4 Unbeatable Ways to Fight Writer's Block

4 Unbeatable Ways to Fight Writer’s Block

Would it surprise you to hear I don’t believe in writer’s block? This infamous boogey man, rumored to lurk behind computer monitors and breathe down writers’ necks, hypnotizing us with the blinking cursor and laughing as we toss upon our sleepless beds—he’s just a ghost story as far as I’m concerned. An over-hyped ghost story at that.

Conquering Writer's Block and Summoning InspirationI’ve never suffered writer’s block. Not once. But that absolutely doesn’t mean I’ve never banged my head against my keyboard or stared in blank-minded agony at my monitor for a good thirty minutes straight. It also doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to pull my hair out because I couldn’t scheme up a way for my hero to escape the latest scrape into which I’d plunged him. What it does mean is that I have learned that Madam Muse is at my beck and call—and not the other way around.

Inspiration is often treated as a semi-mystical and ultimately uncontrollable empowerment of the mind. And, to some extent, that’s true. In Koine Greek, it is impossible to say “I think,” because no active form of the verb exists. Instead, one is forced to say, “the thought occurred to me” or “the thought was given to me.” But does that mean you have to subject ourselves to the unpredictable whims of whatever amount of brilliance happens to be rattling around in your brains at any given moment? Instead of just waiting around for the muse to hit you in the head with a lightning bolt, you can ingrain in yourself the habits that will leave writer’s block reeling in the dust.

And just what are these habits, you ask?

1. Ask Questions

The first thing I do when I hit a speed bump is start asking questions. The reporter’s old standby “5 W’s” come in plenty handy for novelists too, particularly “Why?” and “What if?” If my brain is particularly snarled, I resort to asking these questions with pen and paper. Something about the forced structure of writing out my thoughts helps me concentrate. I’ve filled notebooks upon notebooks with my why-ing and what if-ing, especially during the outlining stages. This is a process that has never failed me. Keep asking long enough and eventually, you’ll find the answers. Bestseller Sue Grafton says, “If you know the question, you know the answer.”

Storming Outline - 8-12

2. Stop Mid-Sentence

Ernest Hemingway made it a practice to stop writing whenever he was on a roll. By cutting himself off in the middle of a great idea—sometimes even mid-sentence—he gave himself a prime beginning spot for the next day. Instead of floundering around, wasting time in search of a new batch of inspiration, he could simply pick up right where he left off the day before. Make it a habit to leave a few loose threads every day when you quit writing. Having something to grab hold of the next day will make it that much easier to maintain your train of thought.

Ernest Hemingway Writing

3. Brainstorm Ahead of Time

Sitting down at your computer, all hyped to write, only to realize you have no idea what to write is not a very cool feeling. Never leave knotty plot problems to be solved the next day. Instead, work them out in the interval between writing sessions. Every evening, after I’ve finished my writing for the day, I take a walk down to the mailbox. I run over the scenes I plan to work on the next day, identify potential problems, and just generally form a plan of attack, so I know exactly how to shape my scenes when I sit down the next day. That way, instead of wasting precious writing time figuring out my next move, I can gallop right ahead.

4. Show Up Every Day

Inspiration flows best when it flows regularly. Make it a point to sit down every single day for an allotted amount of time. Write even when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a job and don’t cut yourself any slack. The muse only inhabits minds that are ready and waiting for it, and if you’re not writing, then you’re not ready. Novelist Peter de Vries knew what he was talking about when he said,

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

Make the fight against writer’s block proactive instead of defensive, and you’ll find the odds are almost always stacked in the author’s favor.

Tell me your opinion: What is your greatest trick for fighting writer’s block?

4 Unbeatable Ways to Fight Writer's Block

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Great advice – and I think the last one, writing everyday, is very true. I always wrote in highschool and I had no trouble writing. Then I got busy with uni and starting my teching career and for a while I worte very little. Last year, having made the decision to become a published writer I began to write again, regularly. At first, this was really painful because i would pull out an old story plan, make a few minor adjustments, and then get distracted or not know where to go. Now, I am coming up with hundreds of ideas a day and don’t have the time to get them all down. Writing leads to more writing, and it seems to get better the more you do it, as well as easier. Thanks for the great advice.

  2. “Writing leads to more writing.” Yup, that’s the truth in a nutshell. And isn’t interesting how, once you start writing, it’s like pulling teeth when you have to stop? Ideas start sprouting up at the most inopportune times. I’ve been known to desperately scribble on my arm when traveling without the necessities of computer or paper!

  3. I loved reading this. I truly enjoy and believe in all of your writing ideas; they absolutely make sense to me.

    Obviously, you know what you’re talking about with a published novel and two in the works.

    (I joined CW.com, yesterday. I’m excited to be a part of a great group of writers.)

