Writer’s Block ia a subject that we have discussed many times on this site in the past. It can be a frustrating and often overwhelming condition that writer‘s of all levels face at one time or another, no matter their style or expertise. What you probably don’t know is that writer’s block comes in various forms and each requires a different approach in order to overcome the obstruction and take back your creativity.
The Different Forms of Writer’s Block (and How to Tackle Them):
Lack of ideas
This is the most common form of Writer’s Block and consists of literally staring at a blank page. Perhaps you will manage to write something down, but chances are you will delete it shortly there after. This can be a very frustrating experience and usually you can’t even get started because you have no idea what to write about. You are halted before you have even begun.
There is good news for those that are suffering from this type of Writer’s Block, this is one of those times when ‘doing a writing exercise’ may actually work. Try, for example, free-writing for a few minutes. This means writing without thought, simply put your pen to the page (or fingers on the keyboard) and let the words flow from your mind. Don’t worry about editing, or making sense for that matter, set a timer and simply write whatever words come to mind. Once you are done you can read through what you have written and pull out any ideas that may be useful. Another way to generate ideas is by reading, pick up a magazine, visit your favorite bogs or utilize online bookmark sites. (StumbleUpon is a great source of inspiration) By reading different materials you can generate ideas for your own writing. You may find a topic that needs more in-depth information, a different point of view or slight expansion, just be sure you share your source of inspiration so the original author gets the credit they deserve. Be sure to check out writing prompts (there are many listed on this site and even more that can be found though a simple Google search) sometimes simple inspiration to get you started is all you need to break through this barrier.
An abundance of ideas, but a lack of discipline
Another form of Writer’s Block is the challenge of having a ton of ideas but the lack of discipline to follow through with any of them. This common case of Writer’s Block is the type that I struggle with most often, I will have an ample amount of ideas about what I want to write about, but I lack the discipline required to complete the writing. Perhaps you have lists of topics you want to write about, you may even begin each piece, but somewhere along the way you get sidetracked and these pieces never get completed. I have files full of half-finished articles, stories and blog posts that require a bit more attention. The best resolution to this form of Writer’s Block is to file them away until a time when they do get your creative juices flowing. Chances are eventually you will be able to turn them into something in the future, but trying to force them out now will only result in disappointment. Set them aside until a later date or try putting a new spin on them, but don’t force them to work or you will wear yourself out.
The fictitious brick wall
We have all faced this obstacle in our writing lives. You start out with a great idea and the ideas are flowing freely. You are writing up a storm and all is going well, then suddenly you hit a fictitious wall and you get stuck. It is moments like this that make you think about the art of outlining. Some writers work well with outlines, others are far better off just jumping into a story feet first. Outlines aid in creating a road to follow, but the good news is that they can be introduced at any point.
Creating an outline can help you break through any obstacles or barriers you come across in your writing, but they don’t necessarily have to begin at the beginning. Using an outline to get from point A, to point B, to point C will work just as effectively to get from point F to point G. If you find yourself ‘stuck’ create a quick outline of what you want to have happen next, and consider how your character is going to get there while staying true to themselves and the story-line. An outline, whether created at the beginning or the middle point will simply prevent you from travelling off-route and keep you in-line with your ultimate goal. So many times I have gotten stuck and ended up far-off from the point I wanted to end up at because I allowed my mind to wander freely without direction, and though this is not always a bad thing, you run the risk of taking a wrong-turn a hundred pages back and not realizing the result until it is too late.
The bold beginning without an end
This form of Writer’s Block runs along the same lines of the fictitious wall, you have a great story idea and your writing is going well then you suddenly realize that it is time to end the story and you have no idea how you are going to accomplish this goal. A good, even grand ending can make or break a book. (or article, or even blog post) Your ending should leave the reader satisfied, yet thinking as well. You can not be barreling along and suddenly come to a halt, nor can you end your piece without tying up all your loose ends. I have read so many books that have my undivided attention and then out of nowhere they come to an abrupt end leaving me stunned and somewhat disappointed.
This is another time when the outline comes in handy, consider also brainstorming to come up with ending options and choose the one that makes the story feel most complete. Make a list of all the loose ends you need to tie up before ending the story in order to prevent readers wondering what happened next. There should always be room for imagination, or continuation, but there should not be unanswered questions.
Characters can create a whole other type of Writer’s Block. Perhaps you have spent hours creating these bold, substantial and vibrant characters with depth and detail. You have written pages and pages about them, they way they look, where they live, what they do and who they are in general, but they don’t seem to be ‘doing’ anything.
Strong characterization is important to your writing, but over-characterization is just as dangerous as none at all. Spending too much time chalking out your characters personality leads to boredom and inactive plots. You can quickly fond yourself without a story for this amazing character to act out.
