This topic is fairly near and dear to me right now as I try to power through a first draft of the last book in my chick lit series, Sex, Life, & Hannah. Writer’s block is inevitable and the only way to conquer it is to accept its existence as part of the writing process instead of letting it completely discourage you from achieving your writing goal. When it happens, get proactive instead of reactive, and try one (or ten) of these things that I do to get past that pesky little demon of stagnation.
1. Don’t look back. You’re stuck. You’ve been stuck for what feels like (or maybe has been) hours. Maybe you should just read what you wrote yesterday or the day before? I say DON’T, because what is likely going to happen is editing, which might turn into self-doubt, which might turn into opening that bottle of wine so you can drown your sorrows, instead of writing and moving forward with your story.
2. Outline the scene instead of write the scene. You’re stuck and starting to feel anxious. I find it calming to jot down five to ten bullet points of what I know I want, or need, to happen in a particular part of my story instead of sweating bullets trying to write something eloquent or inspired. Inspiration can be a moody bitch, so don’t push her too far.
3. Write some background about your character. This is a great piece of advice I received from my screenwriting instructor at UCLA about how to jump start story ideas. Write about where your character came from, what kind of family and friends are in your character’s inner circle, significant relationships, significant events. When you start thinking about who your character is and the lineage of their life, the next bit of story often writes itself.
4. Go non-linear. Maybe you’re not inspired to write the scene you’re supposed to because you’re thinking of this great other scene, but you don’t know where that scene fits in yet. Just write it. Getting something on the page will get the creativity flowing more so than staring at a blank page.
5. Change your writing environment. I have a great office with lots of natural light, but even though it’s perfect for getting client work done, it’s not as inspiring for getting creative work done. So I move. To my dining room table, or my bed if it’s late at night. Coffee shops are so cliché but admittedly the buzz of people around me with my headset tightly packed into each ear is sometimes just the right amount of energy needed to clear the creative cobwebs. Lately, I’ve also been giving the local library a whirl. No fun drinks or snacks, but something about being surrounded by books is a good kick in the butt.
6. Talk it out. Writing is such a solitary venture for the most part, that even a little conversation with a friend who you know is an avid book reader can go a long way to lighting a creative fire. I’m lucky to live with a fellow writer and trouble shoot those spots where my mind draws a blank, but I’ve also joined writing groups and used past beta readers and editors to brainstorm sticky corners I’ve written myself into and don’t know how to get out of.
7. Take a break. I know. One of the worst faux pas you can commit as a writer is to stop writing. Something about discipline goes a long way…but there’s also something about a long run, or spin class, or yoga session, and definitely pumping a little iron that goes a long way to clearing your mind of the clutter that’s causing your writer’s block.
8. Find inspiration in other art. Sometimes, the best cure for the blues, is to listen to the blues. Take a few hours to watch a movie, read a book, listen to a new album, or go to a museum. Immersing myself in other art reminds me of why I became an artist in the first place…and why I need to sit myself back down in front of the computer and keep pushing.
9. Do something your character would do…in the name of research. I know this sounds a little strange, especially if you’re writing a historical romance about a werewolf disguised as a billionaire rancher, but I’m not talking about wearing a full-on Halloween costume in the middle of March. I’m talking about going to the Opera if you’re trying to write a scene about a black-tie event, or going to the beach if your lifeguard is about to rescue his future love interest from a shark attack, or a casino if there’s a high stakes poker match in your chapter. Getting those physical sights, sounds, smells, and conversations is sometimes all the inspiration you need, and may even send you on an inspiring adventure that you can write about later…
10. Ask yourself questions…especially before bed. I have to credit my fellow author Susan Squires for this last tidbit. She did a fabulous presentation last year for LARA on how the brain works as it relates to creative writing and how when we ask questions our brain continues to work on answers subconsciously even when we’re too exhausted. A great insight that I can now attest, works brilliantly.
Remember, writer’s block is totally normal and plagues all of us. Keep writing!