I’ve been wanting to write something on this for a while but have shied away from it – probably because, when it comes to overcoming writer’s block, there’s no such thing as a magic wand. Sorry.
But I can give you some of my own experiences with this god-awful phenomenon and, hopefully, you may find something useful in there. Even if it’s just the knowledge that you’re not alone!
Every block is different
Most writers will tell you that the process for writing every book is different – just as any mother will tell you that every pregnancy is different. Writer’s block is the same.
It can happen for endless different reasons, for combinations of reasons and, seemingly, for no reason at all. But it’s worth thinking about why you might be blocked, since this may help steer you towards a solution (if there be one) for overcoming it. Time to dig deep.
Where are you emotionally?
Writing is an emotional thing and, when you’re going through an emotional period in your life (whether up or down), there’s often nothing left at the end of the day for writing. Unfortunately there’s unlikely to be much you can do but wait for the period to pass; unless of course you’ve identified why you’re emotional and it’s something you can change (eg do you hate your job? Get another one).
Are you too happy?
Most artists will understand this. To write, I need to be a bit sad – wallowing in a gentle state of melancholy works best (at least for me). There’s music in sadness, and without it I can’t write. I remember when I fell in love a few years ago and, prior to that, I’d been in the peak writing zone of my life. But after the fall, my writing went out the window and no amount of listening to mournful music could get me where I needed to be. So I had to wait it out. Nothing else for it.
Are you too sad?
Similar to the above, if you’re in the depths of depression, you may be able to write but you’ll likely hate what you produce. Believe me, I’ve been there – and what came out in that time was mostly self-indulgent drivel. Having said this, some of that drivel made a useful starting point when I dragged myself up to the surface again, so don’t discard it. And if you haven’t heard of narrative therapy, Google it. Writing helps, whatever its purpose.
What’s going on in your life?
My husband and I migrated to Berlin for around two years at the beginning of 2012. We’re back in Australia now, and thank god for that. My writing suffered over there more than it ever has before; anyone who’s migrated will know just how much that process can take out of you, particularly when things never level themselves again or take a long time to do so.
I had actually thought that migrating would help with my writing because it would give me new material. I based this on the amount of writing that emerged when I moved into my house in 2009. I was wrong. Migrating depleted my energy levels and nothing was left for the white page. Again, I had to wait it out.
Is it self-imposed paralysis?
Are you too critical of your own work? Are you not getting enough encouragement from yourself and/or others? Have you been reading too many books by brilliant writers recently and is this making you feel like an incompetent baboon?
Ditch the good stuff. Read crap. I’m serious. You don’t even need to buy it – searching the net for various blogs and articles will show you just how many people can’t write, can’t spell and don’t understand grammar. I realise this sounds a bit mean, but in the service of getting our pens moving or our keyboards clacking, sometimes those downward comparisons can work (‘Well at least I know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, so maybe I’m not that bad’; or ‘Even if my grammar sucks, at least I know how to create good characters’).
Also, give your writing to some friends. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone who can provide useful criticisms and encouragement.
You know that thing when you see a new movie and say, ‘Oh, that’s the actor from that film and his name is…’ and you don’t remember the details until the film has finished and your friends have left so you can’t tell them?
Same principle – looking at things directly doesn’t always help. I remember in my final year of school that I would do jigsaw puzzles when I was writing assignments/essays and didn’t know what to say. The answers would often come to me when I was concentrating on something else, like finding all the edge pieces. Let your subconscious mind do its own thing. Free it. It’s smarter than you are.
Work on anything but your novel/story/article
If I’m having trouble with a novel I’m working on, I often force myself to write something else – an email, a blog post, something for work. Writing other stuff can get things moving in your mind, or at least make you realise just how much you prefer working on your primary project instead. That in itself is helpful.
Critique someone else’s work
I’m lucky enough to have a few writer friends to swap work with. I’m often asking to see their work – not only because I want to, but also for selfish reasons: seeing holes in others’ work can help me see them in my own. My friends say the same. It really does help to have a network.
Go back to old stories
Have no ideas? Rework something old and make it better. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s resulted in re-casting some short stories, a few of which have gone on to win placings in competitions. You don’t always have to write something new or have new ideas. Go back to old ideas/work and see what you can do.
Whenever I’m not in the mood for writing, I research instead. As writers we need to be accurate about historical details and the like, so go through your project and fact-check anything that needs checking. You’ll feel like you’re writing even though you’re not, and you’ll be moving your project forward even if you’re not writing those beautiful sentences you’re so desperate to write.
That’s all from me for now! Do you have any ways of overcoming the dreaded block? If so, I’d love to hear them.