Don’t get discouraged, it is not a complete loss. Sometimes spending time writing pages of nothing actually leads to something. By creating in-depth information about your characters you are getting into their world and once you set out to start the story you will know your character inside and out. The downfall to this approach is that most of what you have wasted time writing will need to be cut out during the editing process. Consider instead creating a ‘character questionnaire’ that you can answer for each of your main characters before you begin writing, this is like a story outline for your characters. Include questions such as, Name, birth date, zodiac sign, career, likes and dislikes, etc. Gather as much detail as you possibly can and keep this list close during your writing, adding information periodically when it fits in the story. The aim is for your reader to develop a full picture of your character over time, while the story unfolds around them.
Self-doubt is one of the biggest causes of Writer’s Block. You start with a great idea, you begin writing, then you start questioning what other people are going to think and you lose your momentum.
Your inner critic can be your biggest setback and until you complete your first draft, that voice needs to be drowned out in any way possible. Don’t focus on the feedback you are going to get later, or later will never come. Chances are the problems you are imagining are simply that, imagination. You are never going to get ‘any’ feedback if you don’t first write. So tell that inner voice to shut-up and focus on getting your ideas down on paper. You will need that inner critic at a later time, during revising, so tell it to sit tight until then.
A Lack of Language
Another huge barrier that writers face is the challenge of finding the perfect words to convey their message. This is important if you are writing poetry or trying to set the imagery of a specific scene, but for the most part during the first draft the exact wording is not overly important. Rather than wasting time trying to find the perfect word to describe something, use the first word that comes to mind and highlight it in some way to be edited later. If you waste precious time on single words you will lose sight of your final goal and you runt he risk of this obsession over-taking your mind. Save simple changes for a later time and move on with your story and information. If moving on is not an option, for example, finding the perfect word is all a part of visualizing the next scene in your head, than by all means take your time or take a breath until you can move forward with your piece.
From the inside out
This type of Writer’s Block forms with a fantastic idea you have inside your mind, you have a plan and you just know it is going to be great. You begin writing your idea down and suddenly it doesn’t seem so fantastic after all. Is this simply your inner critic getting the best of you? Perhaps, or perhaps there actually is a problem with your idea that you are only seeing for the first time in black and white.
You have two options with this type of Writer’s Block. You can choose to motor on forcing the idea out of your head in the hopes that it somehow takes the shape you dreamed of, or you can cast it aside and set out in search of greener pastures. There is nothing wrong with letting a bad idea die incomplete if it means opportunity to begin a new piece that may be closer to your ultimate goal. If you decide to let the idea go, don’t delete it, simply set it aside for future review. Sometimes old pieces of unfinished work turn into treasures after your mind has had a chance to focus on other adventures. These long forgotten pieces may become a missing link to a future story, so keep them on hand for inspiration.
If you choose to follow through with your idea be prepared for disappointment. If you are ‘forcing’ your writing, chances are you will never be completely happy with the outcome, but this does not mean it is a complete waste. As with the previous option, if even after completing your project you are still not happy with result simply set it aside for revision later. A fresh mind, and a few changes, may be all it needs to become the idea you once held inside your mind.
Writers often spend so much time developing and idea inside their mind that by the time it gets to the page it is twisted and contorted into something it never was, save time with an outline and a clear idea of the result you are looking for.
The last form of Writer’s Block comes from erratic over-editing. This is when you continuously edit as you write and eventually lose sight of what you were writing in the first place.
One of the hardest things for writers to learn is to avoid editing until you have completed the first draft. There is no harm in correcting simple spelling or grammar as you go, but complete revisions of characters or story-lines should be saved until the entire piece is complete. You must let the story unfold before you truly know what changes need to be made. No writer has ever sat down to write a novel in one sitting, so stop trying. Focus on getting all the main ideas out of your head and on to the page before you try to perfect the product or you will find yourself stuck half-way through with no idea where you started or where you aimed to end up.
If you do find yourself in this predicament the best thing you can do is read through what you have previously written (without changing anything) and hope that the inspiration returns. If all else fails look back to the original idea (or the outline) and start over if you truly hate what your piece has become.
No matter what form of Writer’s Block you are suffering from, the best thing you can do is to keep writing. If a project has truly got you stumped move on to something else. Often times changing they type of writing you are doing, even temporarily, is enough to clear your mind of its obsessive focus. Take a break or try looking at things from a different perspective. Ask for help and always seek out new and interesting forms of inspiration. If you are truly stuck and suffering feel free to utilize our ‘Get Connected’ section here on Perfectly Prompted or email your questions, comments, issues, submissions, or even frustrations to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Until Next Time…
How do you cope with Writer’s Block?
What is your most common type?
Share you tips, tricks, advice and stories in the comment section below.