That moment when your finger hovers over the keyboard, but nothing can be produced, a white blank wall cutting your imagination away from materialization. That flow of ideas doesn’t seem to come. The waterfall of motivation that usually channels into your writing has gone. You are in a tangled, thorny darkness of nothing, unable to give your words any worth or meaning, unable to make the ideas work somehow. The worlds you have built with your writing are inaccessible at this troubling time, and anything you try to add to them just doesn’t seem right. Not even the coffee is doing its job. The books you fill your time with aren’t spurring any thought for your own. That need to be your inner author is there, but its just a void, and the nightmare that is the writer’s block has returned in a storm of terror.
I get writer’s block often. When I do, I turn to my favourite authors and my sketchbooks. Normally that does the job – that and a wander around Waterstones, where I breath in some shelves and books outside my normal reading field, or a trip to Costa where I read something on my kindle. I even bought *Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer which only helps when I am so lost in the grips of writer’s block that I am drowning in a bath of Lush bathing products and a severe need for inspiration. Even then, it takes a while to get back on my author feet and return to the novel-in-progress. I dare say I’ve even experienced it on here when doing reviews, and hell, it comes to me mid-text on my phone at times. I think we all face writers block in some form or another – something not necessarily exclusive to writers. It probably affects me most when typing up essays, as I imagine it does for most students.
Often I’ve joked about writer’s block as some sort of equivalent to the bedtime monsters children are afraid of. In the author world, it reigns over us like a Jabberwocky, occasionally coming down to terrorize our worlds – even the champions of us – and then taking flight away again. But as much as I joke, it really is a big problem, affecting us day to day in the form of ‘what do I answer to that?’ or ‘how should I start this assignment?’ right down to what we should put in our planning let alone the novel itself. With the increase of social anxiety and insecurities among society and writers themselves, and especially the sort of darker parts of ‘writing culture’ where some authors feel it is acceptable to downgrade others’ work and rate it badly without even an inch of constructive criticism, it is no surprise writer’s block surfaces with a side effect of inner doubts, leaving us with no way to combat what we believe to be a terrible piece of work or a lack of motivation.
While we all recover from writer’s block differently, I’ve composed a few things that I do to help get myself back on track.
Writer’s block with the novel
As strange as it may sound, I think feedback often helps (given that you’ve begun to write something, having created at least a paragraph or so). Take my novel-in-progress for example. I have planned 45 chapters and written up 20 of them. When I feel like I cannot write anything of quality, or the writer’s block is so harsh I simply cannot formulate anything new, I turn to what feedback I have on my work in front of me. I look at the feedback and look at what needs changing. If I have none, I go get some feedback.
I think of ways to edit the work, rather than add to it. Often when we are planning or writing, we are doing so with the stimulation to create. But rather than creating, feedback allows for a mindset of editing – editing is merely to swap and to change, to fiddle with words and phrases and tweak pre-thought ideas as opposed to creating something brand new, like typing a new sentence or planning the next chapter. Editing is simply to find a synonym for that word, or insert that phrase in the second line rather than have it in the first because it flows better that way. It is handy to pause the ongoing efforts and retreat back to those earlier chapters, now knowing how you’ve written the later ones. You can suddenly see the effect of that foreshadowing in chapter 3, now reflected on what occurs in chapter 14. You can retrace your steps, and get a feel for your built world and characters again, and even a glance at planning sheets (or for me, sketchbooks filled with my characters and lands) can help a ton. Sometimes writer’s block isn’t as bad as you may feel it is. You may just need the vibe to be felt again.
Use your interests to fuel your invested interest
Your assignment, or your book, whatever your text of focus is, is your invested interest. You have put time and effort into this thing. You’ve researched it, you’ve got it to complete. Whether you wanted this assignment or not, it’s in your interests, because this is going to get you the grade you long for. Whether you wanted to have to write this tricky chapter or not, you’ve got it to do, because it’s a crucial part of your book’s structure.
So, turn to your own interests. Do you like certain books, certain films? Pick it up, or flick it on TV. (Word of warning- if it’s a TV show, make sure it’s an episode you’ve watched, or it’ll distract you far too much to help). Lend some ideas or inspiration from whatever you are watching or reading. Look at the way the conflict unfolds, or how the resolution is met. Read those bits of prose you really like the sound of. How can you manipulate it into the way you write? How can you see that style applying to your own work? Will you feel a lot happier and boosted by typing up your essay in front of your favourite TV show? This isn’t for everyone, but I find revisiting my favourite things helps improve my mood, which in turn improves my thinking process. And my motivation, in the long term.
Tumblr and Pinterest are best for this. I’m on a year-long break from Tumblr, but Pinterest replaces my writing prompt needs. In fact, I have a whole board dedicated to prompt pins. I go to it every week and write in response to a prompt I’ve picked from my board. I find this helps because it gets my thought process jogged along again, kicking my inner writer back into gear. Even if it’s only a small response to a prompt, I find it’s enough.
Sometimes we just need a shake up. What do I mean by shake up? Well, often we get too glued into our own created world we have made for our book-in-progress. We start thinking really heavily about the characters and their backgrounds and the dialogue and the plot and all that jazz. Writing our own book is dedication after all. We get consumed by our own writing. All we need is a break from our created worlds and characters, a chance to write something different and think outside our own little box we made for the novel. This is a shake up – a write up of something different, just to exercise and jog our writer minds. You will often go back to your story feeling a little fresher and open minded again, should this work for you.
So for me, my writing board is an online pinboard on Pinterest. I call it ‘Book ideas’ and it is filled with so much stuff on everything I need to fuel my writing. It has prompts, tips, lists and all sorts of things I need to invent new ideas and world build. Take a look. I revisit it whenever writer’s block haunts me.
If you don’t do Pinterest, that’s fine. Pick up some paper or a notebook and mindmap that stuff. Maybe even browse Pinterest or Tumblr or something. Take notes. Write down what you find. Build up a writing ideas book. And revisit your little writer’s notebook whenever the block hits. Or go make a Pinterest account – takes two minutes – and create yourself a pinboard like I did. I know it sounds pointless, but believe me, if you are a dedicated writer and want your writer’s block to be chased away, it’s worth it and I believe it can really help. If you are so dire in your writer’s block that you actually want to look for ways to deal with it, you can find that on Pinterest too and slap it on your pinboard.
It’s okay to have Writer’s Block
On a last note, just remember that its okay to undergo a blank head. We all get a little block now and then. Sometimes we need a break from writing altogether. Maybe we need to start a new routine where we write once every two days. Sometimes we are still finding ways to manage the block. Either way, we all get it. It’s okay to take breaks. It’s good for you to take breaks. It took me a while to realise this. Life and other responsibilities means that we can’t always write every hour of every day, so it’s good to flex our minds elsewhere away from the rows of text on a Word document.