It’s another IWSG Wednesday (what’s that? read on!) and for today’s post, I’m sharing six techniques to defeat writer’s block that you can try on their own or combine for your own situation. I hope they help! Or at least let you know you aren’t alone and eventually this will pass. I’ll give you several examples, as well as examples from my own attempts last month.
[Skip to the ideas here]
IWSG Question of the Month
Are the holidays a time to catch up or fall behind on writer goals?
I don’t like the idea that you can “fall behind”. We all have different writing styles (pantsers vs plotters for example). We might have a publishing deadline but often we are setting our own goals. If we don’t meet them, we should give ourselves grace. After all, we set the goal.
Usually, I’d say the holidays are a time I get less writing in. And that’s ok for me! Because I’m creating memories with my family and friends. Or doing activities I can’t do any other time of the year (I can’t take my child on a Christmas train ride with a stop at the North Pole to see Santa in April).
This year is slightly different because I am crafting a short story for a gift for my coauthor and friend. (Watch my video on how I’m crafting a custom-made story of his choosing!) I took a walk and plotted the majority of the story the last week of October. Even wrote a full page in one day. Then in November…writer’s block snuck in.
Some say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. But this argument that you are the source of your own block isn’t helpful – there are life things, body and brain things, that you don’t have control over. You can’t always control everything and the expectation that you can solve them all can actually contribute to one of the causes of writer’s block: anxiety. The pressure to always write, every day, is like telling a surgeon that if they aren’t operating all day every day that they aren’t a surgeon anymore. You can take breaks.
I had a rough month. Between my baby getting an ear infection and upper respiratory infection I got little sleep for two weeks, followed by me having a weekend stomach virus and then my oldest little one having the same the following weekend…it all zapped my creativity. Tired and behind on everything, I then put pressure on myself to create the most amazing work for my friend. Cue crippling self-doubt. And…sigh.
November was rough. But, I was able to finally bust through the brick wall and write three paragraphs the last week of the month. And that momentum is carrying through here in December.
Whether you’re tired, overworked, or putting pressure on yourself here are 6 techniques I tried this month to defeat writer’s block. Some work some days, others on other days. Try one, try them all. I finally had a breakthrough when I reached method 5.
Six Techniques to Beat Writer’s Block
1 – Skip around to other scenes
Sit down for this one as it might come as a shock. You don’t actually have to write your story in the order your writer will read it! When you’re editing you may find a scene works better in another location and you move it. Worry less about the order as you draft. I stopped in the middle of my opening scene for this short story and wrote the beginning of the second to last scene and then jumped over to write the last half of scene three. It may seem chaotic. But are you stuck in one scene, unsure what the characters are doing next? Leave them and hop over to a scene you can’t get out of your head (the epic final battle between the shadow forest creature and the hero? The confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist that lets their fingers brush and they pause inches from kissing? The description of the characters’ space shuttle approaching a star base for the first time?) Find something that excites you and write that! You can come back later and find a way to make that other scene interesting to you.
2 – Write on another project
Do you have multiple projects (stories, books) you’ve started but haven’t yet finished? I do! I find that there are times when I just don’t feel like writing on project a so I’ll switch to project b. It helps keep me productive; even though the word count and effort are spent differently, I’m still creating! And for me, that’s the goal. Also, switching your brain to focus on a different task allows you to engage a whole different set of thoughts. While you are focused on project b, your wandering brain is free to ideally think about project a. (More on that and Eureka moments in idea #4). I switched from my science fantasy short story with alternate history elements to plotting novella number two in my epic fantasy series. I accomplished something even though this time it didn’t help spark ideas for project a.
3 – Overcome writer’s block by reading a book
This could be your favorite author or a favorite book. It’s one way to take a breather and relax; knowing what to expect takes away any of that brain focus to try to piece the narrative together. It’s a nice, comfortable, familiar place to settle into. But you may find, relaxed as you are, that something about your favorite novel sparks an idea. Or that you realize you really like how the author writes battle scenes and you’re motivated to emulate them. Alternatively, you can find something new within your genre. The discovery of new stories can help inspire you. (Do you like sci-fi and fantasy? My novel Trials of the Innermost combines elements of both and releases May 26, 2023.) While I was struggling with my writer’s block last month I would take breaks and read The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I was captivated by her descriptions and realized that I hadn’t been writing much in my current WIP.
4 – Work on another creative task to get over writer’s block
If you’re like me, you like being able to say at the end of your day that you accomplished something. If you’re in the writing doldrums, why not find something else creative to do? Do you have a cricut machine that you can create a “This is my writing mug” infusible ink project? I recently worked on my author Website, trying out new potential sections and layouts. I had fun experimenting, but also in the long term having my website be up to date and interesting works in my favor.
I’ll mention here too about Eureka moments. (The Science of Eureka Moments). When the mind wanders, it is more likely to come up with a solution vs thinking about it constantly. We can create a situation like that increasing our chances of finding the solution suddenly – by encouraging the brain to enter a period of nonconscious processing. My favorite way to do this is to take a shower or to craft something that doesn’t require much focus like adding beads to a string or sewing simple lines.
5 – Talk about your writing project
When you’re stuck, having a writing partner can be invaluable. They are often eager to see you succeed and, if you ask them, are happy to help brainstorm ways to get that character out of the fire swamp. You’re free to use those ideas as your friend has offered them, or they might spark another idea. Unfortunately for me, one of my go-to in-the-moment idea-bouncers is the recipient of this short story gift so I couldn’t ask him. Sometimes just talking about the project to another person helps me start working out details on the fly without the pressure of physically typing the words, and I did try this with another of my writing buddies but nothing came of it. It wasn’t until I was chatting with my husband (who doesn’t read much or write much but plays loads of RPGs like me) that he gave me an idea. I told him the problem I had – I had a character who needed to get to x because that’s how I wanted to story to end, but all the reasons I was thinking of just didn’t seem like logical reasons she’d be there at that spot. I’d tried ideas 1-4 without much more than a few sentences resulting. But my husband suggested a reason and it was as if the Hallelujah chorus erupted in the car with glitter canons. And this, my friends, is where the writer’s block vanished.
6 – Focus and reduce distractions to help cure writer’s block
There are so many distractions in our lives from social media to kids running through the room. Our brains are often pulled all over the place as these items clamor for attention. Try to give yourself a short period of time that is only used for writing. Sometimes a tiny deadline might kick your brain into productive mode. But also make sure to take steps so that this time is only used for writing. Turn off your internet if you have to prevent random browsing, and place your phone in silent mode so your mom texting about what food you should have for Christmas doesn’t lead you astray. I actually have several daily 15-minute blocks (because of breaks at my day job) that I do this. If I don’t use that time to write, it is likely I won’t get the time. It’s fifteen minutes of hyperfocus to get as many words out as I can (or plot or brainstorm). I realized after I worked through my block at step 5 that I’d been letting myself go on research tangents instead of writing in that dedicated time. I’m now leaving more placeholders within my writing to fill in later when I’ve finished the project. (I like to use brackets like [name of a lake here] as I can ctrl+f search for [ and find them easily later).
Bonus – Don’t talk about it
Sometimes sharing with others puts pressure on us. We didn’t write today, what will everyone think? I posted on Twitter about my WIP but I haven’t updated this week, they’ll think I gave up. If you keep a project secret, no one will ask you questions about it. No outside sources of expectations. Once you finish, then you can shout your success! If you always tell friends and family but find yourself plagued with writer’s block throughout your project, for the next WIP try keeping it a surprise for when you finish.
What works for you? What have you tried to kick that dreaded writer’s block to the moon? Tell me in the comments!