Tips for beating the toughest obstacle a writer faces
Overcoming writer’s block is difficult at best and the toughest challenge a writer will face at worst. While there are many writers out there who may disagree with this statement, I feel it must be considered as one of the biggest hurdles a writer battles with, due not so much to the degree of difficulty it brings, rather the frequency to which the writer faces this same battle. Ask any real writer and they will tell you at some point they have had a moment where their creative mind was simply unwilling to bear fruit. When these situations arise the writer is faced with a simple choice, either fight like a rabid wolverine to persist through the block, or just close the laptop, put down the pen or whatever other form of writing instrument is used and give over to the avoidance behavior. Again, any writer with any experience will also tell you which is easier to do and why it becomes an attractive option. This is also why so many novels remain unfinished. Overcoming writer’s block is a challenge, though one that can be observed and easily conquered.
Overcoming Writer’s Block Tip#1: Set a writing schedule
Write everyday. Write, write, write. This is writing lesson “numero uno”. Every writing teacher will start with this instruction. So how do you make this habit come to pass? Be a slave to a schedule. At least it may feel that way at first. Implementation of all new habits make you feel like you are a slave to them. This is because the practice is unnatural and we are lazy to pick up the habit. After about six weeks (and I would wager much less with writing), the habit no longer feels like work, as it has been incorporated into everyday practice. A writing schedule simply will not allow for writer’s block to enter into the equation, as writing everyday keeps the “creative fire” burning. It sounds a little too easy. That’s because it is. When writer’s run into problem is when they are undisciplined, writing sporadically and then having the unrealistic expectation that their mind will be able to offer them top-level creative thought. It simply doesn’t happen that way. It’s like not exercising for six months, then signing up for a marathon and being disappointed when you can’t finish. Without a writing schedule, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The schedule can have flexibility to it, as well. Many new writer’s err in the belief that they have to sit down and write madly for several hours to become great. While becoming great at anything will take thousands of hours, the fact is, you can split those hours up any way you feel works best for you and your writing style. Maybe you find it difficult for more than thirty minutes at a time. Start with thirty minutes then. Eventually, break into two sessions of fifteen minutes per day and slowly build on each session until they are thirty minutes each. Or any combination such as this one that works for you. The point is, creating a mindset that you must do it this way, or that way will eventually lead to failure in writing. This is also an unintentional way to create writer’s block. By creating a task that is too big or something you start to think of as undesirable, you will begin to avoid doing it. Once avoidance behavior starts, its difficult to put a stop to it. Like the creation of a good habit, the creation of a bad habit can be just as powerful. Just ask someone who’s trying to quit smoking. When you set a writing schedule, set one that works with your daily routine and won’t seem like a real sacrifice initially, even if that means you only write 100 words a day to begin with. The first goal to overcoming writer’s block is to set a schedule you can adhere to so the habit becomes something that sticks and pays dividends.
Overcoming Writer’s Block Tip#2: 10 Minute free writing exercises
“I just can’t think of anything to write about”. I hear this same excuse all the time. I’ve also used this excuse many times. I have once answer for this excuse.
The fact is, there is always something to write about. Often too much. Once you become more disciplined in your writing the challenge will be the exact opposite and you will find yourself trying more and more to narrow the scope of your writing to fewer, more specific topics. If you are having difficulty overcoming writer’s block you can always “free write” for a short period, as a primer. Simply jot down the first thing that pops in your head and run with it. Don’t judge it, that’s not the point of the exercise. The goal is to get you in the writer’s mindset. Whether or not the exercise turns into an article of any substance is also irrelevant, though the more you do the exercise, the more you may find something you decide you can work with. The goal is to get you in the mode to write something you want to write about.
Overcoming Writer’s Block Tip#3: Use a primer
A primer is like a rocket booster for your writing brain. Sometimes the payload of your brain is too heavy and sluggish, it needs help to reach critical mass and take off on it’s own. A primer is another take on the free writing exercise, though in this instance you are being provided an opening sentence, or “thesis statement” if you will, that allows the writing to flow. Here are a couple of examples of the primers, some of which I routinely use over and over again. And while they are the same primer, it turns into a different article each time:
- “I remember when…”
- “It was the first time I tried it…”
- “I shudder to think that…”
- “Embarrassing can’t even begin describe the time when…”
- “A time when I felt truly shocked was…”
- “I laughed only because I was too _______ to cry…”
- “If I were a disease, I would be _______.
- “If I were a cure, I would be the cure to _______.
- “________ is the solution. It can solve all the world’s problems.”
Think of your own primers. Write them down, as (trust me on this one) you will be able to use them over countless times and see you overcoming writer’s block anytime it comes up.
Overcoming Writer’s Block Tip#4: Join a writer’s group
Another solution for overcoming writer’s block is to join a writer’s group. Nothing will help you over a stint of writer’s block better than knowing you must have new material ready to read and discuss with other writers. The other bonus of a writer’s group is being exposed to your writing through the eyes of others. If you can incorporate the constructive criticism into your writing it will make you better, period. Often writers have a blind side, one that they will not be able to acknowledge until it brought to light by a third party with knowledge of the writing process themselves. A writer’s group will either cost nothing or a token annual fee (to cover incidentals like snacks, or an end of year party) and will provide a wealth of information. As a writer, whenever you can be exposed to other writer’s voices you should take the opportunity. It doesn’t mean you have to employ the style. You don’t even have to like it or agree with it. Other writer’s voices will give you context and perhaps allow bits of writing method which will sharpen your own skills when used. Lastly, there is the benefit of feeling you aren’t in the trenches alone. While writing is most often a solitary journey, it is comforting to know that there are others, if only a small few, that understand your plight.
Overcoming Writer’s Block Tip#5: Write, don’t judge.
When I first began to write with any level of commitment, I immediately found myself doing and “internal edit” before completing whatever it was that I’d written. Do not do this. If you are, stop doing it immediately. That is what rewrites are for. Editing is part of the process, though only part. The danger with doing the internal edit while you write is that you begin to think all too much about everything else but the writing. The moment you start wondering what your audience is going to think, all is lost. This is because you will start to pander to this hypothetical audience, believing you can win them over. It will also make you think twice about writing what you should write because you’re too busy trying to play statesmen to everybody you believe is going to read your writing. My answer for this is simple. Not everyone is going to read your writing, so get over it and of those who do, not everyone will like it, so stop trying to write for all. It’s like the kid on the playground who keeps trying to win people over. Eventually all the other kids start thinking there is something wrong with the kid as well because they can sense the desperation for approval. As a writer, realize there are some people won’t agree with you or your particular style of writing. That’s fine. There are jerks born everyday, so don’t take it personally. If you write in your own voice you will be more appreciated as a writer and undoubtedly you will always have something more interesting to say than if you write like you are a Swiss diplomat.
I hope you find these tips for overcoming writer’s block valuable and choose to incorporate some or all of them into your writing process.