How to Beat Writer's Block
About the Author: Kate Johnston
A published author, Kate runs a story coaching business where she helps aspiring authors bust through writer’s block so they can write on a regular basis, finish their projects, and get their work into the hands of rabid readers. You can download her free resource, The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Busting Through Writer’s Block, by clicking here.
Married with two children, Kate writes fiction at four in the morning (the best time of day for writing without interruptions), teaches creative writing to kids in after-school enrichment programs, and has a fundraising book project called Dare to be a Voice that features local students’ short fiction focusing on environmental issues. All proceeds from sales of Dare to be a Voice are donated to non-profit organizations.
You can learn more about Kate’s work at www.katejohnstonauthor.com & follow her on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin. You can also join Kate’s community for writers, Team Writer, today.
Writer’s block is a fancy-schmancy term for getting stuck. It is a misnomer, and it's time we take our power back and beat writer's block together.
Writers, being somewhat eccentric and moody, vulnerable to imaginary worlds and people that actually exist in their work, accidentally gave getting stuck power when they named it "writer's block." In the words of Mike Wazowski of Monsters Inc., "You're not supposed to name it. Once you name it, you start getting attached to it." Seriously, it's like naming the stray kitten you found on the street.
And getting stuck happens in all areas of life. People get stuck on how to decorate a room, how to build a storage unit, how to bake a cheese soufflé, what to do with that stray kitten on the street… (Quick tip: Don't look 'em in the eyes. Stray kitties can smell fear, and that's when they attack you with their cuteness.)
In the above examples, the most common reason one might get stuck is because they lack enough information to proceed.
I certainly can’t begin to know how to bake a cheese soufflé so that it doesn't collapse in a sad pile, so I’m stuck. Does this mean I stare for days on end at the eggs, cheese, butter, oven, baking dish, whisk, and spices? Certainly not. The ingredients would go bad, I need the counter space for other jobs, and frankly, I would look like a fool to anyone sauntering through the kitchen.
So I have a choice: either I give up the endeavor and put all the tools and equipment away, or I continue on with the project. If I choose the latter option, I'd look up a few recipes and follow the directions and hope for the best. If it's a #soufflefail, then I'm still led to another choice. Try again or give up. The cycle continues as long as necessary.
Every time, my choice comes down to how badly do I want to bake the cheese soufflé, and the same is true with writing. The two main reasons writers get stuck are because they either don’t have enough information or they fear failure. Today, let’s take a look at a few ways we can tackle these issues and beat writer’s block no matter when it appears…
Solution #1: BEAT WRITER'S BLOCK WITH RESEARCH.
Fill up on as much information as possible so that you can proceed. Even if you think you’re collecting ideas that aren’t appropriate for your project, those will lead you to better ideas. The more ideas you have, the more information you have to move forward with your writing.
I will say, however, that researching instead of actively writing can lead you into dangerous terrain. Often, research poses as a crutch in the face of fear. If you're researching more than you’re actively writing, that’s a red flag. Which leads me to my next trick ...
Solution #2: BEAT WRITER'S BLOCK BY WRITING ANYWAY.
One of my many mantras is “the more you write, the more you write.”
Staring at your notebook paper or blinking cursor does not magically produce words. Actively writing is what produces words. They could be the wrong words, but in putting them down on paper, you tune into your writing flow. Sometimes you simply have to let the junk pour out before the good ideas come forth.
If you've completed your research or if you find you're researching more than actively writing, then stick a place-holder in that trouble spot and work on another area of your project. The worst thing you can do when you get stuck is stay in that place, worrying it until you've worn a hole in your imagination.
You have a book, essay, article, or post that needs attention. Your story may be pressing you with new characters, subplots, and ideas. Don’t leave those areas unwritten just because you can’t figure out how to set up, develop, or fix that one spot in your book. Jot down or type in “TBD” or some other call-to-action you can easily search or otherwise find in your draft and move on.
You may find that you’ve ended up with multiple places where you’ve scribbled “TBD” and they’ve been there for three or four drafts. It’s okay. You’re a writer. You will figure it out.
Solution #3: BEAT WRITER'S BLOCK BY BELIEVING IN YOURSELF.
Writer’s block becomes dangerous when you don’t take action against it. If you sit there and obsess over the fact that you don’t know how to get out of the corner into which you’ve written yourself, the block gets worse. It gains power over you, and then it preys on your confidence.
Loss of confidence breeds fear, and fear makes writer's block worse. It's also true that self-doubt can breed writer's block, turning this into a Catch-22. You’re feeling insecure about your writing abilities, hit a shaky point in your book, get blocked, and now your fear that you aren’t a very good writer have been proven. So you stay blocked.
Developing a positive creative mindset is a powerful antidote for this vicious cycle. Some methods to pivot from fear and self-doubt to confidence include:
Reaching out to other writers
Reading authors who inspire you
Nurturing your creativity in other favorite ways
A final word of warning on writer’s block…
Do not mistake laziness or lack of interest in your book for writer’s block. If you find you’re regularly getting stuck and taking long breaks from your manuscript while you conduct “much-needed research,” there’s a deeper issue going on. It could be that your book’s concept isn’t strong enough. It could be that you’re writing at the wrong time of day, that you lack belief in yourself, or that your habitat is flawed.
While writer’s block getting stuck is a real issue, it doesn’t pose a serious hazard to writers who love what they do, who have a solid handle on their projects, who believe they can be successful, and who are willing and enthusiastic to work despite any pushback. Such writers figure it out because writing is a driving force in their lives.
If you’re struggling with writer’s block, take some time to thoroughly and objectively assess your state of mind regarding your book. It’s okay to admit that you don’t have a great book idea. It’s okay to realize you’ve set up a habitat that was bound to fail. If writing is a driving force in your life, fix these issues and get back to work.
Hitting writer’s block is not a good enough reason to abandon your story.
Download my FREE guide to help you assess your manuscript at the developmental level so you can bust through that logjam. This guide:
Encourages you to assess your manuscript with a critical eye so you can catch your errors and write a stronger next draft.
Provides big-picture questions that help reveal flaws at the story level.
Helps you examine your story with an eye for detail so that you can hone key elements for vibrant and engaging storytelling.