Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writers talk about writer’s block a lot. It’s a question nearly every author gets asked—how do you deal with writer’s block? How did you beat it? It’s an issue that, it seems, penetrates every writing community, and the question of how to overcome it is one that no person, book, or google search has yet been able to answer.

While I’m no professional author, I do have some tips from personal experience that you may just find useful. Let’s begin.

First of all, it’s important to remember that writer’s block is a subjective concept. While it seems to apply to a wide range of authors, they suffer under it to various degrees. Often the problem is different from person to person—for one author, they may have burned themselves out by writing too much, while another might simply be struggling with how best to illustrate their plans.

Most instances of writer’s block fall under one of two categories: a lack of inspiration or ideas, or a perceived lack of knowledge concerning how to get your ideas onto the page in an accessible manner. These are very different problems, and as such will be addressed separately. The first section of this post will focus on the former, while the second will address the latter. At the end, a short section will be present explaining a third, equally frustrating type that often gets pushed to the side in discussions of the concept.

You’re lacking in inspiration or ideas

So, you have your hands on the keyboard, searching for the right words, anticipating a finished book that sells thousands of copies and becomes a New York Times bestseller… but you realize you don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to weave your story.

In other words, you are out of substantial ideas. This form of writer’s block, caused by a drought of inspiration, is, in my experience, the most common. If this is your problem, do not fear—there are ways to get out of it. You may want to consider this type of block even if you don’t think it’s what’s burdening you—often, your true problem reverts back to the fact that you just aren’t inspired.

One way to stockpile new ideas is to read. Read in your genre, and keep on reading until something strikes you. I wrote an entire post awhile back about the value of reading—you should never underestimate it. Many of your ideas will come from what you discover in the prose of other authors. Don’t be afraid to recycle archetypes or concepts from existing works—art is built upon this idea of remixing old concepts, and very few ideas are truly unique. Reading, though it can be tedious, has the added benefit of teaching you subconsciously about prose. YouTube videos and online articles are great surface-level tools for new writers, but—outside of writing—it is only in reading that you’ll truly develop your art. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who’s never before heard a tune.

Seed lists can also be quite useful. Setting specific writing periods is great… but those likely won’t be the only times when you’re able to come up with ideas. Try keeping a notebook or something of the like with you at all times: something in which you can record ideas as they occur to you. Our inspiration comes from the world around us, and you probably don’t want to count on the time sitting and staring at a blank document as the only time to generate ideas. You’ll be surprised at the list you can rack up if you stay attentive elsewhere.

You’re unsure of how best to portray your ideas

You have your ideas but you’re stuck on what to do with them, are you? You know whatever you say will lay waste to the perfect idea in your head?

If you’re in this situation, your mind might be tricking you. You’re led to believe that you just can’t find the words—that now that you’ve reached this culminating moment, you’ll ruin the carefully sculpted idea in your mind—and yet in reality, you just don’t have enough gas. In other words, you’re scared, but for the wrong reason. You know, or you suspect, that you’ll be out of ideas before the page is past. See the previous section of this post for more on this.

In short: The problem here may be not that you can’t find the words, but rather that you don’t know what exactly you want to say. So, the primary form of writer’s block already covered may suit your needs better.

If you’re confident that that’s not the problem—that your trouble not in what to say, but rather how best to say it—there are several methods you can try. Some writers like to abandon all notion of prose in favor of a stream of consciousness, planning to heavily edit and rework entire paragraphs later on. This can be a useful method… for some writers. Others will find it hardly useful; they’ll find that it only adds stress to their already taxing writer’s block. In this case, try just writing something down. It doesn’t have to be your story. It doesn’t have to be an idea you’ve cultivated. But walking away at this point is maybe the worst thing you can do. Often, just writing anything—whatever occurs to you at the time, or perhaps something you noticed or thought of the other day—will inspire you to open up with your idea. If not, at least you’ll be practicing, and improving, your technique.

Alternatively, your trouble may be in the lack of a proper story outline. If this bars you from writing effectively, there’s a good chance you’re what we call an architect; you require a solid frame of reference to even begin your piece. If this is the case, there’s a bounty of plotting advice online. Don’t get too caught up in the world of online guidance; I’d recommend choosing one source, and sticking with it. You can find my list of recommended resources here.

There is a third type of writer’s block which I have thus far failed to mention. To get right to the point, this is the situation in which you have the ideas, and you know you have to get some words onto the page if you ever wish to grow as a writer… but you simply cannot find the willpower to write. You feel frozen. If in this situation, you have two available courses of action. Either you can walk away, or you can force yourself to write. Note that there is no shame in walking away… but you may want to schedule a time to return to your writing. This is not a situation that you will want to keep returning to. Sometimes, however, our headspace prevents us from writing altogether. This especially occurs when first getting started, before we’re able to form a schedule and consistently write. If this is the case for you, try to push through it if you can. Take a short break, but be decisive about it and don’t fail to return. This type of writer’s block could also be a result of the time of day, so you could try acting according to that. Ideally, you’ll get back to it within the hour.

What you don’t want to do, regardless of the type of writer’s block you have, is spend the day researching the problem. In the end, it’s something you can fix. Perhaps you shouldn’t even have gone so far as to read this blog post. But here’s to hoping you gained something from it. Here’s to hoping you’ll use what you’ve found—be it from Goblin Opinions, or from any other site—and do something with it. Here’s to hoping you’ll succeed. I believe in you.

But my belief is one side of a double sided sword. If you’re reading this instead of writing, your side is one yet to be fulfilled. So fulfill it: close this tab and get back to work.

3 thoughts on “Overcoming Writer’s Block

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  1. As a writer who is occasionally plagued by the infamous “writer’s block” I really appreciate that you took the time to dive into this subject. Many of these tactics I use myself, however, some of them were new to me and I am certainly going to implement them should the occasion arise. I particularly enjoyed the section detailing “an uncertainty around portraying ideas”, as it is something I often struggle with. I appreciate your take on it, and the tools you’ve provided may prove rather useful to me later. Lastly, from personal experience, one of my favorite ways to combat writer’s block is to take a walk or a bike ride, I find a change of scenery often gets the creative juices flowing. In any case, I have succeeded in the ‘art of anti-writing’, as I have now put my valuable writing time and energy into this very comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find it helps to engineer some change in my mental state and then try again — like by exercising, having some coffee, a glass of wine. But I agree that one problem is not knowing what to say but confusing that with not knowing how to say it.

    Liked by 1 person

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