Last year I wrote a blog post about how to overcome writer’s block, in which I recommended ignoring it and writing anyway. I mentioned that I try to adopt the attitude that writer’s block doesn’t exist, because resigning myself to writer’s block only makes the problem worse.
I do still stand by that to a certain extent, but I wanted to expand on it because overcoming writer’s block isn’t always as simple as completely denying its existence. Even if we don’t call it writer’s block, we can agree that there are always fluctuations in our creativity levels, the number of ideas we have, and the amount we write on a regular basis. We’re not all super inspired and eager to write every single day. We all go through phases in which we struggle to write, and it’s perfectly natural and normal.
But what’s the best way of dealing with it? Is overcoming writer’s block possible?
In my previous blog, I explained that I just “force” myself to write, no matter how tough it is. But sometimes it’s also important to figure out why you’re struggling to write in the first place. Breaking writer’ block is definitely easier when you understand why it’s happening and can take steps to alleviate the problems contributing to it.
So on that note, I’m going to outline some of my tips for how to overcome writer’s block, broken down by the most common causes.
Cause: You’re overworked
Maybe you’ve just written a lot of stuff recently and your brain needs a break. Perhaps you’ve had a tough or busy period in your day job and don’t have the mental energy for creative writing. Maybe you just have a tonne of stressful events going on in your personal life which is sapping your creativity. Whatever it is, when life and work and stuff gets busy, it’s hard to find the mental and physical energy to write.
How to fix it
When overwork is the cause of writer’s block, it’s often sensible to throw in the towel and take a break from writing. Or at least ease up a little.
A break could be as long or as short as you like depending on how frequently you usually write, but try to put a time limit on it. For example, you could give yourself a full week off, but schedule time into your diary for your first writing session after the break. Alternatively, tell yourself you’ll reduce your writing sessions from daily to every other day for a month; when the month’s up, you’ll be back to daily scribing.
It’s really easy to fall out of your regular writing routine when you take break from it, and losing that structure risks making writer’s block worse. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the respite, but be strict when it comes to cracking on once again.
Cause: You hate your own work
We spend so long writing, editing, and rewriting our own work that there comes a point when we lose faith in it or simply get bored of it. It’s not that you’re a bad writer, it’s just that you’ve spent too long analysing the minute details of your own work.
How to fix it
Take a break from that project and write something completely new.
Try your hand at short, snappy flash fiction pieces which give you the opportunity to explore lots of little ideas without stressing too much over major plot holes or character development. You could have a go at writing in a genre you would usually never choose and see what fun you can have with it. Browse the web for new writing prompts that are totally different from your main project, or ask a friend to give you the most ridiculous opening line for a story that they can think of.
Challenging yourself to think up brand new ideas is a great way to get your creative juices flowing once more. It’s also a good opportunity to get stuck into a whole new first draft, and we all know that first drafts allow us to be more free and easy with our ideas than third, fourth, or fifteenth drafts. Ultimately, you need to recapture your love of writing and have fun with it for a while. Then you can go back to WIP with fresh eyes and newfound passion.
Cause: You’re all out of ideas
You want to write. Like really, really want to write. But you don’t know what to write about. Maybe you have a couple of ideas, but you think they aren’t original enough. Maybe you’ve got an interesting setting or character in mind, but you don’t know how to form a plot around it. You feel like you’ll never be able to pin down an entire story and question why you want to write in the first place.
How to fix it
I’m constantly worrying that I’ll run out of ideas for stories but somehow, they keep coming. Trust me – no matter how uninspired you feel, the ideas will come eventually. Sometimes you just need to eke it out a little, and I think the best way to do that is to absorb the creative work of other people.
I find that I’m more creative when I read as often and as widely as possible. I make myself read every single day, even if it’s only a couple of pages, and I try to avoid reading two books of the same genre back to back. I crave variation when it comes to concepts, styles, and characters because having a versatile reading list seems to help new ideas come more quickly when I’m looking for them. Listening to music also helps, and for others it might be art or photography or poetry or movies which inspire fresh ideas.
It’s not that I’m looking for concepts from these works to borrow or adapt in my own writing. Instead, I find myself going down a rabbit hole of, “Oh, that’s a cool idea/situation/character, which makes me think of this, which makes me question that, which makes me wonder what would happen if this other thing occurred…” Essentially, it fires up my imagination and helps to trigger ideas that were probably already buried in the depths of my brain. Figure out what inspires you and turn to it when you’re running low in the creativity department.
Cause: You doubt your writing abilities
This is kind of along the lines of hating your own work, but on a wider scale. When we doubt our ability to write, it puts us off writing anything at all. Self-doubt might come about because we’ve, either consciously or subconsciously, compared ourselves to someone else’s work. In other instances, it could be because of a setback like a rejection from an agent or publisher. Sometimes it just comes around for no reason other than we like to give ourselves a hard time (stupid brains).
How to fix it
I’ll be honest, the self-doubt writer’s block is one I’ve struggled to find solutions to. However, sometimes it can help to read back some of your old work – stuff you haven’t looked at in an age. One of two things could happen here. You might find yourself thinking, “Wow, this isn’t bad… I guess I’m not such a terrible writer after all.” Or, you might find yourself cringing and thinking “Wow, this is so bad… I guess I am getting better at this writing thing.” Yes, I realise that this tactic is a bit of a gamble and could result in you doubting your writing skills even more, so proceed with caution.
An alternative could be to give your work to someone else to read and ask for their feedback. Preferably, this will be a trusted individual who will stroke your ego (for me, it’s my Mum). Yes, honest constructive feedback from someone who will point out the flaws in your work is really important. However, in the name of overcoming writer’s block, a bit of mindless ego-stroking is important every now and again.
Above all else, remember that writing is a skill like any other – it needs to be practised, and practice makes us better. It’s okay to be self-critical because that’s what helps us to improve. If you doubt your writing ability, the only way to make it better is to keep practising, so in that respect it just doesn’t make sense to not write. Right?
My top tip for overcoming writer’s block: just try
Whenever you feel like you really can’t write, tell yourself to just write a tiny bit – 50 words. They can be crap words, if you like. Just write them.
50 words is nothing – a mere paragraph, really. Even if every single one of those 50 words is awful, at least you’ve written something, right? And you haven’t let writer’s block totally defeat you, which means you’re stronger than it is.
Sometimes those 50 words will develop into 100 words or even 500 words. Sometimes it’s just starting that’s the hard bit, and once you do you’ll find the words flowing more easily. Others, it just doesn’t happen; 50 words is enough. But at least you got something on the page and moved your story along a tiny bit.
Above all else, remember that writer’s block is only ever temporary, if it exists at all. The more you feel like it’s beating you, the harder it will be to get over it. By forcing yourself to work through it, you have a far better shot of keeping the block short and getting back to maximum levels of creativity.Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com