Writers, you know how it is… You’re halfway through writing a novel or short story, the characters are embroiled in their drama, the plot is flowing smoothly, and then… nothing. You’re stumped. Stalled. No more words come out. Your mind is blank.
What happened? Some folks label it “writer’s block” while others refer to it as “getting stuck”. Whatever you want to call it, it can bring your writing project and productivity to a screeching halt in minutes.
Writer’s block can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. Experience doesn’t make you exempt. Writer’s block doesn’t care if you’re working on your first story, fifteenth novel, or millionth blog. And it pays no attention to what you’re writing – a blog, short story, magazine article, novel, or web copy for a client. Once it latches on, it seems like you can’t put three words together and have them make sense. Ugh.
So, what do you do if you’re attacked by writer’s block? How can you fight it? The answer is, don’t! Unless you have a 100% crucial deadline looming that you can’t miss or the world will end, fighting it may make it worse, and you’ll only end up frustrating yourself. The best advice? Embrace writer’s block as your friend, because it’s trying to tell you something.
Here are some common writer’s block scenarios and practical tips for dealing with it:
You Need More Info: If you’re writing a story and develop a block, it’s possible that you’re not familiar enough with the plot or characters. If you have no idea who your main characters are or what their goals, motivations, and conflicts are, you need to step back and get to know them better. Develop character profiles or outline the next few scenes, so you know where the story is headed. The same works for non-fiction writing. Let’s say you’re writing an article on how to fly a hot air balloon and you get stuck. Your “block” may be trying to tell you that you need to do more research, talk to an expert, or go up in the air yourself before you continue.
Mental Fatigue: In many cases, your writer’s block may have shown up to let you know you need a break. It’s a signal to get out of that chair and stop staring at the screen. (I know this from first-hand experience.) You’ve written eight blogs, finished a draft of a new book, revised another novel and now – you’re done, used up, all out of words for that week.
Writer’s block is telling you to take a break, breathe, recenter, and refocus yourself for a little while. Do anything else except think about writing – go for a walk, exercise, meditate, play loud music, dance, go to lunch with friends, or see a movie. (You can even clean the house and fold laundry!) Any type of physical activity that breaks you out of your rut and gets you out of your head will help. Thinking about other things gives your subconscious time to work on your writing problem and after a few hours (or days) the great idea or plot device will come to you.
Getting your mind off your story gives your brain a rest and lets you see it in a new perspective. Yes, you can try to force your way through a block, but you will end up frustrating yourself and probably rewriting what you’ve written anyway.
What Comes Next?: If you’re stuck on a scene and not sure what comes next, don’t sweat it. There’s a quick fix! Write something down that’s really rough or make some notes and come back to it later. This is what I do when I get stuck. In some cases I literally wrote, “Something happens here” and moved on. Other times I’d scratch a note, “write a transition scene where they talk about X.” then I went on with the rest of the book. Remember, TV shows and movies aren’t filmed in sequential order, and nobody said your book has to be written straight through from A to Z.
But what if you’ve tried these suggestions and they didn’t work? If you’re in the middle of a story and need a boost, these fun writing exercises can jumpstart your writing and get your creative juices flowing.
Do Free Writing: Don’t “feel” like writing? Get a piece of paper (or open a blank Word document) and start writing anything that comes to mind. Have nothing? Then start with “nothing nothing nothing…” or “Today is ___ and I am ___.” Write about the weather, a childhood memory, something you love (or hate), a secret, your goals, a naughty fantasy, anything. You can even write “I am having a problem writing my story because…” It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something for 10-15 minutes. This will help you clear out any frustration you may have and ignite the spark to get you writing again.
Play the “What if” Game: Is your romance heroine trapped in a haunted castle and you have no idea what to do with her? Start asking yourself: “What if she finds a secret door?” “What if she hears a scream and goes to investigate and…” “What if a man…” Let your mind go wild with possibilities and see what happens. (You don’t have to use anything you write, but it will get you thinking.)
Free Association/Word Clusters: These diagrams focus on a word or phrase and you link other words that are connected to them. Say you’re writing a story about a kidnapping. You would write the word “kidnapped” in the center of a page and branch out with related words and phrases such as: Who took her? Ex-husband? Ransom? Call police/FBI? Why kidnapped? Knows secret? Gov’t cover up?” You’ll usually find that free association or breaking away from the computer and not stressing over “what to write” opens the mind and lets ideas come through. You can also combine this exercise with the “What if?” game!
When writer’s block arrives, don’t fight it. Listen to what it has to say. In some cases, it’s sending a message that you have to balance your writing life with “regular” life and keep everything in perspective. All too often, writers spend a great deal of time in their heads or in the worlds of their characters. Sometimes you need to put the writing on hold for a while and come back to the real world. Remember, you can’t be “on” writing 24/7 365 days a year (or your muse will pack up and head for a sunny tropical beach!) and you can’t be creative on demand. Writer’s block may be a way of telling you that it’s time for a break.
So keep a balance and don’t get blocked. Let your creative side recharge and get a second wind, then make room for more great stories to come.
I hope you enjoyed this look at writer’s block. Now go write something wonderful!
Kelli A. Wilkins
Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 90 short stories, fifteen romance novels (for Medallion Press and Amber Quill Press), and four non-fiction books. Her romances span many genres and heat levels. Her most recent book, Ultimate Night’s Delights (an erotic historical) was released in September 2013 and was a top ten finalist in the Preditors & Editors poll, erotic romance category. Kelli is releasing two historical romances this spring: Wilderness Bride in March 2014 and Dangerous Indenture in May 2014.
Kelli publishes a blog filled with excerpts, interviews, writing prompts, and whatever else pops into her head. She also writes a monthly newsletter, Kelli’s Quill, and posts on Facebook and Twitter. Kelli invites readers to visit her website, to learn more about all of her writings.
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