Writer’s block is widely viewed as the creative disaster and with good reason. When you sit down and. Just. Can’t. Write. It feels horrible. But rarely, in my experience, does the inability to write boil down to any one thing. Typically there’s a bunch of different things contributing to your inability to write and sometimes all you need to break the slump is to look at those things one at a time and determine if that’s your problem. By breaking things down writer’s block becomes a manageable problem. So here, in order of how often I find these things intruding in my writing, is a list of the typical building blocks of writer’s block and a suggestion on how you might deal with them.
- Physical discomfort. Yeah, this is usually the biggest one for me. Sitting for a while results in cramps and sore muscles and getting up every so often to stretch, get the blood moving, ect, does wonders. Don’t discount hunger or thirst, either. While constant snacking while writing isn’t healthy, neither is starving yourself. A glass of water and a quick snack can do wonders to restore your concentration.
- Stress. It’s an unfortunate truth that, while I enjoy doing theater or other such activities, juggling them all can often leave me too stressed or distracted to focus on writing. Now sometimes writing can serve as a bulwark between you and stress, allowing you to focus on something you enjoy while you recuperate for your next bout of stressful activity. But stress can build to the point where blocking it out for a time is not a healthy way of dealing with it. Sometimes you just need to slow down. Set writing aside and grab life with both hands for a while. Confronting the problem straight on, or slogging through a period of intense business with no distractions, is often the best way to get past this block. Constantly trying to write during times of high stress may make it harder to let go of the tension once the tough times are past, so it may be safer to just set writing aside for a while.
- Lack of time (or sometimes laziness). This actually ties with stress in problems I have. Some stories need a lot of research, a lot of preparation and a lot of careful thought put into them. A case in point: If you’ve seen the Project Sumter Timeline you can see there are at least two major periods of time that are ripe for development. In fact, the story was originally supposed to focus on the Civil War, not the modern era. The early story ideas there just weren’t gelling because I didn’t know enough about the Western Theater of the Civil War to compile a good narrative. This situation is only nominally improved now. If a story needs more work than you’re putting into it and you don’t have the time maybe you need to simplify the story. Or maybe you need to shelve it and work on something else. Of course, if you do have the time, maybe you just need to focus more…
- Convention. It’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that “this is how things should be”. For example, telepaths are almost always fearsome figures in paranormal fiction usually because they have ability to control people’s minds. How many stories can you do about that? How many different telepath characters can you create? But in Mindspace Investigations telepaths are feared more for their ability to directly manipulate the nervous system, knocking people unconscious with a touch or broadcasting pain so powerfully people keel over. The result is a very different kind of telepath surrounded by different social dynamics and with different character quirks. Look over your story and make sure the tropes and conventions you’re using are empowering your story, not preventing it from going somewhere new and interesting. Because new and interesting is usually where stories need to go.
- Original expectations. Sometimes you expect a story to go one way and it winds up somewhere else. Sometimes totally unexpected characters crop up in the background and start demanding attention. Under no circumstances can you let your original plot idea get in the way of where the story actually goes. Yes, make sure you stay on theme, but don’t be afraid of the extra work that comes with shifting focus to better suit the story you get rather than chasing the ghost of a story that may have never really existed.
- Lack of ideas you like. Sometimes you can see stories places and just have no desire to follow up on them. Don’t force yourself. Instead grab a book, hit the movies or call up some friends and hang out and do something other than writing for a while. Give yourself a chance to recharge a little and soon enough your writer’s instincts will present you with something worthwhile. For me it usually takes fifteen minutes to an hour, but your mileage may vary.
Hopefully that helps you the next time you find yourself staring at a blank sheet of paper/word processor. Good luck!
Sometimes, I have to sit and just think when my story wants to wind down a new and unexplored path. I let my mind wander down it a while, and then I choose whether to go down it. However, in that moment, the walls holding back writer’s block threaten to fall. Once a path is chosen, if it is the right one, the flow can continue.
Yes! So often just pausing to try and think around writer’s block is viewed as too passive and we think we need to be doing something. While there are some writers who need to be totally spontaneous while writing, blazing a trail with no thought of where they’re going, most of us need at least a little thinking and planning in the mix. It’s part of healthy writing habits.