Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Battling Writer's Block

We all have those times where we sit down to write and things just don't work out. We don't know what to say or we are stuck on a plot point or a character issue. But its how we deal with those times that help define us as writers.

Diagnose the problem

Figure out whats keeping you from writing and try to fix it. I know easier said than done in some cases, but if we know what's bothering us then sometimes we can come up with a solution and move on. Although other times the issue is bigger and we need time to clear our heads and really work through a solution. Its in those times that I really define myself as a writer. However, its almost always not in the way I expect. Its when I'm stuck on one problem, that a new idea usually presents itself. More often than not its completely unrelated but its exactly the distraction I need. It gets me going on something else and allows for my subconscious to deal with the issue behind the scenes. When the right solution presents itself, it bursts through loud and clear. Although, don't always expect a quick fix, sometimes the right answer can take days, weeks or even months.

Take a break

If its not working, don't force it. Usually a little distance helps the juices start flowing again. And when you take a break don't let your mind worry about the time you are "wasting". You aren't, in fact "wasting" any time, you are resting your mind. Only when your mind gets a true break, can it naturally flow back to the world of writing and the story you are telling.

Talk it out

The expression two heads are better than one holds true with writing. Writing is not a solo sport as much as a lot of people would like to believe. Talk through your issue with someone else. Sometimes the other person doesn't even have to say anything, and just hearing yourself talk through the plot or the characters presents the right answer. Other times its something the other person says that sparks an idea or possible solution. Don't keep your writing to yourself. It's okay to get help!

Stay positive

A positive attitude goes a long long way. Keeping your spirits up and being excited about your writing causes a chain effect. One good idea can start a spark and one spark is all it takes to cause a wildfire. Run with the ideas, get excited about them and keep writing.

Do what you need to do to keep moving forward

If you need validation get it, but do realize seeking criticism is a two way street. Not everyone is going to like everything you write and that's okay. Criticism will usually be constructive. Odds are you have a good idea but you may need help with execution, description, character development, point of view, you name it. No one is perfect and writers all need help with something. So don't beat yourself up over the criticism, use it as a guide to improve

Find inspiration wherever you can

Read the news or blogs, watch TV, read books, people watch. Whatever it takes. You never know where your next big idea is lurking. So if you're sitting around staring at your blank computer screen waiting for inspiration, odds are its not going to strike. Get out there and live your life, inspiration will find you.

The law of averages
Yes I'm an engineer and yes that sounds like math but its not entirely. I swear it applies to writing. So you had a bad day you only wrote five hundred words, or maybe two hundred or maybe even just one hundred. Or maybe you only wrote one single word. Hey you wrote something and that's more than you had yesterday. Don't sweat it though, because remember that day last week when you wrote two thousand? Or maybe tomorrow you'll have your best writing day yet. Tomorrow is always a new day and you never know what it might bring you. So if you only wrote five words today, at some point it will balance out with the thousands you write another day. Not everyday can give you the word count you hoped for. Some writing days are like Mondays and others are like Fridays. Take each day as it comes and let the numbers fall where they do. It all averages out in the end.

Don't let yourself get hung up on the right wording

The right words come but not always when you are writing a first draft. Don't let this stop your flow. If the right word or phrasing isn't coming, try a thesaurus. If you cant find it quickly, write down what you have and move on. Don't waste precious writing time on looking for the perfect phrase. You'll never find it that way. Wait until editing. You never know that sentence you spent hours trying to make perfect, might just get thrown out later. So don't sweat the details early on.

Whatever it is that's causing you to struggle with your writing, don't let it define you or take over. Take a deep breath, stare the beast in the eyes and tell it "you don't own me." Then go out there and have fun with it. We write because we feel. If nothing else turn this horrible experience into a small writing piece. Who knows one day you may look back at that piece you wrote at your low point and smile at how far you've come.


  1. These are great suggestions. I like the one about being positive. Whenever I think I can write well, I do. Hmmmm..... power of positive thinking perhaps.

  2. Thanks, I'm glad you find them useful. They definitely really helped me. I find being positive helps the most though. It always puts me in a better mood and makes writing way more enjoyable :)

  3. "Talk it out" is my favorite. People think that writing is always solitary, but the input of others is invaluable, even when it's something I haven't let anyone see yet. My husband has gotten very used to me asking random questions in the middle of the night.
    "If you were locked in a bathroom, what would be the scariest thing to come pounding on your door?"
    "Could a unicorn kill a griffin in a fair fight?"

    1. Yes its funny, often as writers (or in anything really) we think we need to do it alone, but I always do better when I talk to others and hear their answers to questions. It always sparks more ideas :) I love you questions by the way! The off the wall ones usually spur good ideas too :)

  4. Good list! I've often found that taking a break helps. It's counterintuitive, because if you're struggling to write, the last thing you want to do is take time out from writing! But sometimes banging your head against the wall just doesn't work, and a break can refresh me. Thanks for the useful suggestions, Jamie!

    1. Andrew, glad you found the tips useful. I agree it seems backwards to take a break but it usually works well for me. Sometimes all it takes is 30 minutes and I'm right back into things and they end up going better than ever. Not to mention banging your head against a wall just gives you a headache and a hole in the wall ;)