Hello and welcome to the second blog topic in my Prep-tober blog series.
So, you just sat down at your computer (or notebook) and you’re going to write a story (or maybe you’re in the process of one) but the page is blank! You stare at it. Then you blink. Then you stare at it some more. Your mind isn’t working. Oh, God, your mind is empty! “What if I write something that sounds dumb?” Or, “What if I write something that doesn’t encompass what I’m trying to say?” Or, “What if I’m not meant to be a writer?” *panic, panic, panic* and *frazzle, frazzle* Suddenly, the story you thought you had, disappeared. You can’t think of a single thing to write. All you can think of is that blank page! Or maybe you can think of twenty things to write, but every time you lift your hands to type, you hesitate, and put them back in your lap. The words just aren’t coming out. Not a single one. Whyyyyyyyy!?!?!?!
Well, my friend, you might be suffering from a dreaded case of “Writer’s Block.” Dun, dun, dunnnnnn. Ugh!!
Writer’s block is a common occurrence among many authors. So, if you suffer from it, you are not alone! The most important thing is to accept that it happens. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Understand it, and move on.
Why does writer’s block happen?
Timing? Sometimes it’s just not the “write” timing. Get it? Hehe. If the timing isn’t right, if you’ve got too many loud thoughts in your mind, life is too busy, you’re too distracted, you’ve got kids screaming at you, or parents telling you to do your chores, or whatever it might be, sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. And other times (I find this is most often the case for myself), the story needs more time to develop in your mind.
Environment? It could also be a matter of where you choose to write. Maybe the world around you is too distracting, too noisy, too…whatever. Am I right? Everyone works differently. Some people love writing in busy coffee shops. The distractions help break up the writing process. Others need a tiny closet with nothing around them and absolute silence.
Understanding yourself and knowing how you work helps you write better.
Fear? This is a big one. Many writers suffer from imposter syndrome (myself included). We fear that if we don’t get it down perfectly, are we even writers? We fear what others might think of our words. We’re pouring our hearts out here, exposing our deepest thoughts. We fear that what we write won’t be good, or worthwhile. That fear can be crippling.
Fear of judgement is real. Here’s a secret: People will judge you no matter what you write. So write what you want and to hell with the haters! Isn’t that a TSwift song? Haters gunna hate-hate-hate…okay you get the point.
Perfectionism? I, personally, suffer from perfectionism big time. I often think that my first words on the page must be absolutely PERFECT. If my sentence doesn’t come out perfect on the first go, then it shouldn’t come out at all! This is destructive to writing. I’ve had to get past this on my own, and that wasn’t easy, but it was life-changing. One thing that helped was sharing my work on Wattpad and developing a community of cheerleader-readers who helped me realize that even if it wasn’t perfect, they still enjoyed it.
Inspiration? In my personal opinion, lack of inspiration is the number one reason for writers block. I’ll say it one more time: Inspiration!!! If you aren’t inspired to write. If you aren’t excited about getting new ideas down. If you aren’t eager for your story. If you aren’t daydreaming about it all day long. If you can’t stop thinking about your characters, their conversations, the plot, the world building, etc. then you will struggle A LOT.
I hate to say this, but if you have a massive amount of inspiration, then your environment (whether loud or quiet), distractions, the type of music you have playing, the amount of chores and responsibilities you have in life will have ZERO, I repeat, ZERO reason to hold you back. If a story is literally bursting to get free, it becomes like a geyser and it doesn’t matter what else is going on, the second you put those fingers to the keys, those words will pour out and you won’t be able to stop them.
I’m speaking from experience here. I’ve had stories I’ve literally had to DRAG out of me. And I’ve had stories that are bursting free. I had one in September that was the latter. I wrote 100K words in a single month. An entire book. It didn’t matter how busy work was. It didn’t matter where I was writing. It didn’t matter if I had my favorite cup of coffee or not. It didn’t matter that my hubby came in and started chatting with me or distracting me. NOTHING ELSE MATTERED!
Inspiration, my friends. IMO, that’s the number one reason for WB. Lack of inspiration is going to make writing any story hard, no matter the circumstances. You could follow all the other rules for avoiding WB. And you’ll still struggle if you don’t feel inspired by what you’re writing.
