Writers block is one of those mysterious ailments that is blamed for late assignments, missed deadlines, and failed dreams. Some people claim it is merely a myth (I’m admittedly one of these people) while others find it plagues their writing.
As someone with more than two decades of professional writing, editing and teaching experience, I feel quite strongly that in 99.9 percent of reported cases of writer’s block are nothing more than a chimera. In my opinion, far too many would-be writers spend far too much time and energy on finding the right computer, program, paper, pen, location, mood-setting music, and the like before they can begin writing when that time and energy would be much better spent on simply getting down to the business of writing. These would-be writers treat their muse as something delicate and breakable, something as elusive and fleeting as smoke. In other words, people don’t have writer’s block, they have writer’s procrastination.
I know from years spent working on research articles, academic books, textbooks, and novels, that procrastination is one of those things that can really kill your writing. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding writing by looking at Facebook or going down a YouTube blackhole.
Most often writer’s block, or what is commonly referred to as writers block, is caused by one of three problems–lack of preparation, lack of training, and lack of development. Lack of preparation is often caused by not creating an individual writing process that can take advantage of your writing strengths and help overcome your writing weaknesses. Lack of training is similar to athletic training–you need to warm up and work out on a regular schedule to keep your writing muscles in top condition. Lack of development simply means that your particular idea may need more time to percolate or perhaps you are not ready to tackle that particular topic at the time.
I have five recommendations to help you work through writer’s block.
First, you need to simply write through it. Give yourself permission to write garbage and focus on simply creating a really rough draft. Often once you stop worrying over all that is wrong with your writing the words will begin flowing again. I always like to quote Michael Crichton who said, “Books aren’t written — they’re rewritten.” Why? Because we all put a bunch of junk in a first draft that has to be edited.
A second method of dealing with writer’s block is to get moving and get away from the book. Take a walk or hike. Do something physical away from your office or desk and do not let yourself return to the scene of the crime (or writer’s block) until several hours have passed. You might be surprised what your brain works out in the interim.
Third, you need to have a plan. Now, I don’t want to get into plotters vs. pantsers here, but you need to know where your story is going. Personally, I like to work with a good outline before I start writing. At the same time, I let the book change organically when it needs to. But, if I run into a sticking point, I always have the outline to go back to. If you don’t know where your story is going, you’re more likely to end up going nowhere.
Fourth, exercise and challenge your writing muscles with writing prompts and exercises. Sometimes simply changing the pace of your writing or your subject matter can be enough to help you work through your difficulty.
Lastly, write! Set time to sit down and write. Or, attend write-ins in your local area or online. Having this time devoted to sitting down and writing is crucial when it comes to being an effective author.
Remember, every writer experiences some form of writer’s block from time to time but you do not have to make a mountain out of a molehill. Working out an effective strategy to circumvent writers block when it strikes is one of the most important skills a real writer can develop.