Managing Writer’s Block
Many writers speak of writer’s block, an inability to create new work or to finish a project. They discuss a mental wall stopping them from reaching the creative part of their brain. Hundreds, probably thousands, of articles have been written about writer’s block, what it is and how to cure it.
Yet there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of writers who don’t believe in writer’s block.
I take the middle ground on this one. Writer’s block could be anything. It might be all in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Often it’s a symptom of other issues in our lives or the story we’re working on. Other times it’s just an excuse for not wanting to write. What’s important is moving away from the term “writer’s block”. You have to figure out what your specific issue is and deal with that. By figuring out the underlying issue, you can overcome it and eliminate your block.
I’ve created a list of possible causes for writer’s block and how to overcome them. Even if you’re not suffering from “writer’s block” now, figuring out what usually causes your creativity to stop flowing allows you to create systems to stay creative. So take a look at this list and figure out what you can do to overcome your “writer’s block”.
Possible Causes/Treatments for Writer’s Block
Cause: story flaws– sometimes the cause of writer’s block isn’t you, it’s the story you’re working on. It could be that your story isn’t structurally sound. It could be that you’ve chosen the wrong viewpoint character. You might need to do more research to flesh out one of your ideas. There are all kinds of reasons why you might get stuck on a particular story.
Treatment: figuring it out– the first thing you have to do is figure out whether or not your main problem is a story issue. Analyze your story. Are all the events in the right order? Do they all belong to this story, or does one of them stick out like a sore thumb? Is your viewpoint character the right one to tell this story? Or are they unsure of what’s going on or just plain irritating? Have you done enough research to write about these issues/in this time period properly?
Read through what you’ve written so far and ask yourself these questions. Once you’ve figured out the issue, there are many ways to solve it. You might take out a scene that sends your story in the wrong direction, switch viewpoint characters or take a day to do research. Sometimes a story is just not meant for you and you’ll realize you can’t write this story at all, or that you can’t write it now for various reasons. It’s okay to put these stories away and move on to something else. I personally have a four book series perfectly outlined that I probably won’t write for another ten years. The important thing is that I kept the notes and that I’m always working on other projects.
You can always come back to it. If the story is really causing you heartache and you don’t know why, maybe it’s time to move on.
Cause: perfectionism– perfectionism is creativity’s worst enemy. Often we get bogged down in our desire to be “perfect”. Millions of dollars are spent on perfection, but the irony is that there’s no such thing as perfect. For one thing, nothing can please everyone, so even if it’s perfect to you, it won’t be perfect to the next person. Besides, people are imperfect, and thus our creations are imperfect.
Treatment: give yourself permission to write crap– and remember that you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. Remember that first drafts are always crap. Second and even third drafts are usually crap too. Some people spend twenty years editing one book. I’ve already spent seven working on one, and I know that the draft I’m working on is still imperfect and always will be.
Perfectionism can not only stop you from writing a draft, but it can stop you from submitting. Admit that at some point you need to stop editing and start submitting. I personally know that I have almost reached that point with Moonshadow’s Guardian. I’m working on a submission package and preparing to let it go, knowing that it is not perfect now and that it never will be.
Tell yourself it’s okay to write crap. Know that nothing you create will ever be perfect and instead focus on making it the best you can make it. Write a note to yourself explaining that all first drafts are crap and that it will never be perfect, and tape that to your desk. Every time perfectionism slows you down, remind yourself: you’re not perfect and you never will be. Your work will never be perfect. Neither was Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. Twilight definitely wasn’t perfect. You don’t have to be perfect for people to love you and your work, so stop trying so hard to reach this impossible ideal.
Cause: burnout– at this point in my life burnout is the most common reason for me to feel uninspired. It’s caused by doing way too much and starting way too many projects. This is getting more and more common as people work harder and longer hours, as we are constantly expected to be available via smartphone and to take on more responsibility in order to keep our jobs which never pay enough. Sometimes burnout is caused by a demanding boss, but often it’s ourselves who cause it. We take on too many commitments. We underestimate how long things will take us. We don’t give ourselves time to recharge.
Treatment: relax– sometimes all you need to do is take a break. Go for a walk. Take a hot bubble bath. Read a book purely for entertainment. Start saying no to unnecessary commitments. Take regular time for yourself. Sometimes all you need to get creative again is a little me time. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to carve out time for yourself, but nothing could be more important for a writer.
Make yourself–and your creativity–your first priority. If you don’t care for yourself, who will?
There are all kinds of real issues that writers call “writer’s block”, but the important thing to remember is that all of them can be overcome. All you have to do is figure out what your problem is and get to work.
What usually causes your writer’s block? How do you overcome it?