The majority of writers experience writers’ block at some point. That moment/ day/ week/ year where you sit in front of a blank page and words fail you.
I used to experience writers’ block much more often than I do now.One of the worst experiences was when I was writing the novel Fury on Soufrière Hills. I had written my three child protagonists into an impossible situation. It took me four months to get them out. Every day I stared at that blank screen unable to come up with a single idea. This was nine years ago, and I don’t recall what eventually jolted me out of that mess. I was much less mindful about my writing practices back then.
I probably would not have been in that situation if I had an outline for the book, which is one of the ways we as writers can take preemptive measures to avoid writers’ block. I teach the use of outlines, although I recognise they don’t work for everyone. If you have a general idea of where the story is going, you are less likely to get stuck on a particular point, and if you do, you can move on to other sections of the book and come back to the ticklish parts later, because you know where the story as a whole is going.
Another related solution is to free write about your characters or the setting. Have fun with the characters in your book. No writing is ever wasted. Instead, this writing may give you better insight into your characters and unlock the writers’ block.
Sometimes we are unable to write because we are waiting for inspiration or waiting for the perfect words. As I write in my article on making our own inspiration, there are things we can do to jumpstart the process of inspiration. Purposefully making the connections and ideas that our subconscious makes and also by stimulating our thought processes with walks, showers, and other activities that are simultaneously relaxing and stimulating.
When you get stuck in writing, think carefully about your mindset and the stories you are telling yourself.
- Are you convinced you have to write the perfect words? You don’t. Actually there’s no such thing as the perfect words, but that’s for another post. Write the thoughts down, the hard work of editing, rearranging, refocusing, that will come later.
- Are you berating yourself, doubting your ability to write? Those thoughts are common among people who choose an artistic path. If you are unsure about whether the world will think your writing is any good, write for yourself and think about the rest of the world later. You did the hardest part, showed up to write. You can definitely take the next step.
Showing up to write might seem like a no-brainer, but it is an important way to get around writers’ block. Set a schedule and train your mind to expect that every day or every two days or whatever your schedule allows at x time that you will be writing for an hour or whatever time period works for you. Eventually it will become a habit and the writing will happen. (Be sure to let the rest of the people in your household know as well 😉 )
When none of these strategies work, maybe you need to step away from the writing for a pre-determined amount of time. Some things you can do that take you away from the writing but still keep you engaged with your work include:
- researching your topic. This can reignite your interest or generate new ideas.
- reading. Usually I recommend that my students avoid reading other novels when they are in the midst of their own writing project, but reading something totally different from what you are writing can be inspirational and stimulating.