Writer’s block can come in many different forms. For some it will mean they literately cannot write a word and stare at the screen, for others it means they can write but hate everything they do. Others will get stuck coming up with ideas, whilst some will never finish a story as they don’t like the direction it is heading. So what can we do about this?
Well, there are no hard and fast rules here, and no cure-all fixes. Each writer is different and they may have their own way of tackling this issue. I’m not saying mine is any better or worse than theirs – this is just what has worked for me when I wrote my two novels.
Firstly, let’s think about our writing environment. If the only time you think about writing is when you sit yourself in front of your PC or typewriter you might be making life hard for yourself. People often ask me how long I spend writing – as if it is a quantifiable amount of work that can be divided up and parceled out like an administration job in an office or bureau. But the truth is that by the time I sit down and write the next section of a chapter or dialogue, I have already spent hours figuring out what I want to say or get across.
‘How do I find the time?’ I hear you scream!
I achieved this by giving myself the thinking time I needed whilst doing other things. Instead of getting the train, or driving to work each morning, I walked. It took me over an hour but that’s not much longer than it used to take me to drive, and it didn’t kill me to get up 10-15 minutes earlier. It gave my mind a chance to drift and wander into my writing, as I made my walk into work. I was very fortunate to have a nice and pretty walk along the river Thames to enjoy, but equally this could be done by walking through any park or green space at lunchtime or free-time. By the time I sat down to write at the weekends, I’d already have given myself plenty of time to turn over exactly what I was going to say. This could be done during any form of exercise I guess, but you’ll want to free your mind of distractions – for example, I’d be doubtful of this being as effective by jogging whilst blaring my mind full of loud rock music through an iPod or phone. But each to their own, I guess…
Okay, so you have now spent a few hours thinking about what you want to write before sitting down in front of the screen. That’s good, but we still need to start writing. This can be the next hurdle. Writers are normally fine once they get started, but the perfectionist in all of us makes it hard to write that all important first word or sentence. You’ve spent so long thinking about this, you just don’t know how to start! Arghh!!
Don’t worry, first things first, stop beating yourself up. The self-recrimination only increases the cycle of frustration, so we need to give ourselves a break. Open a new document up on your desktop and call it ‘scrap’ or ‘rubbish’ or some other derogatory word. Then we will start writing our section here. As we are only writing ‘rubbish’ or ‘scrap’ it doesn’t matter how it starts….it’s just rubbish. My guess is that once you get going you’ll warm to the task and expand on all the thinking you’ve already done on this section of the book. Then, once you hit your flow you can re-write that first sentence. After you really get going you can polish it up, and then copy and paste it into the chapter you’ve been writing.
Even this trick won’t always help you however, sometimes your mind will be niggling away at you, telling you something is wrong. This is where writers block can really kick in, but to understand it we have to understand where these blocks come from. Sometimes it can be our subconscious telling us something we secretly know about, but don’t want to acknowledge, even to ourselves.
It might be a plot change, or a character introduction, or any number of things, that haven’t quite worked. You are loathe to admit it and go back and change it because that might have happened back on chapter four, and you’re now on chapter twenty-seven and if you change it, you’ll have to modify all the chapters in-between! All that work!!
However, regardless of how much work it entails, your subconscious won’t let you get away with it. It will continue to niggle away at you, until you make it right. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your thinking) we may be able to fool some people but we can’t fool ourselves. If you’re really unsure which way is best to go with your book, go back and make a copy and modify that one. Then if you’re wrong, and the book was better before you made the change you can go back. But my guess is that once you make the change, you’ll notice the release of pressure as the niggle finally goes away and you can move forward again with your book. It might be a lot of work, but hey, nobody said this will be easy.
Finally, I found it best to keep some sort of routine, or time when I wrote each week. If you only write when you feel like it, that book may never be finished. I used to set aside a certain amount of time each weekend, and then go on the odd writing holiday only accompanied by the dog. If inspiration doesn’t come in those times you have set aside, do something else that helps progress the book. For example, as I wrote historical novels, there was always more research to do. Periodically whilst doing this research, a spark of excitement would grow inside me and I’d need to write about it…block gone and blasted before I’d even finished my session. Again it will depend on your genre and your own personality. My method may only work for me, who knows?