There are different levels of writer’s block.
- Sometimes it’s just a little bump you have to get over before you can head downhill on the crazy train of productivity.
- Sometimes it’s a lump in your throat that won’t let any good words slip past.
- Sometimes it’s a wall that you need to walk away from so you can get a running start to barrel through it.
- Sometimes it’s an indomitable beast of a cliff that mocks you and refuses to allow passage. No free-climbing, no narrow staircase, no Fezzik+rope, and no wings (no matter how many Redbulls you consume).
What do we do when writer’s block absolutely prevents us from writing?
- Can’t figure out if your character should stomp away or stalk? These types of minor blocks can usually be powered through with the sheer force of sucking it up and making a decision.
- I’m also a big proponent of the [hard brackets]. They’re easy to use, and they are a good editorial to use when you want to leave yourself a note or find a troublesome section later on with the find function.
- You’re afraid to make a decision one way or the other, because you could slip and it could all fall apart. This is a psychology game. It’s not so much about being blocked as it is being a bit nervous.
- You’ll find that once you make a decision, the pace will pick up, like a sled rocketing downhill. I find warm, delicious beverages such as cocoa or coffee or tea to be especially motivating.
- You might find yourself at the base of this hill more than once, so just remember how much fun it is to shoot through the air in a flurry of writing, and you’ll find the courage to climb.
A Wall-like Wall of Walls
- Something is in your way. Maybe you built this wall, stone by stone, only to find that something you planned is in direct conflict with a decision you made last chapter.
- A change of plans is in order. You can go back and prod at old decisions until they fit, or you can charter a new course.
- Unless you’re in China, it’s easier to go around a wall than through it. But if you’re determined and you find a strong enough reason, you can barrel head first through the rocks and make it out the other side.
Bottom of a Pit
- Maybe you’ve lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel (pits are just vertical tunnels that open in just one direction, right?). Maybe you can’t figure out how you got here, and you don’t know how you’ll get back on track. Maybe this is the plot hole you’ve fallen into (why does your heroine go this way, when the obvious choice is this?).
- Haven’t you ever wanted to dig a tunnel with spoons? Seriously. It’s tempting, right? That’s what you’ve got to do. Dig yourself out. Sometimes you have to go back and dig a new path, rewriting something you liked for something that makes sense.
- Sometimes we can save editorial issues for the revision process, but sometimes we have to multitask. Grab your spoons, eat some coffee (in the form of tiramisu), and get digging!
Shore of a Lonely Island
- You’ve lost sight of other human beings, you may be feeling isolated, like your ideas are the ocean but you have no way of navigating them, and what did hamburgers taste like anyway? How does life work? What is this thing you call “paying taxes”?
- OK. Time for human interaction. Time for variety. Get up, get out, and do something, Make conversation with a fellow grocery shopper, chat with the guy in line at Subway, and conquer the awkward silence of the elevator ride. Do something to get your brain out of the mud.
- Talk out your ideas with someone (ideally a trustworthy person). Putting your ideas in speaking form gives your brain a new way of approaching the situation. That might seem a bit crazy, because it’s easier to want to hoard the good ideas in our brains. Yet talking it out is a different way for your brain to think, and it’ll help.
- Difficult to overcome, loose footing, and sand in your shoes, but getting to the top isn’t impossible. This happens when you know where you want to go, but you’re just having trouble keeping up the pace you want.
- You’ve run out of steam (you’re questioning whether steam is an efficient mode of travel), you’re struggling for traction, and you’re considering do a barrel roll all the way back down. Don’t. Sand will get everywhere. And giving up is so passe. Keep moving forward.
- This requires a unique combination of dedication, your favored beverage of choice, and time. Scheduling and/or habitual writing practices are required to get it done.
Cliff of Insanity
- You might have a brilliant idea, but you just aren’t prepared to write it. Everything you write pales in comparison to the magnitude of the idea trapped inside your skull.
- Write down everything you have. Ideas, quotes, characters, plots, settings, images, and then (I know this will be torture…) walk away. Sometimes we have to give our ideas the time and space they need. Like teenagers.
- Come back to it at some far flung future when you feel more comfortable with the story and you have the skills and confidence to do your ideas justice.
Regardless of whether you’ve faced all the types of writer’s block, of if it’s just a particular strain of the disease that plagues you, we can all agree that the age-old advice of “Just keep writing” doesn’t always work.
Don’t beat yourself up! Just do your best and work the problem until you figure out a way around, through, over, under, or away from it!