The dreaded blinking cursor stares at you. The screen is white. You’ve typed and then erased your first sentence five times. You’re wasting precious writing time. Time you don’t have to waste. Not if you’re going to be a novelist. Not if you’re going to follow your dreams. Now do it! Write something!
Did you just check Facebook instead?
Friend, you have writer’s block. It’s okay. It happens to all of us. The question is what to do about it. Want advice from the sages? They say the key to conquering writer’s block is to think small.
The Conundrum of Choice
Ever heard of this? It means that having too many choices can be paralyzing. Options are great but too many options require too much thought. Weighing outcomes and pro-ing and con-ing over every decision is exhausting. This is why it’s hard for students to decide on a major. Or who to settle down with. People are overwhelmed by choice.
The same can be said of writing. In fiction, the writer is responsible for creating all elements of a world, down to what a secondary character is wearing. The burden of these choices can be unbearable. So is the amount of time you might devote to making them.
If you don’t know where to start, promise to start small. If you don’t know where the chapter is going, plan a scene. If you don’t know where a scene is going, figure out what your character wants. If you don’t know what the character wants, have them react to what happened earlier. You don’t need to know what happens five chapters from now to decide what happens next.
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
One bite at a time. That’s how you consume anything big. I trained for and raced in a couple of marathons, and in preparing to run 26.2 miles at once, I learned to not think about the entire race at the starting line. I learned to take it one mile at a time. Yes, the strategy for attacking mile one in a marathon is different from mile one of a 5k, but still…. Focusing on the magnitude of the task in front of you doesn’t help. Be aware, yes. But break it into smaller, more easily digestible assignments.
There’s a different approach for writing a 500-word essay versus a 90,000-word novel. That’s true. But they all start with page one. Just because you intend to ultimately write 400 pages doesn’t mean you can allow yourself to dwell on all 400 at once. Write one page. I recommend starting with the easiest, most manageable task possible and stick to it every day.
For instance, maybe you’re capable of writing 2,000 words a day, but it stresses you out. Then when you only hit 1,500 words, it feels like a failure. And in feeling like a failure, you stop writing for a week at a time. This is worse than choosing an easy-to-achieve goal and then actually doing it.
Write 500 words a day. Write 200 words a day. Commit to writing one new paragraph a day. Make your goal easy and achievable. Make your goal simple, even. Each time you hit your mark, even if it’s an “easy” mark, you’ll feel accomplished. This feeling will keep you engaged with your work and wanting to do more of it. In time, you’ll have swallowed every last bite of that pachyderm.
The next time you’re facing writer’s block, get small. Plan and then write one new sentence. Don’t turn off your computer. Don’t lie to yourself that you’ll do it later, and don’t let the job hang over your head all day. Write something new and move on. Then do the same thing tomorrow and the day after that. Consistency is key. Don’t let writer’s block keep you from your goals, especially when you can prevent it with something as small as a sentence.