Writer's Block — that dreaded phenomenon that stops creativity in its tracks. It affects hundreds of thousands of people every day, leaving behind a trail of unrealized ideas and agonizing writers. And it doesn't discriminate — you can fall susceptible to writer's block whether you're writing novels or short stories. It strikes fiction and nonfiction writers alike. Freelance writers, bloggers, creative writers…even ghostwriters. How quickly you can overcome writer's block depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is the type of writer's block that might be afflicting you at the moment.
So let's take a moment to discuss the different types of writer's block and how you can fight them off.
1. You can't come up with a solid idea.
This is one of the most common forms of writer's block, and it's certainly the one most writers describe. You know you want to write — you might even have a vague inspiration of something you want to say…you just can't seem to come up with a solid idea. So you sit and stare at your blank document on the computer. Every once in a while, maybe you even try to get a few words down, only to go back and erase them all. Not because they were bad words, but because you weren't sure that was the idea you had in mind.
Good news, this might be the most common form of writer's block, but it's also one of the easiest to solve. Freestyle writing, writing prompts, writing sprints, all those writing exercises work for this particular type of writer's block the best because they force the creative juices to start flowing. As Maya Angelou once said, “You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” That philosophy definitely works in this situation, start using your writing muscles and you'll find it easier to find something to write about.“You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” -- Maya AngelouClick To Tweet
2. You have too many ideas.
Quite the opposite of not being able to come up with an idea, sometimes having too many ideas can paralyze your writing for different reasons. Maybe what you thought was a great idea for a new blog post turned into lame mush about three or four paragraphs in. Or maybe you just can't decide which one to work on first. Maybe you have an idea for a great novel, but also have a good idea for a character and they just won't fit together?
When ideas seem to come at you without any effort at all, it's always a good idea to jot them down somewhere just so you can keep track of them. Sometimes you may be working on one, discover that it's lame, and need to switch it out for something else. There's nothing wrong with this — sometimes the level of lameness doesn't make itself apparent until after you've started working. I have about 23 drafts on this blog alone of posts that I at one time or another thought were genius, but halfway through writing discovered how lame they were. I save them just in case I can come up with something in the future that might make use of them. Writing a scene in fiction is no different. Just look over my Works in Progress — so many ideas, most of which are half done or less. Getting some of them written helps me sort through the ones that are going to grow into something better from the ones that are just going to stay stuck. So in this case, again, writing exercises will help get your juices flowing.
3. Your idea was much better in your head.
I can't count how many times this has happened to me. I get what I think is a genius idea, jot it down somewhere, and then start to write it. Only somewhere between my brain and my fingertips, the words have lost all meaning. And when I read the words coming out of my head, I cringe. It's not genius at all. It's the opposite of genius. So what's going on? Is my idea failing me? Or am I failing my idea? Sometimes a joke sounds much funnier in your head until you say it out loud — timing, inflection, tone, word choice — any one of those things can and often will mess your joke up. And it can happen to your idea for a blog post, short story, or novel as well. Then the paralyzing element isn't your writing or your idea, but the conflict between which one isn't working out at the time.
This is the perfect time to learn how to turn off your inner editor and just push through. Sure, the idea you once thought was genius might turn out to be one of the worst ideas ever. Or it might turn out to be genius after all, but just need some heavy editing. So, the easiest way to end writer's block of this type is to, really, shut up and keep going until you know for sure what's not working.
4. You spent too much time away from writing, and aren't sure how to get back into it.
Of all the different types of writer's block that can affect you, this is the one that generally hits me the hardest. Especially as a mother and as a full-time ghostwriter and editor, sometimes my own works in progress end up on the back shelf for weeks or even months before I'm able to get back to them. And once I am finally able to get back to them, I have no idea where I'm at, what I've already done, or what's happening in my story. Sometimes I can get back into the story after reading a few pages, depending on how long the story is already. But a lot of times, even after reading what I've already written, I'm stuck with trying to figure out what direction I was trying to go in.
If reading the story isn't enough to get you back into it, then you may want to spend some time asking yourself why. Did you not pay enough attention to your foreshadowing? Is your story boring? Are you finding so many plot holes that you can't follow along with what's happening? If any of these ends up being the case, then going back and patching up those plot holes or adding in a touch of foreshadowing is usually enough to give you a direction — even if it's not the original direction you were headed in. Sometimes, just working on this new direction will spark your memory and you can get back on track, and sometimes you'll find that this is a much better direction that what you were originally planning.
5. Your burned out, and can't seem to get motivated to write.
You've been writing practically nonstop from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep for days — maybe even weeks. It doesn't necessarily even need to be your writing; perhaps you work as a freelance writer, or you spend a lot of time writing emails. Perhaps you have a day job that has you tied to a keyboard. Or maybe you have just been running yourself ragged and your body is trying to tell you something by blocking your creative juices.
