Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. Every writer has encountered this obstruction of creativity at some point, and everyone has their own way of overcoming it. Some are proactive and try to find a way around it, while some step back and wait for inspiration to strike. As someone who’s tried it both ways, I have to be honest – people who wait around for inspiration to strike will often end up waiting a very long time.

Here are some things I’ve tried that have helped immensely:

1.) Tell yourself you only have to write a tiny bit. Limiting your assignment to one page, one paragraph or even just a few sentences can really take away the pressure, which is often what is causing your block in the first place. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, also recommends giving yourself short assignments. In her case, she only has to write as much as she can see through a one-inch picture frame, and no more. If you feel inspired to continue – great! If not, that’s okay, too. At least you’ve done something.

2.) Rituals. Many writers have rituals that help to get them in the mood for writing. Some put on music, or sip their favorite beverage, or have a special room for writing, or even go for a walk and think about what they’re going to write about. Whatever it is, it has to work for you. The first few times you try it, it may not have the desired effect, but after it becomes a habit, it often has the ability to gently coax you into the writing spirit. If not, try something else!

3.) Try rewriting a paragraph or two from your favorite book in your own words and using your characters instead of the author’s. The reason this works is that it gets you writing in your own voice and often inspires ideas for your own story.

4.) Write about something else. Take a day off from your story and work on something you’ve set aside. Sometimes taking a day to focus on something else will be just what you need to get back to your project.

5.) Write a description of one of your characters. Or all of them. This works great, because often you discover something about them that you’ve never thought of before, and this can add great plotlines to your story.

6.) Try a writing exercise. Most writing exercises are designed to draw out your creativity with the process of improvisational writing. I have found this to be very effective, and often, it can lead to ideas for future stories. One of my old college professors used to challenge us to a 15 minute “Quickwrite”. He would write a topic on the board, and then tell us to start. This forced us to write off the tops of our heads without thinking about how it sounded. We were not allowed to go back and read it or fix anything until the end. Some of the best writing was achieved in this way, because it forces you to drop your inhibitions. Try it!

7.) Change your scenery. If you’re used to writing in your dining room or your home office, perhaps a change of scenery is all it will take to raise your inspiration levels. Try writing while sitting at a café or on a bench at the park, or on a lawn chair in your backyard. If you don’t have a laptop and don’t like writing by hand, try the library. Most libraries have computers that you can use for free if you have a library card.

8.) Change things up a little. If you already have a writing ritual, and it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick anymore, maybe it’s time to change things a little. Change stimulates your brain, which results in an increase in creativity and a decrease in writer’s block. If you usually write in the morning, try writing in the afternoon or evening. If you usually listen to classical music, try listening to rock. Do something different, and see how your brain, and writing, responds.

9.) Never finish your sentences. Another little trick I’ve heard is to never end your writing for the day with a complete sentence. This will allow you to jump back into the same flow of writing as when you left off. This can prevent writer’s block because you’ll immediately know what to write and you’ll avoid staring at your computer screen for 20 minutes while you figure out what happens next.

10.) Realize that you don’t have to write the story in chronological order from beginning to end. Instead, think of yourself as a movie director. They shoot scenes in random order and then piece them all together to create the final product. Some scenes get cut, some get moved around and some get changed or reshot. You can do this with your story, as well. If the scene you’re working on isn’t working for you, jump to a different scene. You may change your mind and decide not to go in that direction after all, but the good news is – at least you got yourself writing again.

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Resistance

Here’s a quote from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield about resistance – one of the worst forms of procrastination:

If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet, no Golden Gate Bridge.  Defeating Resistance is like giving birth.  It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.

Take that, resistance.

Slacker

For all of you who have been waiting so long for me to update, I apologize, and thank you for your patience.  Summer is here, as I’m sure you all know, and the combination of that, and still not being done with my novel is making it a bit difficult for me to get on here and update.

The good news is, I figured out where my story is going.  The bad news is, I’m not quite there, yet.  I promise that soon my first draft will be complete and I will be back here in full force, talking about the next steps of novel writing – editing, more editing, and even more editing.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, just so I don’t leave you lonely for so long again, I’ve decided to post some book reviews I’ve written recently as well as some fun writing exercises, just to keep you all limber.

Hope you’re all having a great summer, and happy writing!

Roadblocks

So, fellow writers, after plugging away faithfully for over two months, we’re nearing the end of our challenge.  I have to confess I’ve allowed myself to get distracted over the last few weeks, and I’ve become quite a procrastinator.  One of the reasons this has happened is the weather.  It’s next to impossible to stay inside when the weather is as gorgeous as it’s been the last few weeks.  Two, I moved, and I’ve been unpacking like crazy.  I can’t stand to look at boxes and misplaced items everywhere, so I’ve been dedicating a lot of my free time to this task.  Three, my husband, who has been working 6 pm – 6 am for the last four years of our lives has finally been transferred to day shift, and we’ve been enjoying long, leisurely dinners together and marathons of watching the TV show LOST on Hulu.  Good for our marriage, bad for the writing.

So, with less than three weeks left in the challenge, I still have about a hundred pages left to write.  Not so good.  I’m forcing myself to dedicate this afternoon as well as my entire day off tomorrow to working on my novel, with the hope that I will get caught up.

I hope all of you are having better luck.  I’m at the point in my story where I have to make a decision about how I want it to end.  I’m still a bit undecided about this, so I think I’m just going to have to commit to something and hope for the best.  I can always change it during the editing stage.

Fun fact – did you know that the average novel goes through 10 drafts before being published?  So while we’re nearly finished with our first draft (which I believe is truly half the battle), we still have a ways to go before we begin contacting publishers.

Anyway, I’m off to attempt to write about 25 pages in two days.  Wish me luck.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the biggest reasons first drafts don’t get finished. I know this first hand. I can’t even tell you how many stories I’ve started and then never finished. I think the reason for this is simple – I would begin to think of it as work, rather than entertainment.

The minute writing stops being fun, it becomes a chore, and therefore, you’ll be less likely to do it. The way I’ve gotten past this is just as simple – look at writing as entertainment. Once you get into your story and the characters become real to you, you’ll begin to look forward to sitting down every day to your writing. To me, it’s like watching my favorite TV show, only I get to decide what happens and how it ends. To me, this is more fun than any other thing.

Sure, it’s easy to get sidetracked making dinner, or playing with your kids, or going out with friends, or even watching the latest episode of Lost. There will always be distractions. That is unavoidable. What you can avoid is letting these distractions ruin your chances of becoming a writer. Don’t let them take away from your writing time. If your writing time is every evening at 7, but you end up getting distracted and watching American Idol, maybe it would help to change your writing time. At which point during your day do you feel least distracted? Maybe it’s first thing in the morning before you do anything else. Maybe it’s sitting down for an hour before bed and getting a few pages finished. Any time is better than no time. Maybe you can only afford to spend 20 minutes a day on writing. That’s okay, too, as long as you get in the habit of doing it every day.

What works best for me is writing right before bed. Usually I’ll go to bed an hour or two early, and bring my laptop. I seem to do my best writing at this time of day. Maybe it’s because I’ve had all day to think about what I’m going to write. By the time 9 o clock rolls around, I can’t wait to climb into bed with my laptop and write for a couple of hours.

Another thing to consider – how exciting is your story? If you’re having a hard time getting into your story, perhaps the reader will, too. You might want to consider adding an element of excitement to it. Every story can benefit from a little action, or a little romance, or a little mystery. If you’re excited to write about it, your readers will be excited to read it, too.

Happy writing!