I think it’s safe to say that every writer will experience writer’s block at least once. The term writer’s block refers to the experience of not being able to get an idea, any idea, to stick long enough to say something about it. The bad news is that it can happen at any time—before you’ve written a word, or even at the last paragraph of a novel. The good news is that you can beat with a little time and effort.
Overcoming writer’s block begins with admitting you have a problem. Honestly, there will always be more reasons for you not to write than there are to write, but it is infinitely more painful to deny yourself your true love—creating fiction—than it is to face writer’s block in its dastardly eye.
After admitting you’re stuck and being honest with yourself about it, there is another harsh reality to face:
Writer’s block isn’t a sickness you’ve caught.
While it may feel like any number of afflictions (a cold, headache, allergies, nervous breakdown), it really isn’t. Imagine if it were:
Interested Friend: “How’s the new project coming along?”
You: “Would you believe it, I came down with a case of writer’s block.”
IF: Makes face. “How did you get that?”
You: “I must’ve picked it up somewhere—maybe that last writer’s conference I went to.”
IF: “So, how do you treat it?”
You: “You don’t. You just have to let it run its course.”
Sound ridiculous? And not only is it ridiculous, but it’s also an excuse that can go on forever. When you frame writer’s block as something that has happened to you, like a nasty virus, it lets you off the hook for not writing. And with far more harmful implications, it also makes it okay to deny yourself a passion that’s ultimately good for you and your well-being.
If we’re really going to drill down to the heart of writer’s block, let’s call it by its proper name: Fear. Yes, fear with a capital F. Writer’s block is the granddaddy of all writing terror. It’s staring at a blank screen for hours. It’s breaking out in a sweat just trying to get one good idea, one sentence that doesn’t make you want to cry. It’s feeling completely inadequate about your work that you’d rather scrub toilets than try. In whatever way the blockage chooses to present itself, you can usually follow it back to fear of something. Your job as a writer is to figure out what that fear is. Maybe it’s perfectionism, lack of confidence, or trying to live up to the standards of a parent or partner, professor or writing colleagues.
Acknowledging fear exists is essential, but that doesn’t mean it has to stop you, or that you should allow it to clog up your inspiration pipeline. Getting around writer’s block starts with…you guessed it, actual writing, which feels like a vicious cycle. You want to write, but can’t, and so you’re supposed to write in order to be able to write. Not helpful. Instead of trying to bleed out words along with your tears, my method to beat writer’s block is to host a Writer’s Block Party.
At a traditional block party, the neighborhood sections off both ends of the street so no traffic can drive through, and the community members join together for a good old-fashioned fiesta. In your block party, however, your neighbors are your ideas, and you’re about to get to know them a little better. Here’s are the steps:
Step One: Carve out an hour of uninterrupted time and put it on your schedule.
Step Two: At the appointed time, either on your computer or a sheet of paper, jot down anything writerly that pops into your head. As your “guests” appear, greet them graciously and without judgment. For example, you might shake hands with:
– A name you like for a character and a description to go with it.
– A place, such as your grandmother’s creaky Victorian house, or a haunted building you visited at some point in your life, or an abandoned town you see in your head.
– A house/apartment/car that you’d love for your protagonist to live in; is it messy, clean, fancy, or economical?
– Snippets of dialogue, such as an argument, an apology, a confession; extreme, emotional situations are easier to write than a mundane conversation about who’s going to pick up little Timmy from his baseball game.
– A character description—what is he or she wearing, what are they doing, why are they there?
As your guests arrive, don’t shy away. Describe that girl with the red hair who kind of scares you. Give her a dog and a tattoo of a sea otter. Is that someone sprinting past her with a black bag? Why, what happened? Is he a doctor running to an accident, or a bank robber that’s about to take the girl hostage? Is he wearing a neon spandex superhero outfit, or a three piece suit?
Write. It. Down.
Step Three: When the hour is up and you’ve met all the ideas at your party, review the list. What stands out to you as a thought you want to know more about? What idea would you never like to see again? Once you’ve highlighted the ideas that interest you, treat them like you would a new friend. Set another hour to host a get-together with them and ask questions and figure out why you hit it off. Look through magazines to gather a visual reference that supports the world/character/theme you’re creating. Pin images to Pinterest. Listen to music that evokes the feeling you get.
Step Four: Don’t give up. Just like a burgeoning friendship, you can’t know everything about an idea in one day. It takes time, and as you explore, write it all down. Write a scene featuring your idea, whether it’s a character, a place, an exchange of dialogue between two unknown people. Fill in the blanks with whatever comes to mind. Be yourself.
Step Five: Sigh in relief. Do you see what’s happening? You’re writing! Take that, writer’s block!
Have you ever successfully fought writer’s block?
What methods worked for you?