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Sunday 11 June 2023

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

German author Thomas Mann once said that “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”, and anyone who has ever encountered Writer’s Block will understand him completely. Things can get very difficult when that ominous mist descends and swallows up every ounce of creativity, leaving you in a pit of despair and wondering why you ever even bothered in the first place.

how to overcome writer's block

In this guest post, Author - Daniel Grabowski will talk through the types of writer's block, and the techniques to overcome it...

Just what is Writer’s Block? 

Writer's block is defined as the inability to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. In other words, you’ve hit what endurance runners call ‘the wall’. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, it will. Writer’s Block is unavoidable for writers and it often makes repeat visits.

Every writer deals with it in different ways, some more outlandish than others...

How writers deal with writer's block:

  • Aaron Sorkin, the man behind The West Wing and The Social Network, likes to take a shower and have a fresh change of clothes whenever it strikes. Sometimes up to 8 times a day. 

  • Ernest Hemingway claimed he never suffered from it (I’ll get to why later as he might have a point). 

  • Philip Pullman argues Writer’s Block doesn’t exist, his reasoning being that a plumber suffers no such thing as Plumber’s Block. 

  • The late Terry Pratchett agreed with him, claiming it was invented by writers from California who couldn’t write.

So, while the concept of Writer’s Block is subjective, as is writing itself, it is more of a metaphor for a creative slump. And it is in this slump that many people can get so bogged down and lost that it becomes hard to pull themselves out of.

For the sake of argument I’m saying WB exists. I’ll even go as far as to say it comes in two forms. There is the ‘confidence’ block and then there is what I call the ‘corner’.

The ‘Confidence’ Block

Creativity and confidence go hand in hand. This is why when you are first starting out it can be so easy to block your own creativity with worry. It is a daunting prospect starting a writing project, and you can easily talk yourself out of it as you question every decision, wonder if this is plausible or if that would be believable.

In my previous article I talked about setting goals and being consistent in order to develop the habit of writing. That’s all you need to do here. It will be stop and start at first, but as long as you turn up every time and hit that word goal, you’ll build up that habit and soon the creativity will flow, the doubts and the indecision will fall away. Don’t worry though, they’ll soon come back when you get around to editing.

Remember, writing is a muscle. Using it will be hard at first, but the more you use it the stronger it gets, and the easier writing will become.

The ‘Corner’

The corner is the more traditional version of Writer’s Block. You’re part way through your story and everything is going great until suddenly the well dries up, the lights go off and you’re left sitting there in the dark with no ideas.

This is where you’re the architect of your own downfall. Often the block strikes because you’ve written yourself into a corner, either one where your hero has no way out of their predicament, or your hero is in such a dull situation your creativity has decided to go on strike.

Fear not, don’t lose faith in yourself; it’s a common problem. You can’t plan for everything, but planning is part of the solution: you simply go back to the drawing board. It may be that your original idea isn’t flowing and you’re trying to force a narrative that just isn’t working. A story can take on a life of its own. You can have characters, spend time with them, and then half way through you realise that they absolutely will not end up where you first expected them to. That’s okay. If anything that’s a good sign not only of a good character, but your recognition of it. A story is only ever set in stone when it is sent to print. Remember that when you’re set on something happening.

A lot of the time though, before you can recognise what needs putting right, you need to stop altogether.

Some small ways to help with writer's block:

Take a step away for your story for a bit. In a way that works for you. Go for a long walk or bike ride, or hit the gym. Whatever your exercise, that’s always a great way to blow off some anxiety and creative cobwebs. Alternatively, switch to a different project; a change of genre or to non-fiction can help. You might just want to sit down and read, take inspiration from authors in your genre or just enjoy a bit of your favourite. Like any muscle, rest is just as important as using it for development. If you’re in a slump, try out a few different ways and see what works for you.

The Hemingway-Dahl Technique of overcoming writer's block

I mentioned before that Hemingway claimed he never suffered from Writer’s Block. That’s because he had a preventative measure. He claimed that by always stopping while the going was good, i.e. when you’re right in the middle of a great scene, the creativity would never dry up. He could just pick up right where he left off, and that momentum would carry through some of the less-inspired moments. This was an idea that Roald Dahl swore by too, claiming he would always finish half-way through a page and never start on a blank one.

Plenty of authors have taken the advice, some even go as far as stopping mid-sentence. Going against that rule teachers always drummed into us at school about making sure we finish a sentence, plenty have claimed that a half finished sentence kept the creative embers burning. When they returned to write again, it was much easier finishing an idea already started, as opposed to starting a new one.

I have tried this preventative measure, even going as far as the mid-sentence stoppage, in my latest manuscript A One-Way Ticket to Ruin. Granted it was a sequel, and a lot of the ground work had already been done, but it definitely felt easier to carry the momentum of a half-written sentence than having the inertia of a new one to start with.

Overcoming Writer’s Block is a tricky thing, but it can be overcome relatively easily. Be it taking a break and going for a walk, reading a book, or switching to another project instead. Sometimes the mind just needs a break so subconsciously it can work out a few creative kinks.

Alternatively, we can take a preventative measure towards it. By keeping up our writing goals, denying Writer’s Block’s existence, and not finishing our sentences, we can keep the creativity at a steady burn and keep that monster in the shadows at bay.

At least until the edit.

Author bio:
Daniel Grabowski, Author, former Teaching Assistant  and Stepdad to one. 

Have a read of Daniel's post 'how to write a novel and manuscript in 4 easy steps' here.

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