I think all writers encounter writer’s block at some point, whether you are in the middle of a novel and you’re not sure how to progress to the next scene, or you don’t know what you want to happen next, or you want to write a short story, but don’t even know what to write about. There are lots of causes for writer’s block, but what is the best cure?
When I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2009 I discovered the best cure for writer’s block: Just write! Because during NaNoWriMo I had a goal of writing 50,000 words in one month, I didn’t have time to sit around procrastinating over a scene until the answer came to me – I wanted to reach my daily word goal. So I wrote. Sometimes what I wrote was pure drivel, but I was writing. I could always go back later and edit or cut out. By writing when I thought I was stuck I got past the writer’s block. Once I discovered this, I’ve never been bothered by writer’s block again. Here are some methods I use to write past writer’s block:
1. Write or Die. I loved this free program during my first NaNoWriMo. The idea is to set a goal and a punishment for yourself, then start writing. The punishment occurs if you stop writing for too long and could be as simple as a siren going off or as harsh as erasing what you’ve already written. Because you have to write to stop the punishment occurring, you don’t have time to stop and procrastinate. I used this many times when I got stuck on a scene on my novel. (Remember you can edit later, so don’t worry if what you write even makes sense at this point.) If you don’t want to use Write or Die, set yourself a timer, close down any other distractions on your computer and just write until the timer goes off.
2. The Writing Book by Kate Grenville. There are some great writing prompts and writing exercises in this book. I got assigned this book when I was studying writing at university, and it’s one of the few assigned books I still refer to. Stuck on your character? There’s a chapter on character. Don’t know where to begin? Try the chapter on getting started. Here’s an example of an exercise from the book:
Write for 60 seconds without stopping. Just write exactly what comes into your head, even if it’s only ‘I can’t think of anything to write this is a stupid thing to do.’
3. Plan Ahead. Particularly if you are writing a novel or a longer piece it can help to plan before you write. Obviously this is not for everyone and some people find it too restrictive, but I find it helps me have an idea of where I want my story to go. By knowing where my story is going, and what plot points I want to include, it gives me something to work towards. That way if I get stuck, I just refer to my notes, look at what my next important plot point is, and write towards that scene.
How do you get past writer’s block?
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5 thoughts on “The Best Cure for Writer’s Block”
I love your point to write through your writer’s block, even if it’s drivel. Nora Roberts is fond of saying that she can fix a really bad page, not a blank page.
I also find that setting deadlines for myself, usually tied to something external, really helps. I”ll check out the Grenville book.
I find freewriting a really great way to get out of “writer’s block.” Whether I write on the topic I’m blocked about or something else entirely, it helps me free up the words stuck in my head and get them flowing again. Once I write something, anything, it’s easier to write what I want to write.
Much of the time when I think I’m blocked, I’m really just distracted by other things, so getting rid of distractions is really important for me. Often that means going somewhere else to physically get away from all of my books, computer games, and other projects that keep calling for my attention. If I can’t get away from home, I use a little mac program called WriteRoom that just gives you a full black screen with green text. It’s a good tool for staying focused.
Susan – That’s so true, you can edit a bad page of writing, but you can’t edit nothing. Setting a deadline is a great idea, it can be a great motivator. That was one of the good things about NaNoWriMo because I was trying to reach a daily word goal so I pushed through the writer’s block to reach that goal.
Anita – Freewriting, even if it is totally unrelated to your novel or whatever you’re stuck on, really can help. As you say, it’s all about getting the words flowing. And while you’re writing about nothing, you can suddenly find the solution to the part you’re stuck on. Writeroom sounds like a great program for getting rid of distractions. That’s one of the reasons I like Write or Die, too, because you just have a blank screen to write and no distractions.
I tend to just sit there, either with pen and paper or the keyboard, and wait. Something invariably pops into my mind. It may well be drivel but it gets things flowing again.
That used to be my method when I got writer’s block, but I found I couldn’t just sit there and wait for the words to come. I’d either sit staring at the blank screen/page for ages or I’d get distracted. I found if I’m stuck, the best way to get past it is to write through the writer’s block, even if what I write ends up being deleted in the end. If waiting works for you, then that’s awesome. It’s all about getting the words flowing again.