At the moment, I have a case of writer’s block. So, I thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of ways to deal with this common problem. These will be tips and recommendations that I have heard from other authors over the years as well as solutions I have come up with on my own.
First I’ll tell you about the coping method I use the most often, called freewriting. It’s a pretty common idea that’s been in the writing world for I don’t know how long, but I picked it up probably six years ago or something. Freewriting is writing freely – as in writing free from the voices in your head that say whatever you’re thinking of writing is stupid. Those voices can be a good thing in that they keep you from putting out writing that actually is stupid, but they can also be a major cause of writer’s block.
When freewriting, you allow your creative juices to connect straight to your fingers, skipping the self-critic, and just type whatever comes into your head. And I do mean whatever, even if the words don’t actually form a sentence. This is possible because you assume from the start that it won’t be going in whatever it is you’re working on at the moment. You might keep all your freewriting in a separate document, or you might just type it in the middle of your WIP and delete it later. I’ve done both, and I think I prefer keeping it separate and saving everything, as it can also function as a sort of journal. Just remember that the most important thing is to completely ignore your inner critic. Since I have writer’s block right now, I’ll give you a sample of what my freewriting looks like.
He left. It hurt. The Christmas tree lights are pretty. My cat is sitting beside me all curled up and for some reason some of her fur just went poof poof. There is a little train under my tree. I like to sing. La de da. Wa wa. Pink slippers. Ruffles.
There we go. Those first two sentences have been sort of bouncing in my head for a while and it’s a bit of a relief to have them out. No idea what they were inspired by.
Anyway, the point of freewriting is not to make any progress in your actual WIP, but to grease the pathways in your mind that bring ideas to the surface and take a swing at the over-bearing internal critic, and therefore is most useful against writer’s block caused by the internal critic shutting down every word you try to write. You can keep doing it as long as you like until you feel freer.
But there are other types of writer’s block, such as simply not knowing yet what the best direction for the scene or section you are writing might be. A lack of inspiration specific to the project you are working on.
I get this kind of writer’s block a lot, so I have developed a few ways to deal with it.
A while back, when I first started transferring my writing from notebooks to my laptop, I would get stuck and just stare at the document I was on. Just stare at it. Type a few words, delete them. Then I realized: Wait a second, this is on a computer. I don’t have to write this in order. I don’t have any ideas for what to put next, but I have lots of ideas about what to put way later on in the narrative. So I started typing out the scenes that were happily playing through my head but I had felt like I couldn’t write because they were out of order.
Of course, I eventually came to the end of my inspiration for these scenes as well, but by that time I found that I could go back to what I had originally been working on and get more done there. So now I’ve got five and ten and twenty thousand word unconnected sections that I cycle through when one of them gets boring/I get stuck. Obviously, there are still times I have to power through a boring section that will never be interesting no matter how much distance I have, but I have found that this cycling significantly raises the amount of words I can put out in a day. Usually I cap at 200-300 words a day but by switching up scenes I can usually get that many on two or three sections, thus tripling my output.
A slightly more severe version of this scene switching would be full project switching, which is what I am doing right now. As I write this I have reached the editing/adding sections that make the story make sense time in working on my current short story and I really hate it. My internal critic is at it again but to such a degree I find myself disgusted with the entire project. Thus, to keep from an unhealthy amount of banging my head against the wall, I’m stopping for a few days to stock up on blog posts. This way I get to feel useful and get my writing self-esteem up a bit without the head-banging.
The most severe and impossible to work around kind of writer’s block is just plain old burn-out. This can happen for various reasons, including the above-mentioned disgust with a certain project because of editing woes, bad self-esteem from bad reviews or general lack of success in anything that’s published, bad self-esteem from other myriad writing issues, bad self-esteem from life outside of writing (detecting a trend here?), exhaustion from working on other things like classes and homework, not enough time alone as an introvert, exhaustion from illness, etc. I’m afraid to say, I haven’t really discovered any little tricks to deal with these kinds of writer’s block. The only thing I have found to work is to go after the source of the problem.
If your disgust with a project progresses to hating the act of writing at all, you have to take a break. It might be for a day, might be for a week, longer depending on just how discouraged you are. Try working on other projects, and if that doesn’t work, you just have to stop for a while. It will feel like giving in, but there is little to do if you are truly burnt out.
Self-esteem problems are probably the most complicated and difficult to treat/deal with. I could write an entire blog post or series of posts just about grappling with low self-esteem and probably should. But since it causes major writer’s block for me, I will go into it a little here.
To start, I’ll say loathing your own writing is something many writers deal with. Those of us with mental health problems on top of writer’s regret have it even worse. In addition to often believing my writing is crap, I also easily fall into thinking that I, myself, am crap. It can be very difficult to get things of any kind done when feeling this way. I’ve always managed to do my schoolwork through these troubles, but this stressed me out in the extreme, and when you’re giving yourself stomach ulcers and back pain because of continuing to work despite terrible mental health, you don’t have a lot left to give creative-wise. I’m not in school at the moment and things are much better that way, but when I do have my worse days of not liking myself in general and thinking that my writing is no good and no one will ever like it, I still find it very hard to produce anything. Usually I deal with this by staring off into space literally just thinking to myself, “I am sad,” watching YouTube thinking the same thing with a few laughs every once in a while, binging Netflix or laying on the floor. If a cat is available, I stuff my face in its belly.
I don’t know how healthy any of that is, but I can say the YouTube bit and the cat bit seem to actually help, in that I hate myself less after hearing from sweet and loving YouTubers and I get some oxytocin from my cat. But as far as curing writer’s block, when the wave of bad mental health comes over me, I usually can’t work for the rest of the day. It does tend to come in the evening, so I might have produced earlier that day, but once the bad comes it’s all over for the day and I need not to push myself. Fortunately, this sort of thing lately hasn’t lasted more than a day and a half, so it doesn’t totally stop forward progress.
There are all sorts of ways to help your self-esteem if that’s the issue causing your writer’s block, but for me personally, I almost exclusively use rest. And that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
Then there’s lack of energy from having to socialize at some point during the day or from being sick. For both I’d have to recommend the same solutions. When I’ve had to be around people who make me tired for more than two hours in a day or for many days in a row, I haven’t got anything to give to my writing. I have to just sit and watch Netflix until my energy comes back. I can’t write much when I’m sick, either. You wouldn’t think sickness would sap mental energy as much as physical energy, but for me it does. So I have to sit and accept that I’ll be useless until I’m feeling better.
So I don’t know if that last section has been very helpful, just telling you to accept your writer’s block and not write. But maybe it is helpful. Sometimes you just need permission to rest. So here it is. If you’ve got some light blockage and can use the tips from early in the post to get out of it, go for it. But if you’ve got burnout, here is your permission from a random person on the internet to take a break to take care of yourself and not feel like you have to get anything done.
May your muse start speaking to you again, and may the road rise up to meet you.