Okay, those are the main reasons (from my point of view). So, perhaps now you’ve identified the reason for YOUR writer’s block. Knowing the reason is the first step in tackling it. But if you haven’t figured it out, then I’d recommend trying some of the “allies” listed below. Maybe one will help.
Overcoming writer’s block is a personal journey. No one can do it for you. You must battle it and conquer it yourself, just as your book characters must face their own monsters and overcome them. Like any quest, having allies helps—a lot. So, below, I’ve listed out some allies that could help you tackle the lack of inspiration, the perfectionism, the fear, etc. Choose one and grab your sword, then venture into the unknown and attack the dreaded enemy that is WB.
Quiet Time: Quiet time AWAY from your writing. Sometimes, simply having a blank page in front of you is the problem. It acts as an intimidator. It forces you to build a wall. It gives fear, imposter syndrome, perfectionism a chance to take root in your mind. Step away from that blank page. If you stare at it longer than 2 minutes, step away, my friend. This is not going to be an easy battle. You need a new ally.
Go for a walk (this is Stephen King’s way of battling writer’s block. He loves going for walks).
Do some mindless chores. This is what I do. There are always chores. Some of my best ideas come while I’m scrubbing the shower or doing dishes. I know, I know. You’re probably saying, “But Meeeelllllll, no one likes chores!” I agree, but they are a productive way to get your mind wandering.
Sit out in nature and let your mind drift. This is a personal favorite. I have two places in my back yard surrounded by trees and birds that I love to just sit alone, without my cellphone, and think.
Go for a drive.
Lay down and take a nap. No, seriously. I have some amazing ideas while I’m trying to fall asleep. Another personal favorite. If you’re too tired, writing is going to be a struggle regardless.
Take a long bath or shower. I love coming up with ideas during my shower first thing in the morning. If I’m going to write that day, I plot out what I’d like to cover during my shower. I have conversations—literal conversations—in my characters’ shoes, pretending I’m them, and trying to feel what they feel.
My point is, friends, quiet time of any kind can be super productive. I actually have a daily habit of 30 minutes of quiet time. I’ve found it is IMPOSSIBLE to be a good author if I’m go-go-go all day. Nothing zaps my inspiration faster. It is impossible to think of good stories if my mind is always occupied. Being an introvert helps with this. While my friends are all going out, having a good time, I’m sitting at home thinking up stories.
You need time and space to be “quiet” to let your mind wander of life’s possibilities.
Reading: For me, this is the most important ally in defeating WB. But it’s more of a long term solution than a short term one. What I mean is, if you’re having WB right this second, then picking up a book probably won’t solve your immediate struggle. Think of reading like vitamins. If your body is malnourished, taking a single daily vitamin tomorrow morning won’t fix you. Taking one every day for two-three-even four months will start to show a HUGE difference.
I hate to say it, friend, but if you aren’t reading 6+ books a month, you are malnourishing your writing abilities. I know some authors will argue otherwise, but I am firm in this. Sorry to say it, but you will NEVER convince me otherwise. I’ve seen it with countless authors including myself. Devouring books teaches you to be a good author and it gives you the needed inspiration to write good stories.
Stephen King, in his fantastic book “On Writing,” recommends at least seventy to eighty books per year to be a “good” author. He claims that if you’re not reading that many, chances are, you won’t be a good author. I hate to discourage you. It sounds a little defeatist, but, he is an amazing author. He says that he was teaching full time, and still setting aside six hours a day spread between reading and writing. I can only manage about four hours on top of my day job…so maybe I won’t be as great as King, but damn, even if I can be 50% as great as him, I’d take that as a win.
A lot of people argue that there’s just no way they can read 1-2 books per week and write and adult. You have to make time for it. You’d be surprised where you can find hidden pockets of time in your day. I work a full time engineering job for a big corporate company. Yet, I read 2-3 hours per night before bed. I take care of my home and dogs. I go ice skating and exercise several times a week. Play piano every day. AND I STILL MANAGE TO GET 8 HOURS OF SLEEP. A lot of people believe I must starve myself of sleep. No. Sleep is very important. In the last 8 years I’ve written 11 books. That’s an average of 1.5 books per year, and some of these books are 180K word beasts. How do I do it? How do I read 90+ books a year on top of everything? How do I manage a website and blog? A social media account?
