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.

Guidelines For Writing Practice

We all know how important it is to practice your writing every day, or at least almost every day.  The author Judy Reeves has some great writing tips in her book Prompts and Practices.  Some of them are similar to things we’ve already talked about, but there are some new things, as well, and it offers great advice to all writers, whether you’re practicing or working on something.  Here they are:

  1. Keep writing.  Don’t stop to edit, to rephrase, to think.  Don’t go back and read what you’ve written until you’ve finished.
  2. Trust your pen.  Go with the first image that appears.
  3. Don’t judge your writing.  Don’t compare, analyze, criticize.
  4. Let your writing find its own form.  Allow it to organically take shape into a story, an essay, a poem, dialogue, an incomplete meander.
  5. Don’t worry about the rules.  Don’t worry about grammar, syntax, punctuation, or sentence structure.
  6. Let go of your expectations.  Let your writing surprise you.
  7. Kiss your frogs.  Remember, this is just practice.  Not every session will be magic.  The point is to just suit up and show up at the page, no matter what.
  8. Tell the truth.  Be willing to go to the scary places that make your hand tremble and your handwriting gets a little out of control.  Be willing to tell your secrets.
  9. Write specific details.  Your writing doesn’t have to be factual, but the specificity of the details brings it alive.  The truth isn’t in the facts; it’s in the detail.
  10. Write what matters.  If you don’t care about what you’re writing, neither will your readers.  Be a passionate writer.
  11. Read your writing aloud after you’ve completed your practice session.  You’ll find out what you’ve written, what you care about, when you’re writing the truth, and when the writing is “working.”
  12. Date your page and write the topic at the top.  This will keep you grounded in the present and help you reference pieces you might want to use in something else.

First Sentences – Exercise

Here’s a writing exercise for you.  Write five great first sentences, beginning right in the middle of the action.  They can be all for your current novel, or they can be ideas for future novels.  If anything, it’ll get you thinking.

Here are mine:

  1. The school had never closed for any reason, other than weather, but today was different.
  2. The old rocking chair that had been sitting in Old Jim’s yard for thirty years was missing.
  3. The smell was enough to stop him in his tracks.
  4. For days on end, there had been nothing to eat but soup.
  5. Kaitlyn’s heart was racing as she walked up to the little blue house and rang the doorbell.

Feel free to post your first sentence ideas in comments.  I’d love to read them!

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.

What To Do When You’re Stuck

Sometimes you’ll get to a point in your novel when you don’t know what comes next. We’ve all been in this situation, and it can be frustrating. This is the point when many aspiring authors will be tempted to quit, or just put it down for a while until inspiration strikes. Don’t allow yourself to stop. Inspiration is much more likely to strike you while you are writing. It’s best to work through the block. The easiest way to do that is to write with the end in mind. Figure out how you want your story to end, and work towards that.

The twelve-scene diagram is a tool that is very helpful in determining what needs to happen next in your story. The best part about it is that you can do it yourself. Here’s how it works. Get out a piece of paper and number it from one to twelve. Number one will be your opening scene. Number twelve will be your closing scene. All of the numbers in between are what will get you from point 1 to point 12. As you write, fill in the scenes that you’ve already written. This will help you figure out what comes next. For most novels, you’ll want to use something close to the following format:

1. Hero at home living every day life

2. Hero’s belief system changes due to some outside influence

3. Hero consults friends/family/mentor

4. Hero wrestles with choices

5. Hero attempts to make a fresh start or implement a new way new way of thinking

6. Hero is tested

7. Hero is tested again

8. Hero suffers a major setback

9. Hero recovers and improves

10. Hero is on the brink of accomplishment

11. Hero confronts the antagonist

12. Hero succeeds

If you don’t know quite know all of the specifics about how your story is going to end, that’s fine. But if you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen, maybe it’s time to start thinking about that. You don’t have to stick with that ending, but at least it will get you writing in a certain direction. Sometimes characters surprise you and maybe things will turn out differently than you anticipated. That’s fine. Nothing is set in stone until your novel is published and on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.

The point of this exercise is to get you writing towards something. This will help to advance your plot at a more exciting pace. It will also create a sense of purpose and excitement in your writing. Another reason to use this method? It allows you to throw in some foreshadowing, something you wouldn’t be able to do if you didn’t know what was going to happen. Your readers will love that.

Happy Writing!

Writing Every Day – Why It’s Important

Writing every day is so important. Not only is it a great way to improve your skills, it’s a good practice to get into because it keeps your creativity flowing. If you stop writing, even if it’s only for a few days, it’s really hard to get back into it. Writing can also be very therapeutic.

If you’re not working on anything in particular, it can be hard to think of something to write about every day. Journaling can be a very rewarding activity. Sometimes, writing about the mundane, boring things that happen to you on a daily basis can make them seem much more fascinating, and often, very funny. You may find it more fun to create a fictional journal about the life you’d rather be having. This can be a fun exercise, as well.

Writing prompts are also a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Shut off your thoughts and allow the prompt to guide you in whichever direction it takes you. You’ll surprise yourself. Most of the time you’ll write something you never knew you had in you, which is the best kind of thing to write.

I found this adorable little book called A Creative Writer’s Kit by Judy Reeves at Barnes and Noble. It contains a writing prompt for every day of the year. She suggests committing to sitting down to write at the same time every day for a certain length of time, whether it’s ten minutes, or two hours. And then actually do it. I agree, because it’s so easy to tell yourself that you’ll do it later, or tomorrow, or after you finish some big project you’re currently working on. That’s what separates the writers from the wanna-be writers. The writers actually write.

If you’d rather not buy a book of writing prompts, you can create your own. Anytime an idea for a prompt or a story pops into your head, write it down and stick it in a jar. Every day, draw out a prompt, and write about it. Prompts can be as simple as writing about making a turkey sandwich, or that tall, dark, handsome stranger you saw at the gas station the other day. Which brings me to people watching.
People watching can be a wonderful creative tool. Next time you spot any interesting looking strangers, invent backgrounds for them. Write what you think their lives must be like. You may even be able to use some of them as characters in a novel.

There are many reasons it’s important to write every day. You’ll always be able to think of a million reasons not to, but don’t let them stop you. Be a writer.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Today I want to talk about 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.