One problem that seems to plague most writers at one point or another is what we refer to as writer’s block. If I had to visualize writer’s block, I would imagine it as a troll, camped out on the bridge that connects my mind to paper (or computer). A huge, foul creature, the Writer’s Block Troll has one mission in life – to block the Army of Creativity from crossing the bridge into the land of Awesome Wordsmithery.
The result? The land of Awesome Wordsmithery is lonely and barren. Only a few tiny yet quick Pawns of Mediocrity make it through the Troll’s legs – which is more frustrating than having nothing come through.
So what’s a writer to do when that troll takes up residence when you are desperately trying to rally the troops?
I don’t have all of the answers. After all, what works for one person may not work for another. But here are some tips that I hope will help you to banish the Writer’s Block Troll whenever it rears its ugly head.
Tip #1: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
One thing that prevents a lot of people from writing is the fear of making mistakes. That expectation of perfection can be crippling before you even get one word on the page. My advice: Don’t worry about writing something that is perfect. It is unrealistic to expect that what you write will come out exactly as you want it to the first time. Even the great writers (you know, the ones who have penned the masterpieces), most likely have to edit and polish their words before putting them out there for the world to see. So stop stressing yourself about things being perfect right off the bat. Just write. You can always go back in and tweak things later. For now, your only job is to create. Think of writing the way that a factory works. First you do the work by clobbering together the product, then you conduct quality control before packaging it all up and shipping it out to consumers.
Tip #2: Outline
If you are a planner and need to know exactly where you are headed, perhaps you would benefit from having an outline of what you want to say. This outline can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. For example, I have a synopsis for my trilogy, a synopsis for each book, as well as outlines for each chapter in the first book. That way I have an idea of what I want to happen (though, what actually happens might completely change once I start writing). It helps to have some directions to guide me when I get stuck).
Tip #3: Just Let it Flow
Sometimes you can’t outline because you really have no clue what you want to say. When I feel like this, sometimes I just free-write. Whatever comes to mind, I write it down. I don’t filter anything. I don’t even actively thing. I just let my stream of consciousness take over. Sometimes it’s random musings. Sometimes it’s a short story. Sometimes it’s background info on a character or even a summary for a chapter of a book I am writing. Sometimes it’s venting and ranting. A lot of the time these free-writing sessions become blog posts or spark an idea. Either way, what happens is that I get into a flow of writing. The writer’s block troll is defeated!
Tip #4: Change of Scenery
As a WAHM, I mostly work at home. Even though I don’t restrict myself to working in one place at home (sometimes I work in my office, sometimes in the living room, and sometimes I hide out in the bathroom because it is one of the few doors that has a lock on it), I often find myself in need of a change of scenery. That is when I gather up my laptop and head somewhere around town that is conducive for writing. My favorite spots are a local coffeehouse and the student center of a university that is a 2 minute drive from my house. For some reason, being in those atmospheres, with their pleasant drone of noise, helps me to be able to focus on writing. Besides, there are usually other people there working away on their laptops and I think that motivates me to be more productive.
Tip #5: Remove Distractions
Speaking of focus, one thing that can really make it difficult to get in some quality writing time is if you are surrounded by distractions. If writer’s block is a troll, then I think of distractions as noisy little goblins. They clank and clobber around you, constantly drawing your attention away from the things that you need to do. The bad thing is, though, that these goblins are not always ugly little things. They can actually be quite appealing. Some of my biggest distractions are my son, social media, and Netflix. I can sit down at my desk, completely intent on writing, but find myself distracted by notifications popping up on Facebook or my son popping into my office asking me to do something for him. Those constant interruptions often break my focus. I tell you, there are few things more frustrating than to have the perfect sentence or idea formulating in your mind, only to be distracted long enough for that idea to slip out of your grasp. Sometimes you are able to retrieve it, but other times it flits away leaving only the smallest impression that it was ever even there. Do yourself (and your sanity) a favor by eliminating as many distractions as possible. Tell your family that you will be unavailable for the next couple of hours. Turn off the TV and stay off social media. The only thing you need to tune in to is your mind.
