Writer’s block can have many causes, but they all result in the same thing: you aren’t writing. If this is happening to you, then it’s time to perform a diagnostic on yourself. See if any of the following solutions work for you to help you get back your writing muse.
Problem #1 – What were you doing just before you sat down to write?
It’s not easy to transition from one activity to the other if they are wildly different. Several activities can be very difficult to pull yourself away from mentally, including watching movies, playing video games or spending time with friends. You may find that sitting down to write after these leisure moments will be more difficult than after other activities. But don’t fret! You can overcome this mental block if you keep in mind that simply attempting to write will help calibrate your mind to the task. Just know that you have to stick with your writing to make any progress at all, even if it doesn’t feel as polished as you would like.
Solution 1: READING – If you find yourself stuck because you are still winding down from another activity, immediately pick up a fiction book and start reading. This will help you focus more on writing, and you’ll receive the added bonus of finding inspiration in other works and writing styles. Then, when you find yourself itching to write again during your reading session, put the book down and start writing immediately.
Solution 2: EXERCISE – Plan an activity, like physical exercise such as jogging or cardio training, and schedule it right before your writing time. You don’t have to do much. Ten to fifteen minutes will be fine. This physical activity will increase the blood flow throughout your body and potentially help you think quicker, giving you a chance to use that added burst of energy to kickstart your writing session for the day. Repetitive activities like jogging also give you time to brainstorm for the writing session itself.
Problem # 2 – Are you focused on getting it perfect or getting it done?
Many writers are so focused on writing the perfect story the first time that they don’t realize that’s virtually impossible in the first draft. It’s important to take the time to research what you need in order to get the facts right. But if you find yourself stuck because you want the story to go a certain way and you refuse to continue unless you can write it that way, you’re going to find yourself stuck for a very long time.
Solution: Your goal during that first draft should be to get the draft complete, not write the perfect narrative. That’s why we have revisions! Instead, focus on writing as much as you can the first time around. The process of writing is exercise for your brain in the same way that stretching exercises are meant to warmup your body for physical training. If you want to write more refined work, you need to put in the grunt work first, and that means writing whatever you can in an effort to get any words out at all. You’ll be surprised to see what kind of ideas pop out later during the discovery process. Just be open to what you have to say.
Problem # 3 – Which perspective do you write the best in? 1st-person, 3rd-person or something else? Are you catering to your strength or trying to write something out of your comfort zone?
Some writers are much better at writing in first-person perspective than third-person, or vice-versa. Still other writers have unique writing perspectives that don’t fall under these categories. The point is: you can throw your session off if you’re trying to write in a perspective that is not what you are comfortable with.
Solution 1: FIRST-PERSON PERSPECTIVE – Try writing a more personal narrative where the narrator talks about their life directly using “I.” For example, you can have the character write a journal in first-person, detailing the events they’ve gone through. First-person narration allows you to play around with an unreliable narrator who can lie in their narration at any time. They are fallible, after all, and you can use that allowance so you don’t feel constrained by what the character says.
Solution 2: THIRD-PERSON PERSPECTIVE (Limited) – Try this perspective which follows one character, often named in the narrative and written about by some unknown narrator. Example: “George had seen this particular vixen once before and thought it best to stay out of earshot.” In Third-person Limited Perspective, the author stays with the perspective of one character and focuses heavily on them. Try this perspective if you like taking a more detached, objective view of the protagonist in your story, and like to keep important details away from the reader (and your protagonist) until just the right time.
Solution 3: THIRD-PERSON PERSPECTIVE (Omniscient) – The omniscient point-of-view allows for some of the most freedom in writing perspectives, but is also one of the toughest to get right. Third-person omniscient allows the narrator of the story (often a disembodied narrator voice) to know ALL the thoughts, feelings and intents of every character. At any time, you can switch from your protagonist to another character and write about their perspective. Just keep in mind, if you choose this point of view, you’re going to have organize much more in the revision stage. This extra organization step will help keep all your character perspectives consistent.
Solution 4: SECOND-PERSON PERSPECTIVE – I’ve been writing to you in second-person perspective this entire time. I address you, the reader, directly. There are many stories that do this, often combining the perspectives of 1st and 2nd person. The narrator will address themselves as “I” while talking to some other unseen character or the reader as “you.” This has the potential to create a close connection between the reader and the narrator.
Problem # 4 – Are you a discovery writer/pantser or a planning writer/plotter?
Some people “write by the seat of their pants” and are therefore “pantsers.” Another term for this is “discovery writers” – writers who discover their work as they write it. Other people are “plotters” – writers who create detailed outlines which will help them know where the narrative is going before they write.
