Sooner or later, every author faces some version of writer’s block. I’ve seen it with my clients, I’ve seen it with my author friends, and most recently, I’ve seen it with myself as I struggle to move forward on my fifth novel.
Over the past few weeks it’s hit me harder than it ever has before. It’s like there’s a great, gaping hole where my imagination is supposed to me. I went from writing 20k words over the course of a couple of weeks to writing almost nothing for a month.
It’s forced me to have a good look at myself and at my writing habits, and to reevaluate why I’m writing in the first place. I don’t claim to have figured it out, but I’m slowly working through it, and today I’m sharing some of the things that are working for me.
What is writer’s block?
Writer’s block may manifest as a sense of panic, depression or doom whenever you think about writing; a complete failure of imagination; or shiny object syndrome, in which your current project suddenly pales in comparison to a brand new, exciting idea. Writing becomes exponentially more difficult as a result.
What causes it?
Could be one or a combination of things, such as lack of preparation, fear of succeeding and/or failing, or creative exhaustion. The cause isn’t usually obvious or conscious. It just sucks.
So, what’s the solution?
For several weeks, I’d feel all depressed and useless whenever I thought about writing my book … so I tried not to think about it. (Hint: That is not a solution.)
Eventually, I realized that I could do better. I asked other creative people for help. I read up on the subject. I revisited what I’d done when I’d felt blocked in the past.
These are the four actions that I’ve found have helped the most:
1. Committing to a minimum word count
Deciding that any progress was better than none, I committed to writing 500 words a day. Even if it was the most boring, dry, gawd-awful prose ever, I would just write my 500 words and call it a day.
Result: The act of writing (even badly) reminded me that I could in fact, write, and it began to shake loose new ideas. I began to think of new scenes, new ways in which my characters could develop, and new narrative threads. I’ve worked up to 1000 words a day now, and hit 2k yesterday. Progress beats perfection!
2. Getting up early
If you’ve taken my 7-Day Writing Challenge, you know I’m a fan of getting your writing done early in the day. You not only get your writing done, but you start the day with a feeling of accomplishment.
Result: On those days that I get up early to do my 500-word minimum, I get more writing done and—bonus—feel more alert and productive for the rest of the day. On those days that I sleep in, I’ll still get my 500 words in, but it takes longer and feels harder.
3. Revisiting Structure
I’m pretty solid on what makes a sound narrative arc, both for fiction and nonfiction, and I found it a bit annoying when several people told me I should go back and re-read books on character development, three-act structure, and so forth.
But they were right.
Refreshing my grasp of things like turning points in the plot, character conflicts and theme hasn’t solved my creativity problem completely, but it’s helped.
Result: A major change in one of the lead characters that’s making her scenes easier and more fun to write.
4. Getting out of my own head
I’ve been making a conscious effort to spend more time outside, exercise regularly, and spend time with people I don’t see very often. Sometimes you’ve got to just close the laptop and get away.
Result: After hiking at the coast with friends last week, I slept amazingly well and woke up with a whole new (and necessary) subplot for the novel.
Like I said, I don’t have this all figured out. I’m still writing more slowly than I’d like, and my creativity is still not running at 100%. But it’s getting better with each day and some of the gloom is lifting.
If you’re stuck, try these ideas and let me know how it goes.
PS Hey, guess what? I’ll be running a LIVE 7-Day Writing Challenge starting Tuesday, January 2, 2018. If you’ve been meaning to write a book and somehow just haven’t got around to starting, this is your chance to establish a writing habit and do it along with a community of fun, supportive fellow writers. And it’s FREE.
Join now and you’ll hear from me first thing in the new year!