Whether you’re working on NaNoWriMo, the national challenge to write a book in the month of November, or you’re continuing to push forward in your writing endeavors, writer’s block can impact the best of us. It’s a nearly universal condition, and if you don’t get a handle on it sooner rather than later, it can set you back. Here are my best tips for how to battle writer’s block.
1. Assess the Problem
Writer’s block roughly means you don’t know what to write or you’re uninspired to write. If you’re a writer, you’re presumably doing it because you like it. Why is that you don’t want to do what you want to do? Figuring out the cause of the block is literally and figuratively the first step in solving the problem.
Sometimes you’re blocked because another area of your life has to get fixed first. Maybe it’s your kids, your day job, the holidays, (A GLOBAL PANDEMIC!), or another outside issue that’s got you down. Even though you might not be able to completely solve the problem, identifying it will help. If you only have an hour to sit down and work per day, but you’ve got holiday planning, homeschooling, or even just housework or another seemingly mundane issue on your mind, name it. It’s not necessarily procrastination that makes you gravitate toward doing laundry rather than writing. When the kids need their school clothes washed, they need them washed. It’s okay to admit that the boring tasks of adulthood sometimes take precedence. Honestly, you won’t get any writing done until the nagging feeling that you’re leaving something crucial undone is solved, so solve it. If that means giving up writing on Sunday in order to set yourself up for success on Monday, do it.
2. Procrastination or Distraction?
The main issue here is distinguishing between procrastination, distraction, and mulling. If you’re rearranging your sock drawer or dusting the base boards as an excuse to not write, you’re probably procrastinating. You might be procrastinating because you’re not sure how to solve a writing issue (more on that later). When you’re finding tasks—any tasks—to do rather than write, procrastination is your issue, and it’s solved by putting your butt in the chair and getting to work.
If your problem is that you’re distracted by other actual jobs that demand your attention, like a hungry baby or your boss, give in. Solve those immediate matters right now so that you can get back to writing as soon as they’re done. Finally, if you’re mulling the state of the pandemic or the economy or politics, just stop. Worrying about it won’t change it, and it definitely won’t write your book for you.
3. Take Concrete Steps to Break Writer’s Block
Oftentimes when I feel “writer’s block,” it’s because I don’t know what to say next. I’m worried that what I’m writing is boring, pointless, an exercise in frustration, etc. The reason for these feelings is often grounded in truth. When I don’t know what comes next in my manuscript, I need to start thinking. If your smack in the sticky middle of your manuscript, and struggling to get to the other side, here’s a post to help: Stuck in the Middle.
I might need to reread what I’ve already written, and I probably should consult my outline. Maybe I need to bounce ideas off someone else. I might not actually know what to say next because I haven’t figured it out yet. The way to battle writer’s block in this case is to stop writing and start assessing where I am. Usually once I find my way, I’m ready to write again.
4. Use Benchmarks Carefully
Finally, writer’s block is like any other self-starting problem you have. Eventually you have to get over the fears or whatever is holding you back and just do it. I’m a big believer in setting goals, but I don’t think being fanatical about them is useful. For instance, I’ve made word count goals in the past, but sometimes they’ve hamstrung my activity because I felt the need to write new words instead of figure out the best words to write. Be willing to mark your progress with time spent or other ways too.
The most important part of overcoming writer’s block is to know there’s no way around it. There’s only through.