I am following along several writers’ groups and one topic comes up with unfailing regularity: writer’s block. But what is it? You can scour medical texts but you won’t find it there. Turn to psychological disorders and derangements of the mind, but you won’t find it there either. So what is it, how do you know you have it, how can you recover from it, and what do you have to do to prevent getting it?
Let’s take it step by step.
What is it and how do you know whether you have it?
Let’s do away with a myth right at the start: it isn’t something only writers get. They only abrogated the malady for themselves by rebranding it. It happens to a lot of people, not just those of the parchment guild. Someone would start on a long project and somewhere in the middle run out of steam. Progress grinds to a halt. Bad conscience starts building. Anxiety and self-loath rise. At some point in the future — could be days, weeks or months — the project gets resumed or dies a quiet death.
Sound familiar? If so, it’s probably because that’s a common issue with any kind of long-term project. Writing a full-length novel takes months, if not years. It’s only natural to have troughs and valleys of motivation. The going might get tough for a while, tougher than you counted on. Your self-confidence may flag and self-doubt start to creep in. There are literally hundreds of reasons why the initial momentum dissipates and progress stops.
This is what writer’s block is. Not more and not less.
How do you prevent getting it?
As varied as the reasons to get it are the ways to break free of it. Here are a few pieces of advice.
- Pace yourself. Writing a book is a marathon and not a 100 meter dash. Set yourself a daily or weekly goal for the number of words you write. Choose a real low number that you are confident you can maintain without too much effort. Try 250 words. There are days when you can put down 2500 words and others when you have to force yourself to get up to 250. But make a pact with yourself that you absolutely definitely will add 250 word, come hell or high water.
- Get into the habit of writing. Setting aside a regular time for working on your book helps. A common misconception about writing is that one has to feel inspired and be in a special creative state of mind to do it. Sure, that’s nice. It makes the going easier. But you’ll be surprised how readily inspiration starts to come when it knows the schedule.
- Set yourself small intermediate goals and reward yourself when you reach them. Goals should be spaced out so that the next one is not more than about a week or two ahead. I reward myself with a special piece of cake or ice cream which I only have when I reached my goal of the week. Going out to a movie also works for me. Or a luxurious hot batch. Shouldn’t be hard to adapt this to suit your personal needs.
How do you shake it when you got it?
The list of ways of how how to break writer’s block is endless. Here is what works for me:
- I absolutely have to stop the guilt spiral from happening. When I start feeling guilty about not writing, it will make it even harder for me to start, so I put it off a bit longer, which will only increase the guilt. Not good.
I nip it right in the bud. When I see that I’m slipping behind, I award myself one extra day of rest. Just the one. Then I start writing again, come what may. I just stare my inner demons down and hurtle a vicious laugh at them. Let’s see who’s the stronger one!
- The point is you can always have your fingers hit the letters on the keyboard. The reason you’re not writing is not a mechanical one, it is because you think what you’re writing is not good enough. Just keep writing anyway. You can come back and fix it later. Keeping writing is what counts.
- You may simply be stressed out. Take a break for a couple of days. Do something else. One thing I have to avoid at all costs: I can’t read a good book. Because that only shows me how bad my writing is in comparison. But, hey, your mileage may vary. Some people tell me that reading a good book gets them all excited and gives them new ideas.
- Maybe your writer’s block is trying to tell you something? This has happened to me a couple of times, usually when I wrote myself into a dead end of the story.
Stop and think: did you take a wrong turn somewhere? Is there something you’re subconsciously not happy with? Maybe a character isn’t developing like it should? Go back to where the world was still good and write an alternate version. Often times you’ll be much happier with the result and realize that writer’s block was a good thing.