Your desk could be a little neater, couldn’t it? Yeah, worth getting that right.
“Then I’ll get cracking,” you tell yourself.
And it’d be better if you had a glass of water and a cup of tea to hand. Brewed just right. No one wants to risk a sudden onset of thirst breaking their flow.
“That said, maybe I should just go to the bathroom once more…”
The fire-eyed, dragon-headed Typhon of writer’s block comes in many forms.
It might come deviously clothed as procrastination. You’ll sit down to write and before you know it you’ve cleaned the entire flat, put up a shelf and built a wardrobe… and the whole week’s lost to the wind.
At other times it’s a white terror. You’ve a deadline to hit and you’d have damn well hit it if you weren’t such a bad writer. And a terrible person to boot.
So what do you do?
First, a Health Warning
Let’s get one thing straight: ‘writer’s block’ isn’t a helpful term.
For most, it’s a symptom of anxiety.
But it’s also a result of stretching. Of trying something new. Something that requires – dare I suggest such a thing – original thought.
We all have times we’re writing and times we’re not writing. (Likely the latter about fourteen times more than the former.)
And putting a big scary name on it that we can obsess over just gives us another stick to beat ourselves with.
Whereas if you’ve written anything at all you’re a writer. And as a result, I for one think you’re pretty brilliant.
So the key is to focus on the work. The action of writing. Getting the flow moving, no matter what’s coming out.
And that’s exactly what these tips will help you do. Tangible tasks that will put the focus back on doing, not on not doing.
Ready to get things flowing?
DON’T COME UP WITH ONE PERFECT IDEA. COME UP WITH LOTS.
When you’re searching for the perfect idea, it’s so easy to obsess. And the pressure that’s put on your creative spark is enough to blow anyone’s fuse box.
Instead, concentrate on coming up with as many ideas as you possibly can. Good ones. Bad ones. Truly dreadful ones that make you laugh like a maniac. You want them all.
There’s no filtering, no stopping allowed. Just keep them coming and write them all down.
Because if writing is like a river, you’ve got to keep it flowing to spot the best fish. And who knows, somewhere in that haul of trash you might just have something special.
(For a better, drain-based analogy that’s sure to get you going, check out The Royal Literary Fund’s advice.)
YOU’RE WRITING TOO WELL
I know it sounds odd, but chances are you’re being a perfectionist. Which makes sense! If you care about your work you likely want to get it as sharp as possible.
But there’s a time and a place for perfectionism. And that’s at the end of the process.
If you try to get things spot on right away, all you’ll do is kill your flow.
So do what you can to turn off that filter. Let the ideas in and the words out before you decide if they’re any good.
For me, a three stage approach helps builds momentum, especially for shorter writing:
- A ‘brain dump’ or ‘splurge’ session
- Chuck down anything and everything that might possibly be relevant, in any order, anywhere on the page. This is crucial: at no point should you think about actually writing the damn thing.
- This is also a good chance to copy and paste relevant research into your document.
- A full work-through
- Work your way through the draft, finding a structure that works so you have something written for each section. (Reading back and fine-tuning is still banned.)
- Time to polish, time to read what you’ve written as if it’s someone else’s work. And to be happily surprised.
- You’re unlikely to have a full draft – or to feel like you’ve even written anything – until this stage.
And just like that, it’s done!
DON’T WRITE THE FINAL DRAFT. JUST WRITE THE NEXT DRAFT.
If you knew you were eating your very last meal, it’d be quite hard to enjoy wouldn’t it? You might even forget how to use a fork properly.
Writing is no different. And if you want to beat writer’s block it’s important to embrace the power you have to change things.
Unless you’re self-tattooing in indelible ink, your words can be edited. Files can be deleted. Notes can be rewritten or even burned.
Nothing is final.
And if you tell yourself you’re just writing the next version – just moving things one step closer to some kind of finished work – you’ll find it a whole lot easier to dial back your self-doubt.
BURST THE DAM…
This is a fun one.
It’s time to get those floodgates clinging on at the hinges. If floodgates have hinges.
You’re going to break down your perfectionist instinct with the worst writing you can muster.
I’m serious. I want you to write the worst possible version of whatever you’re struggling with.
You can even sing it as you write. If that helps.
And when you’re done, you might just work out how to make it better.
If you find your block really starting to shift, try some automatic writing (in which you write non-stop without filter), or Julie Cameron’s Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way.
…OR SKIP RIGHT PAST IT
If the dam won’t break, why keep pushing?
You don’t have to smash your head against the wall. Just go around it. Skip past.
Jump forward to something you do want to write.
And when finally you do look back, it might suddenly seem a whole lot easier.
YOU CAN’T WRITE A MOUNTAIN
Ok, calm down Dame Julie.
This is all about setting achievable goals. If your plan for the day is to ‘write a novel’, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
So rather than trying to write the whole thing, just go after the bit that’s in front of you now. Find a place to start – and it really can be anywhere – and get stuck in.
And if you have a good stint, why not take a break?
ATTACK IT FROM A NEW ANGLE
Time to sneak up on it!
What if you storyboarded a section first? Or scoped out the structure in bullet points?
Or wrote a spit draft, where you jot down what will go there, rather than the actual writing itself?
Or what if you summarised it in images, or gifs, or scribbles?
Think about who you’re writing for. Can you imagine them as one specific person?
Or if you’ve got research to do, can you delve into that for a bit? It might just give you a new angle.
For more ways to look at your work, check out our very own 13 Lenses Methodology.
LOOK AT THE STRUCTURE
Writer’s block can often be a symptom of a problem with the material. And those issues are often down to a structure that isn’t fit for purpose.
So if you’re losing track, start a fresh document and revisit the order of events.
Break down what you’ve got into scenes, sections or beats. Title them, and write those on post-it notes. Lay them out in order, and start to play.
What if something near the end was your opening? Does that section really need to sit before the next one? Is there anything that is starting to look a bit out of place?
Shaking up the structure, or even just reminding yourself of it, can really help to get you back into the rhythm of your writing.
If it’s really not happening, go for a walk. Take a drive. Get some exercise. Find somewhere else to work.
Sometimes the light of inspiration only turns on when we’re not looking at it.
FINALLY, BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Writing is blooming hard. And to make new connections your brain needs stimulus and time.
We simply can’t focus on one thing non-stop. So if you find yourself writing in small chunks, or tab-jumping, be kind to yourself. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
You’ll soon learn to spot when your brain is putting off work, and when it just needs a little time to digest.
And, most of all, trust that it will come back. A lot of writing takes place in the subconscious, so respect the process, give yourself time, and don’t tie yourself to a strict schedule of suffering.
BONUS TIP #11
Do you try and squeeze out all the writing you can each day? It’s natural to try and catch the wave.
But next time, see if you can stop when you’re in a good flow.
That way, you’ll want to come back.
Happy scribing, you legend.