Tips for Beating Writer’s Block
WHAT IS WRITER’S BLOCK?
In the writing world, is there anything more infamous than writer’s block? Ah, the dreaded fever that takes us over, freezing our fingers, making it impossible to spit a single fresh word out onto the page.
Now, I won’t lie to you, for years I considered writer’s block to be a myth. A bullshit excuse we make up when things are hard and we can’t make the space to write, or when the project is stalling out and we don’t know what to do next. But bullshit excuses or no, there is no denying that sometimes life explodes all around us, and sometimes projects do stall out - so I really did believe in writer’s block all along… I was just calling it by a different name. Long story short, I have some methods for defeating the snarling beast of writer’s block, and they’ve been pretty damn foolproof for me, so I’m going to share them with you!
First of all, I separate writer’s block into two separate categories. The first is the most common - I usually just call it Being Stuck. You are drafting like a maniac… and then one day you hit a wall. You’re stuck, story-wise. Whomp, whomp. The second type is burnout. Your brain is fried and it waves the white flag and says “stop, I can’t do this anymore!” It’s super important to identify which type of writer’s block you’re bumping into, though, because the methods of treatment are radically different.
HOW TO TELL WHAT KIND OF WRITER’S BLOCK YOU HAVE:
Take a WIP Temperature Check: How do you feel about your project right now? Do you hate literally everything about it? (It happens to all of us. On every project. Unpleasant but normal af.) Do your characters feel flat or inconsistent? Is your plot suddenly feeling wooden, or impossible to execute? If just reading this list is making your heart rate rise and frustration color your cheeks… congrats, you probably have Type A Writer’s Block - Just Being Stuck.
Take a Life Temperature Check: How is everything else going in your life? Is your day job BLOWING UP with craziness? Have the kids (or you!) been sick for what feels like a month and a half? Are you grieving a loss? Is the world suddenly falling apart due to a pandemic unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetime and the news tells us every five seconds that we’re all going to die OH WAIT, THAT ONE IS ALL OF US RIGHT NOW, 2020 IS A WAKING NIGHTMARE. Any giant life stressers can be a great indicator that you might be experiencing Type B Writer’s Block - Burnout.
Lastly… Take a Gut Check: Trust your gut here. Not your brain - your brain is a lazy son-of-a-bitch who will always say “I’m DEFINITELY burned out, time for some self-care!” *closes laptop* Your gut will be honest with you, though. If it feels squirmy when you say you’re burned out… bad news friend, you’re probably just stuck.
TREATING TYPE A WRITER’S BLOCK:
This is my favorite type of writer’s block because the way to treat it is, uh... get to work, son! Usually all it takes to kick this kind of block right in its teeth is to power through. Sometimes I just like to give myself absolute permission to write shit for an hour or so. I’m turning out garbage right now… So what? I’ll make it less garbage-y later. Keep tappin’ away at those keys, fingers! Eventually I’ll break through and get back to a normal rhythm.
Sometimes that’s not enough, though. In these cases, usually it means I’m stuck on something that is indirectly affecting what I’m writing. For example, I can’t make myself write the next plot point because that point sounded great in the outline, but now that I’m staring at the draft, it’s going to be super out of character for my MC. Or maybe I haven’t done enough research on a certain topic. Stuck in the middle of a fast-paced battle sequence in the middle of an ocean storm? Well, maybe you don’t know enough about naval battles to write that shit yet. When these things are the issue it’s actually better to take a break from drafting and get to work on the underlying issues for a day or two… then come back at the draft swinging. Chances are you’ll be so inspired by the new info or the plot revision that you will be raring to go.
TREATING TYPE B WRITER’S BLOCK:
The treatment for Burnout is the exact opposite as the treatment for Just Being Stuck. It’s to take a break, you workaholic! And don’t just take a break and go binge-watch something on Netflix either. DO something else. For me, physical activity is usually best. I’ll go for a nice walk, or hit the gym and beat the crap out of a heavy bag for an hour or so (though at present getting in a good workout at home is probably wiser!).
Maybe a few hours isn’t enough to reset you, though. Maybe you are SUPER burned out. Life has been kicking you for weeks and, to use the lingo of the kiddos, you “can’t even.” These times are very rare for me, but when they happen I usually just try to go about my normal schedule for a few days or weeks, but I replace any time I would normally have spent writing with reading. And I mean reading something fun, too, not research. Usually reading something awesome reminds me why I love the magic of writing in the first place. Then, after I’ve taken a bit of a breather I’m ready to jump back into the game!
So, there you have it! I won’t say these methods will be foolproof for everyone, but they have been for me, so far. What are your favorite methods for kicking writer’s block to the curb? Chat with me on Twitter @mj_kuhn and let me know!