Tip #6: Find Your Musical Muse
Now, this is going to sound like it flies right in the face of my last tip, but as I said, not every method will work for everyone. Some of us (even if only sometimes) needs a bit of white noise in the background to be able to focus. I know that I do. For me, it depends on what I am writing. If I am doing work for a client, I typically need silence because the work I do for clients often involves some level of research. I can’t research with noise. However, if I am doing more creative writing, it often helps me to have music on in the background. In fact, I actually have a playlist on Spotify called “Wordsmithery Soundtrack”, which is what I play when I am working on my novel or certain types of posts on my blog. Some of my personal favorite music to write to are movie soundtracks (especially Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia), violin music, and _____. For some reason these things relax my mind and get me into my zone.
Tip #7: Engage in Another Creative Outlet
One thing that might help to get your creative juices flowing enough for you to write is for you to focus your energies on another outlet. Do you enjoy photography? Maybe you like to paint or draw? Perhaps you enjoy strumming on the guitar or sending your fingers flying on a keyboard. Whatever it is that gets you in that creative mood…do it. Then come back to writing.
Tip #8: Clear Your Mind
Sometimes when you have a mental block, the best thing to do is to clear your mind. There are a wide variety of relaxation and meditation techniques that you can use to accomplish this. Personally, I am a fan of meditation and relaxing in a hot bubble bath.
Tip #9: Discover Your Writer “Witching Hour”
Many of us have a time of day (or night) when our creativity is at its peak. Try writing at different times to discover when you are at your best creatively.
Tip #10: Sleep On It
Some authors have talked about how they have gotten some of their best ideas while they were sleeping. For example, Twilight author, Stephanie Meyer says that Edward and Bella sprang almost fully formed during a dream. It honestly doesn’t surprise me. When we are in a deep sleep, our subconscious is at work and there are none of the limits or distractions that are present when we are awake. If you tend to have really vivid and imaginative dreams, try keeping a journal and pen by your bed so that you can quickly jot down any ideas or scenes that came to mind during the night.
Tip #11: Go for a Walk
Sometimes going for a walk helps me to think more clearly. Sometimes I also see things that I think would be perfect to include in a blog post or scene.
Tip #12: Start Talking
If you are having difficulty writing something, try speaking out loud. Record yourself talking. Sometimes it is easier to talk about something than it is to write. You might even try talking to someone. Your conversation might spark some ideas.
Tip #13: Take a Break
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break if you need to. Put your notebook or computer down and come back to it later.
Tip #14: Read
One great way to get your creative juices flowing is to read. Reading for writers is the same as studying. Not only can it introduce you to new methods of writing, it can also be a great way to come up with things to write about.
Tip #15: Ignore Your Inner Critic
If you are constantly hearing a voice in your head telling you that your writing is not good enough, counter it with thoughts about how well you write, how people enjoy reading what you have to say, and how it makes you feel to have a finished product. If you really feel as though your writing could improve, take some courses. Personal development is never a bad thing.
Tip #15 Do a writing prompt/exercise
I find it helpful to sometimes seek out writing prompts to get me started. You can find a lot of these online. Here is a Writing Prompt Boot Camp that is hosted by Writer’s Digest.
Tip #16: Throw a Wrench in the Story
Are you working on a novel and find yourself stuck on a scene? Can’t figure out how to get your characters to the next main plot point? Instead of trying to plod through directly, why not take a random detour. I find that sometimes you just need to switch things up. Throwing in a small plot twist might be just what you need to get things going again.
Tip #17: Write Every Day
One way to avoid writer’s block is to train your brain to write by writing on a daily basis. After all, writer’s write…right? Set aside at least 30 minutes each day when you can do nothing but write. Try your best not to skip a single day. Eventually it will become second nature and you will write without even having to think about it.
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