I should be getting words on the page for my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) goal, but instead I’m procrastinating. This is my version of the dreaded writer’s block.
But you’re still writing…
Yes, I can hear you 😉. You’re right, I am still writing. But writer’s block is unique to each of us, though we face similar challenges. What’s blocking me isn’t not knowing what to write, but not believing that my fiction is as important as paying the bills. It’s like saying Art and Music should but cut from the school curriculum because Math and Science are more important. They’re not. They’re just important for different reasons.
If you’ve ever suffered from severe writer’s block, you might constantly be on the search for the one perfect answer to:
How can I get past my writer’s block?
The simple and only true answer is:
You need to get out of your own head.
Goodness, that sounds harsh, doesn’t it?
In my opinion, there are two basic types of writers who face blocks: those who battle with fear, and those who push too hard
If you question whether you’re qualified enough to write, have anything new/important to say, or even dread writing something not good enough (every writer qualifies this differently), then before you can even start to look at the various ways to spark your muse, you need to do some serious self-care.
Give yourself permission to write crap.
It’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. Depending on how many demons you have weighing your shoulders down, how many times you’ve heard that writing is a dead-end job, or you’re born a writer not made into one, or that your writing sucks (either said by someone else or yourself), this could be a long-term hurtle for you – and that’s okay. No one is expected to write the perfect story the first time. That’s why we have editors and beta readers and friends to rely on. It’s a team effort.
My suggestion is to try talking about your fear. Find a support group, a friend, a therapist, your grandmother, or journal. Until you are able to embrace the fact there’s no wrong way to write, and that your thoughts/words are just as valuable as the next person’s, getting beyond your block will be an Atlas-level event. You will carry a world of negativity and self-doubt on your shoulders making it nigh on impossible to write. So, if this sounds like you, take care of yourself. You’re important.
Discover ways to trust yourself and believe in the power of you again.
Once you are able to embrace even a small amount of positive energy about the worth of your writing and your stories, you will be able to learn how to tap into your muse better.
If you find yourself pushing too hard, it comes down to finding a balance between enticing your muse and knowing when to stop pushing the ideas and words, and take a step back.
Honestly, if you sit and stare at your writing waiting for your brain to kick-in, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Grant it, some people work great under pressure, and it’s a deadline threatening to race by that gets the words on the page; but often your creative juices dry up and you simply don’t know what to write.
You need to give yourself permission to fall down a rabbit hole.
Even Alice had help and advice, tools to help her through her adventures. Let’s roll up our sleeves and see what you’ve got.
- Me Time: Back away from the computer/notebook slowly and invest yourself in something else. Something enjoyable and maybe even fun. Give your brain a break and it will keep mulling over your blockage. It’s the old adage: you’ll remember “it” when you stop thinking about “it.”
- Deep Research: Choose something in your story that you’ve glossed over or made a side notation to look into more later, or an event/situation/etc. that is coming up in the manuscript and dig into it now. Become a temporary expert on that topic and let your mind wander with the possibility of it. You’d be surprised how going deeper can sometimes unlock those closed doors.
- Character Development: Look at where you’ve stopped writing. Who is the focus of the scene? Pick two characters to do a background check on. Become a private investigator and dig into every dirty little secret, everything that could possibly make them tick, right down to why they put their right sock on before their left when they get dressed. Often, this will loosen a nugget of gold that will provide a clue for how to move forward.
- Free Writing/Journaling: Simply put, write about something else. That doesn’t mean you have to start a whole new novel or short story or even a freelance article (coughs). Just write. Write “I don’t know what to write” over and over and over again until you get bored and start writing something else. Or journal about your day, something that happened in your past, something a family member is struggling with, write your bucket list, the grocery list, but write. And let the words keep coming. Get your thoughts out of your head and on the page.
- Read: Now, don’t toss this out straight off. I know you don’t want to have what you’re reading influence what you’re writing and then end up rewriting someone else’s story. The fact that you have this level of awareness means you won’t. But if you’re still concerned, chose a book in a different genre or sub-genre than what you’re writing now. Get lost in the story but let your writer’s brain work in the background. See how the author plays with the craft of writing. You’d be surprised how inspired you can get by reading good writing.
- Walk in Their Shoes: If it’s at all possible, find a way to learn more about the characters and/or situation where you stopped in your manuscript. Talk to real people about their experiences if you can’t walk in those shoes yourself. Never been to outer space? Visit the planetarium or plan a trip to Cape Canaveral (sometimes just planning the trip and not going is enough to spark something). Allow yourself to experience something relatable to your book. You’ll gain a wealth of knowledge and sensory experience to draw on.
- Hang with Your Tribe: Whether it’s in person, over the phone, or online, find a group of writers who “get you” and spend time with them. Maybe it’s meeting a colleague over coffee, or attending a workshop, or going to a critique meeting; whatever it is, by surrounding yourself with other writers, people who know what you’re going through, you will draw from their energy. If you feel comfortable, you could even brainstorm your current story blockage with them. You’ll get some great ideas that you probably won’t ever use, but they just might spark the right one in you.
Whatever you do, be pro-active about what’s keeping you from moving forward and getting the words on the page. You have a story to tell, and someone out there needs to hear it.