Friday, May 18, 2018

Overcoming Writer's Block

Sometimes the words flow, scenes practically write themselves, and everything is fine in the world. Other times, crafting a single sentence seems like an impossible feat. When this happens, I always wonder whether this is it. The end. I'll never write anything worthwhile again.

Yeah, this probably sounds a bit melodramatic, but it's how it feels. For a writer, not being able to write is awful. It can feel like the end of the world, but of course it's not. There are ways to defeat writer's block. The best way depends on the underlying problem.

So here are some common problems and the solutions that work for me.

Problem: The manuscript isn't working. 

If there's an issue with my project, my writing grinds to a halt and my passion fades.

Solution: When this happens, I need to accept that there's a problem and focus on fixing it. Instead of trying—unsuccessfully—to plow ahead, I need to stop and reassess the manuscript. This generally involves reading what I've already written, adjusting the plot and/or characters, and cutting the parts that don't work. It can feel like a step backward, especially if I'm losing a lot of words, but it's the only way to move forward and to produce a finished manuscript I can be proud of.

Problem: I'm thinking about another project. 

This usually becomes a problem when I'm waiting for feedback on a finished manuscript. When I try to write something new, I find myself obsessing over the coming response—what it's going to be and when I'm going to get it. I may also worry that as soon as I get really into a new project, I'll have to stop to do revisions on the other manuscript.

Solution: Write something other than a novel. I'm at my happiest when I'm working on a project, so I don't want to take a long break, but sometimes starting a new novel just isn't a good idea. Instead, I should focus on something else—blog posts, short stories, picture books, etc. These things aren't easier to write, but they are different, which can be refreshing. They're also shorter, which is perfect when I don't want to invest in a big project.

Problem: My schedule has changed.

Solution: A change in my schedule can throw my writing routine out of whack. When this happens, I need to create a new writing schedule. If you're experiencing a major change—a new job, a baby, or a move, for example
this might take a while. Give yourself some time to adjust. If you feel bad about not writing, consider setting a more realistic goal. For example, if you normally write 5,000 words a week, you might try to write 500 words instead. You can also set a deadline for when you want to return to your regular productivity levels. 

Problem: I'm feeling down. 

When I'm having problems in life, it can be difficult to muster the energy and motivation needed to write.

Solution: Commit to a short writing session. If I tell myself that I only have to write for ten minutes, it doesn't seem so daunting. When the ten minutes are up, I may decide to stop, but more often, I'll have gotten into the project and I'll want to keep going. A good writing session always makes me feel like I've accomplished something. It boosts my mood, making it easier to write again later.

This solution might not work if you're suffering from bigger mental health issues. In this case, you may need to focus on your mental health before you feel ready to return to writing. Make positive changes to your daily routine, like improving your sleep habits and getting more exercise. Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings. See a doctor and get professional help. Take care of yourself first, and worry about writing later.

Problem: Unclear.

Sometimes the cause of writer's block isn't obvious. All I know is that I'm not writing the way I want to.

Solution: This can take a little troubleshooting.

Sometimes forcing myself to do a short writing session works. I tell myself that I have to write one paragraph, even if the paragraph is horrible and I end up deleting it the next day. Often, this is enough to get me thinking about my story, and I end up writing a lot more than one paragraph.

Other times, I need to do the exact opposite: take a break. I might be burned out on writing and in need of some relaxation. It's also highly possible that a nice walk/shower/video game session will do the trick, and I'll figure out what I want to write while I'm mulling it over in the back of my mind.

Final Thoughts 

In the end, I think defeating writer's blocks means finding a healthy balance. On the one hand, you can't just wait for inspiration to strike. Professional writers need to write regularly, and sometimes this means writing when you aren't inspired to do so. 

On the other hand, you don't want to be too hard on yourself. If you're putting too much pressure on yourself, you'll probably just make the situation worse. You need to take care of yourself.

What triggers writer's block for you? What helps you defeat writer's block? 

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