Everyone is susceptible to stress, but writers sometimes feel the effects of stress a little harder than others. Mostly this happens because writers stop writing when they stress, and then they stress about not writing.Writers stop writing when they stress, and then they stress about not writing.Click To Tweet
This form of writer's block is generally easier to avoid through proper self-care than it is to treat. But if you're already fighting burnout and need to end writer's block caused by it, then this is the best time to give yourself a break. Take a couple days off to do anything but write. Give yourself a chance to recuperate and get your motivation back before you sit down to tackle that word count again.
6. You know exactly where you're going, but you're stuck on this one part.
This form of writer's block can be one of the most frustrating — you know exactly what you want to happen in your story, or exactly what information you want to share in your blog, but you can't figure out how to get there. Maybe you even have your major points all outlined out for you. Yet, despite knowing exactly what you're doing, somehow you find yourself stuck somewhere in the middle, and you can't seem to force your way through it to get where you want to end up.
This usually happens to me when I'm at the boring part of my writing. In fiction, it happens during one of the slower scenes. In my blog, it usually happens when I'm more excited about sharing the information than I am about writing it — or else it happens when I get another idea for a post while I'm still working on a blog post. Whatever the case, the solution ends up being the same — follow your need to write something more exciting and circle back around to the boring bits later, when you're on a roll. Using the writing high from zipping through the exciting parts is perfect momentum for going back and tackling those boring parts.
7. You're stuck in self-doubt.
Maybe you're looking at your story and wondering how you got to where you're at, or maybe you feel like you made a mistake early on. Maybe you're halfway through your blog post and realized that somewhere along the line you went off on a tangent and are now talking about something completely different — but you can't pinpoint this mistake. Or maybe the mistake was so long ago, that trying to fix it feels like it would be overwhelmingly difficult.
If you're absolutely sure that you've made a mistake in your direction, then the best thing to do would be to go back to that point and start over. Remove all those old pages and paragraphs. Trying to trudge forward when you no longer believe in your direction will only get you further entrenched in the feeling of self-doubt, so there's really no point in that. And if the mistake is as big as you think it was — big enough to knock you completely off track — then keeping all those pages and paragraphs wouldn't do you any good anyway. If you're not comfortable with deleting all that work, then try saving those paragraphs and pages to another file. Who knows? Maybe they will fit into a different story better? Or maybe you can create a second blog post out of them?
8. You can't think of the right words or phrases to say what you want to say.
This one gets a lot of people stuck: they know exactly what they want to say, but can't for the life of them decide on how they want to say it.
Here's the thing, writing is about writing. Choosing the right words? That's for editing. Your first draft is going to be crap — I'm sorry but that's just the way it is. Of course, with more practice, the level of crap will go down with each new story, but it will never get to the point where you can zip off a new book and send it straight to be published without editing. A lot of times, writing requires a level of focus and concentration to keep going. It might take awhile to get on a roll, but once you get there, stopping can paralyze you. And tripping over which word is the right word is a good way to get yourself paralyzed.
This form of writer's block is more easily avoided, rather than fought off. First, have a list of common things that trip you up, such as people names, city names, and the like. When you start on a new story and come across something you need a name for, draw from your list. You can always change it around for the perfect name later. For other things, try using placeholders. My own rule of thumb is that if I can't think of it within five minutes, it gets a placeholder and I move on. I would much rather be able to continue writing while I'm on a roll and use my downtime to try to think of all those other things, than to lose my roll because I spent too much time trying to think of what I wanted to say.
9. You've finished and you're editing based on feedback, but your own words are getting in your way.
I love and hate getting feedback from an editor. I love it because I know that my editor is going to pinpoint my weakest parts and tell me flat out: “you need to fix this because….” But I hate it because I still get stuck. I know that's a weak point — she wouldn't have said anything otherwise — but I love my words. And I can't always figure out how to go from what I wrote to what I should have written, even with notes from an editor.
Unfortunately, to end writer's block when it hits you during revisions isn't something I've fully mastered. Sometimes calling my editor and hashing it out works, or contacting my accountability partner works. Sometimes I can just bounce ideas off my husband until something clicks. And sometimes I have to resort to skipping over the note and moving on just so I can work on another note further on in the story. During the worst cases, I do complete rewrites by opening the old manuscript into one window and a fresh document in the other. I transcribe the good parts and when I come to one of the notes from my editor, I just write the way it should have been written. This allows me to use a document not already filled with all my own words and has, sometimes, helped me get over myself so I can fixed what needs to be fixed.