  4. Good advice. I was looking through some of your earlier posts, and came across one that said everyone could send you a comment, and you would add them to your blogroll. So yeah. Could you add me?
    http://www.littlescribbler.wordpress.com

    Thanks.

  5. @Shaddy: Whoo! So happy to have to on CW!

    @littlescribbler: Consider yourself added!

  6. I’ve also found that “writing leads to more writing.” And “Brainstorming Ahead of Time” also works for me. I often visualize parts and then pursue it like a puzzle looking for the missing plot pieces.

    Stopping in the middle of a sentence has never worked for me. I tend to forget what I was going to say. LOL But with a big piece I make short notes and/or outlines of chapters so I have an idea where I’m headed in the future.

    I also like spending some time with the characters and seeing what they tell me. If I’m lucky, they’ll take the lead.

    http://www.starlightblog.com

  7. I admit I’ve done that too – stopped in the middle of a sentence and completely forgotten my idea! Not good. Sometimes, if I’m afraid of that happening, I’ll stop in the middle of the sentence and then type a few quick notes, outlining where I intended to go with the scene.

  8. Marie W. says:

    Great post!! I agree that one needs to be consistent with their writing time each day. I find that I am much more creative during the early morning hours. If I don’t take advantage of this time my brain just doesn’t seem to have the same edge.

  9. I read somewhere that you can “train” your brain to be creative by consistently forcing it to be active at a certain time every day. Don’t know if there’s any truth to that, but I do know that by habitually asking my brain to write at the same time every day, the brain juices usually ready to flow whenever I sit down to write.

  10. Belle L. says:

    Glad to hear that you have been known to hit your head against the keyboard. You are human. 😉 Though from you posts you’d never know you ever had a hard time with your writing.

  11. Hi there. I’m a member of Christian Writers and I followed your link from a post there.

    Some great advice. The idea to brainstorm before sitting down is always good to remember.

    I will often take a walk before I start writing. Just five minutes outside without the distraction of TV, computer, books or even other people really helps me to get quiet and think.

  12. Hi, Patty! Yes, walking, doing the dishes, weeding, sweeping – mindless tasks like that always get my brain churning. I generally tend to do my “creative lollygagging” after a writing session when my mind is still churning. Helps me decompress.

  13. Lorna G. Poston says:

    I commute one hour and twenty minutes—in each direction—five days a week to my job. Lots of time to think. I keep a tape recorder handy. If I get an idea, I can just punch a button and talk, rather than scrambling for pen and paper, then trying to write while controlling the car at the same time. (never a good idea. Could get messy that way.)

  14. I tried once to record myself telling a story, instead of writing it down. I felt so darn stupid it never got very far! But it’s a great idea to use while driving.

  15. I find that when I’m stuck trying to write something, I go back and look at what I just wrote. Then, instead of moving the story forward, I take the same scenario and write it in another character’s perspective. This allows me to keep “those creative juices flowing” and also develop other characters and make more than just the main character dynamic and round.

  16. thomas h cullen says:

    To fight Writer’s Block, I would approach it the same way I’d approach general life: recognise the whole reality.

    Everyday, I pass by trees, I walk up “Vicarage Rd”, and then cross through “The Avenue” (one of the most beautiful roads a person could ever experience); commonly, I experience these, meaning the easiness it would be to just overlook them, and to not treat them as being by themselves worth living life for.

    It’s our second nature to overlook, to trivialise so much of what happens all around us. You want to fight writer’s block? Incorporate as much of life as you can around you! Recognise the whole reality!

    Recognise the entirety of your being!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Being out in the world and experiencing life is just good sense for writers anyway. But this is especially good advice when dealing with a block. If nothing else, it gives our subconscious a chance to work things over.

  17. For introverted characters that lead me to the brick wall, I’ve often employed the question method. Sometimes it untangles the snarl speedily, and sometimes it takes more time, but I’m always glad for the extra information.

    All these tips are so key. And having a sister who will keep you company while you ask yourself questions helps, too. 😉

    ~Schuyler
    http://www.ladybibliophile.blogspot.com

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I love strong and silent characters, but I hear you: sometimes their silence drives me up the wall! Cracking them is always rewarding though.

  18. When I get stuck, I pull out my notebook and journal from my character’s perspective. It helps me sort things out in my own life, so it was a natural step to get my characters journaling. Not only does it get me going again, but it gets me into their head in a way nothing else has.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Smart! When in doubt, shake things up. And looking closer at characters is always a good idea.

  19. Agreed. Prompts work but are more an exercise that can summon the muse… The block or the paralyzingly empty page usually comes down to the story just not fleshed out completely. That wall or block is not to be looked at as a hinderance, but as an opportunity for discovery and creativity. Meet you at the mailbox K!

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