the heroine’s best friend? There is no way to bring him back from there and unite him with the heroine without expanding the story arc or you will end up making him look like a jerk.
This isn’t writer’s block, it’s a plot problem and you need to be open and flexible about going back to the drawing board.
2. Introduce a big change
Introduce a new character, but tie him to the story and create a sub-plot that excites. It should help the main plot. Mainly, your sub-plot must help you make your way out of the rut.
Alternatively, think of killing off a character. This will get you ideating about who will be killed. How? Why? What will it mean for the story?
Ask “what if X dies or is killed.”
Or change the setting completely. New settings will bring about new problems. Exploit them.
A writer’s imagination is a powerful thing…sometimes it fools the writer into giving up. Writer’s block is not in your head, it is in fact nowhere. It’s just a few bad writing days followed by a few more bad writing days, nothing that can’t be handled. Writers are made of sterner stuff.