How do you beat writer's block?
Ironic, isn't it? I was planning to write a post on writer's block last week but guess what? I got stuck. I stopped and started the post three or four times, then gave up and tried to ignore it. At the same time, I was really struggling to move on with the next part of my novel, and it got me thinking that there is more than one kind of writer's block. Probably many more. But in this post i'm going to talk about the big two:
Lack of ideas.
Let's start with 'lack of ideas'.
This can happen at any stage of the writing process but it's a common stumbling block for those who are just starting on their writing journey. You want to write – you have the skills, the time, the passion... but no idea what to write. The good news is, there are stories everywhere – you just need to find yours. If this is something you struggle with, these four tips might help:
Read a variety of newspaper stories. Don't overlook odd or quirky snippets – they could spark something exciting.
Read! Read genres that interest you and authors you admire. Not so you can copy them, but because sometimes the best ideas ignite when we are inspired.
Try a 'what if' exercise. This could be based on your own life, or an event in history. Don't worry about being prosaic or getting your grammar and spelling on point, just write down what could have happened if something had gone differently. For example, what if you had chosen to take that job in New York? What if you had quit school and gone travelling? There are hundreds of scenarios you could play with here, and each one has the possibility of becoming an interesting story.
Carry a notebook with you and jot down scenes that catch your attention. If you notice a particularly interesting person, write a character sketch. Imagine what they do, where they are from, their interests... even if this doesn't directly lead to the formation of an idea, it will get your creative juices flowing and will always be handy to look back at later.
Another 'lack of ideas' issue can occur mid-write.
I experienced this myself last week. I had been on a roll, the words had been flowing, the story was getting more and more exciting. And then, suddenly, my protagonist was stuck on top of a high city wall and I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get her down! I knew where she needed to get to and what was going to happen next. I had all the plot points laid out. But everything I tried just didn't feel right. It didn't feel authentic.
I've read various pieces of advice for this situation but what worked for me, in the end, was telling myself that it was actually okay for this part of the story not to be perfect right now. Ideas change as stories evolve, so i'm confident that something better will come to me eventually. And if it doesn't? Well then that's when I'll show the passage to one of my trusted readers (sister or husband) and ask for their advice. Sometimes an outside perspective, or a question you haven't thought of, will be enough to make you go, 'ahhh, yes that's it!'
And now, what about the second 'big bad'? Fear.
This one is difficult to overcome and can impact virtually every area of your writing. But what is
there to be afraid of?
Fear that what you write won't be as good as you want it to be.
Fear that other people won't like what you've written.
Fear that you won't be able to finish it.
The list goes on.
And the only real way I've found to overcome fear is to ask, 'What is the worst that can happen?'
Realistically, disappointment is probably the worst outcome if what you write doesn't live up to expectations. But if you don't try, then you'll be disappointed and frustrated. You might tell yourself that you'll do it later, one day, etc. etc. but deep down you know you are making excuses. So, just take a deep breath and do it! (I realise this is easier said than done.)
Another more practical tip, however, is to try writing on paper rather than the computer. This can help overcome the intimidation of the blank document and the blinking cursor, and it makes it less easy to be critical in the early stages. When you're typing, it's natural to keep reading over the same paragraph and editing, deleting, restructuring. But sometimes, it's good to just write and not focus on the nitty gritty until later.
Do you have any tips for overcoming writers block? What other kinds are there? As always, i'd love to hear your thoughts!