I used to think “writer’s block” meant that a writer had run out of ideas, and I would scoff at the notion, because honestly, I’m full of great ideas! But I’ve come to learn it can mean something a little different.
If a writer says they’ve never stared at their computer screen in utter panic because suddenly a plot feels stale, or they’ve written their characters into a tangle and can’t extricate them, or the brilliant twist at the end simply doesn’t work, then they haven’t been writing for very long! My experience with writer’s block has never been lack of story ideas, it’s been dealing with those moments when I feel like I’ve lost my way.
The first time this happened I thought, “I really have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just posing as a writer. This book is going to be an utter failure, if I ever finish it at all.” Sound familiar? Every writer knows the feeling – I promise. But once you’ve faced down the dreaded block, and come out on the other side, you’ll realize you do have the skills to break through. And most likely, your story is better for it. Here are some things to try when you’re feeling stuck:
- Write anyway. Keep to your schedule, even if it turns out that your writing has to be tossed the next day. I often find the more I write, the more the ideas flow. Except when they don’t.
- So, take a break. This is the exact opposite of my first suggestion, but sometimes it really is necessary to step away and gain some perspective. Maybe you’ll only need a walk to clear your head. But maybe you need a real break from the pressure of a daily word count goal. Stay focused on your story, but use your writing time to brainstorm instead. Keep a notebook with you throughout the day and capture ideas when they come.
- Go somewhere that inspires you. I’d once committed to writing a short story for an anthology – the prompts were an old photograph from the 1800s, an event, and a name. It was a speculative fiction collection, and I immediately wanted to write a ghost story. I had a great story idea, as usual, but unfortunately, very little substance to go with it. With the deadline fast approaching, I started to panic. During a weekend getaway, I had the chance to visit an old New England village, well preserved and complete with actors in period dress. Strolling up creaky old stairs and surrounded by real artifacts from the nineteenth century, I allowed my imagination to flow, and the pieces of my story finally fell into place.
- Talk it through with another writer. Sometimes, when you talk about it, you realize your story is more well-developed than you thought. Brainstorming with a creative friend might also help you see things from a fresh perspective.
- If there’s a scene that excites you, write it. Sometimes, you’ll have a very clear, pivotal scene worked out in your mind, but it isn’t happening in the book for a while yet. You don’t have to write in order. If focusing on that scene starts the words flowing and reminds you that writing can be fun, go for it!
- Consider that story and plot are two related but different things. The same story can be plotted out in different ways. With this in mind, you may feel free to experiment. If one idea doesn’t work, or serve the story well, you can scrap it and try another.
As writers, we live for the days when ideas flow and our words seem inspired. We feel competent and confident. But when we’re stuck, and can’t see our way to the next word, never mind the end of the chapter, it helps to know we aren’t alone. And a toolbox of tricks can help too!