Does writer's block exist? Some writers believe it does, but others think it's a myth. What should you do if you're blocked?
Overcoming Writer's Block: How to Rekindle Your Creativity
This is a tale of two writers. Writer number one gets up, makes coffee, plays the daily Wordle, looks out the window, browses social media, makes another coffee, washes some dishes, then sits down to try to write. Writer number two get to their desk, drinks some coffee, and gets to work. Writer number one is suffering from writer’s block; writer number two is writing.
What is writer’s block
Speak with most writers, and they will be happy to recount their experience of writer’s block. For some it can be debilitating, for others it can be a temporary hurdle. In some cases, writers don’t know where to begin, or don’t know how to continue a text they’ve started. Others just find that they are out of inspiration, or that they’ve encountered problems in their project that they can’t solve.
Many writers who experience writer’s block are hindered by a fear of failure, of being judged, by the stress of having to succeed in a long project like a novel, and sometimes, by overwhelming perfectionism, wanting to get everything just exactly right. Sometimes, a writer is stuck and becomes convinced that they have writers block, which turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Stephen King suffered from writer’s block when writing The Stand. In his memoir/how-to book On Writing, he says, “there came a point when I couldn’t write any longer because I didn’t know what to write.” King’s writer’s block was fueled by the complexity of this novel’s plot, which he needed to work out in order to move ahead after already having written 500 pages of single-spaced manuscript. He got bored, and says “boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam,” and eventually discovered the plot point that he needed to unlock his book, and says “At one moment I had none of this; at the next I had all of it.”
Working out plot points in a novel is complex as The Stand is no mean feet. The type of block that King experienced was not about getting words on a page, but about resolving an intricate plot with dozens of characters, and what eventually was an epic battle between good and evil. It’s normal to need a lot of time to move ahead with a major decision of this type, especially if you don’t outline your books.
How to cure writer’s block
Peter James, in Howdunit, writes:
Over the years I’ve met a number of people who told me they have writers’ block. But I cannot remember a single author who writes for a living ever telling me that.
In my work as a journalist, there is no such thing as writer’s block. Deadlines, editors to not disappoint, and the prospect of payments sent to my bank account all inspire me to complete articles in a timely manner. There is a routine in this sort of writing; I know that for certain clients I have an article to write each week, for others an article a month, and that rhythm and schedule helps prod me to be productive. (Rule #1 for being a successful freelancer: never miss a deadline.)
Some writers like to set word count targets for their writing sessions. These work like self imposed deadlines. Scrivener’s statistics and target features help you plan your writing sessions and measure your output. If you’re stuck, set a target of, say, 500 words a day. When you achieve that, raise the target to 750. The next day, raise it to 1,000. After a while, you may forget that you had writer’s block.
If you are writing fiction, and don’t have a contract or a deadline, it can be difficult to maintain motivation and move ahead with your project. The annual NaNoWriMo is a great way to set a deadline - 50,000 words in one month - and maintain motivation through the support of other writers. This is especially good for beginning writers who don’t yet have a writing routine; you’ll get used to writing every day, and this will help you going forward.
If you can’t write what you want, what you need to move forward in your current project, you should at least write something. You can use writers prompts as exercises to prime the writing pump. Starting the day with a writers prompt is like stretching your mental muscles. You could go back over what you’ve already written in your current project, taking notes, outlining, or just re-reading the last few thousand words to build momentum for what comes next. Or, if you’re stuck trying to craft a specific scene, move ahead and write what comes after it, then come back to the troublesome scene later.
You could do some freewriting about the characters in your novel. Write the backstory for one of your characters. Well you may not want to use any of this in your novel, filling out a character’s past life can help you understand their motivations as you move ahead.
In some cases, writers may feel blocked if they are in the wrong environment. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable writing at home; if so, go to a coffee shop or a library. Maybe there’s too much noise where they are trying to write; noise-canceling headphones can help. Some writers need music to motivate them, some need silence.
Many writers take walks to boost their creativity. Others use daydreaming to make new ideas bubble up. Some read books or short stories by writers they like, or watch films, allowing their subconscious to work while they’re waiting for inspiration.
Give your brain something else creative to do while you’re waiting for that inspiration. You may want to solve a crossword puzzle, play a game, draw or play an instrument, if you are so inclined, or cook something. I recently learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube as a way of keeping my brain fluid when I need a break.
Finally, you may have hit a wall because you just don’t think that what you’re writing is good enough. It can help to have some friends or fellow writers read your work and share their opinions, but sometimes, you just have to realize that your current project isn’t working out. Maybe it’s time to shelve it and start something new.
This article from the Paris Review, On Writer’s Block: Advice from Twelve Writers, can give you some more tips on how to get past writer’s block.