Each of these types of writers can find themselves stuck for different reasons. Knowing which type of writer you are will help you understand which solution is best for you.
Solutions for Pantsers/Discovery Writers: These writers often get stuck because they write themselves into a corner and don’t know how to write themselves out. Often, this happens when authors write events that throw off any foreseeable opportunities to change things. If that happens, don’t be afraid to revise. Trail backwards in the narrative and find the point which caused you to get stuck. Rewrite from that point. Think about what you are unwilling to do to advance the scene. Maybe that character needs to perish, or needs to change in the moment. Identify the change you need, and put a note at the point you became stuck. Make sure the note details what change was needed, and then continue writing as though you have already added the change. Try to keep pushing forward until you find every change you need to make. On your next rewrite, you’ll be able to make all of the plot points consistent with one another.
Solutions for Plotters/Planning Writers: Some writers plan things out so meticulously that when anything changes, they don’t know how to continue. If this happens to you, just remember: something is likely to change in your plot as you write. Try taking a moment to write a later chapter in your story. See if you can figure out how to work up to the events that happen in the chapter. Another option you can try is a scene-change. The moment you feel like your current scene can’t continue, experiment with a new scene to see what you discover in the narrative. A third solution is to rewrite the scene you are stuck on, but from a different character’s point-of-view. You may find that the most interesting character perspective is not the one you originally thought.
Problem # 5 – You have no idea what the ending of your story is going to be.
It’s very important to have an ending for your story, because if you don’t, you can find your plot meandering to some unknown destination. Use these methods to find the right ending.
Solution 1: WRITE THE STORY BACKWARDS – Brandon Sanderson is a published writer who helps host a podcast called “Writing Excuses.” His technique is to write the story backwards. To start, brainstorm some possible endings, and choose one that you like. Place that ending on an outline. Now, write the event that leads up to it. Then, write the event that happens just before that one, until you reach a suitable beginning for your story.
Solution 2: DISCOVERY-WRITE YOUR STORY – If you are willing to invest the time into discovery writing, you can find many more options in your story than you initially knew existed. To try discovery writing for yourself, simply write anything that comes to mind. This is like a director taking all of their actors and asking them to perform various scenes out-of-order. Write any scene that you feel like writing – This helps you gain insight into character development. If you know what the character will do later, you can add those insights into earlier scenes. The more you know about your characters, the easier it will be to find an ending that is suitable for them.
Problem # 6 – Your writing environment is distracting.
Solution 1: SENSORY ISOLATION – Ear plugs, headphones, or instrumental music can work wonders to block out sound. Try searching online for rain noise or ambient white noise to block out the distractions. Mynoise.net is a good choice.
Solution 2: SCHEDULED WORK TIME – Schedule at least 30 minutes to write with no distractions – an hour is even better. Close yourself off in a room, and put a sign up that says you are working. Let anyone who lives with you know how important it is to have your time to write. Tell them to contact you only in an emergency (and make it very clear what constitutes an emergency). Doing this daily will help you form good writing habits.
Solution 3: EAT RIGHT – Your brain won’t give you its best if you eat poorly. Healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive, it simply has to be nutritious in the most basic of ways. Consult a nutritional guide or a doctor to see what you should be eating. Good places to start are fruits, vegetables, and staying hydrated.
Solution 4: SLEEP RIGHT – The amount of sleep required to get by may not be enough sleep for your brain to be creative. As a general rule, adults should try to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, though your needs may be different. A doctor can advise you on the amount of sleep that’s right for you. If you have trouble staying asleep, try wearing ear plugs and a sleep mask to block out aural and visual signs that might wake you. If you regularly sleep less than 8 hours, it may take a few nights of a proper amount of sleep to be able to retain focus for a long writing session. Regardless, just make sure you keep writing every day.
Solution 5: TEMPERATURE CONTROL – You may not realize it, but if your writing area is too hot or too cold, your mental processes can start shutting down preparing for rest. Keep the temperature at a comfortable level, or if you can’t do that, layer up in a cold environment till you’re comfortable or wear thin, breathable attire in a hot environment.
Problem # 7 – Letting the internet distract you
Your writing time is sacred – keep it safe from distractions. By using it wisely, you can express yourself and develop a valuable life-long skill. The internet and its endless stream of distractions, notifications and time-sinks can wait. Just turn it off – using airplane mode on your phone or computer is a great way to help yourself focus.
The next time you find yourself stuck in your writing, refer to these solutions to help you get back on track. Let us know in the comments what you’ve tried, and suggest other ways to beat writer’s block. Also, don’t forget to come back soon for another column on writing by me, Melody Octavia – your awoo writing guru.
Now, turn off the internet, set a timer for your session and get to writing!
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