Good time management!!! Seriously. It’s not a joke. I don’t waste my time on stuff that isn’t enriching my life. The biggest secret is: I watch very little television. You’d be shocked how easy it is to sit in front of the TV for an hour or two, to watch a couple episodes of your favorite show, when you could have finished a forth of a book in that time. I watch maybe…2-3 hours total per week? An average of 30 minutes of TV a day while I’m eating. I would so much rather read than watch TV. I enjoy it more, it helps me grow as a writer, and I prefer digesting stories that way. Stephen King is the same. I was shocked to find that he watches zero TV.
Books are chalk-full of excellent new ideas. They are my number one form of inspiration. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been writing a sequence, and happen to be reading a story that gives me a great idea for said sequence. I don’t mean that I take an idea straight from a book and “copy” it, I mean, the book I’m reading makes my imagination wander, and suddenly an idea is “triggered” in my brain. Books are also a wonderful way to LEARN how to be a good writer through structure, characters, dialogue, etc.
Brainstorming: This one is sooo important. Some people brainstorm by listing out bullets on their blank page before they start writing. Others simply brainstorm in their head. Find what works for you. But don’t expect to go in and write a fresh story if you’ve never given it any thought. You can do this, but chances are, it will be a struggle and you’ll encounter some WB.
For me, I do my brainstorming before I sit down to write. If I’m planning to do a 1-hour writing sprint in the morning, I make sure to think about what I want to write the day before, or the night before, or in the shower that morning, or on my morning walk. I think about an entire chapter’s sequence before I ever open my computer. This ties into having quiet time.
It’s also something that requires practice. I’ve gotten better and better about plotting a chapter or series of chapters in my head before I write them. If you’re someone who prefers to write an outline on paper first, that works too! Just know that you should always give something some thought as opposed to rushing in blind. It will help with WB. You’ll know what you’re in for, and what you’re going to write.
During this brainstorming, I think about what is next for my story. What next activity or event will my characters engage in? Who will they interact with? What kinds of conversations will they have? How will this chapter further the progress of the plot? Why is it important? And if I’m really stuck, then yes, I’ll sit down and start writing out bullets. But usually, it’s not necessary.
Excitement/Inspiration: This deserves its own category and discussion. There are a lot of people who want to be writers simply to be a writer. The story comes BEFORE the writing. It is important to have a story in your head before you decide to sit down and write it. If you do it the other way, if you say, “You know what? I’d like to be a writer, so let me sit down here and write.” Then you sit down and you open a document and you stare at the blank page and say, “Huh. What should I write? Oh, I could write about a girl who…or, I could write about a boy who…Or I could…” Okay, you’re fighting a losing battle at this point.
To write a good story, you need to be passionate about it.
The best stories come from the heart. If a story is written with passion and love, the reader will “feel” it. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read where the author is simply following a recipe to “write a story” and go through the motions because they expect that all writing is, is putting words on a page. You’ll see that with those sorts of stories, there’s zero passion in the characters. Stories like that feel and taste like flat soda in your mouth. Readers will get bored, set the book down, struggle to finish it. That’s not what you want.
How many times have you read a book where your heart squeezes tight? Where your stomach drops? Where you literally FEEL everything the character feels? That’s because the writer was feeling those things too. Their feelings translated to the page. That, my friend, is what makes a good story.
You never want something to feel “forced” and it makes writing much harder when that happens. My ideas come at random times when I have a burst of inspiration. Often times, that’s at night as I’m trying to fall asleep. I can be in bed for an hour or two before I fall asleep. The stories I think up are the ones that make me excited: usually romance stories, frequently enemies to lovers. That’s what gets me excited so that’s what I enjoy writing about.
Sometimes these are “What if” ideas. “What if there was a young boy caring for his grandmother and he discovered a secret room of magical items in her attic?” A story idea can be as simple as that. In fact, that’s how Stephen King comes up with most of his ideas. They start as a single “What If” sentence and then he grows the entire story around that. He’s also mostly a panster who writes from his heart. That’s why you feel the passion in his work.
You should write about something that excites you. Don’t write what you think people want to read. Write what YOU want to read. If you are excited about your story, it will show. If you are not excited, that will also show.
Excitement is fleeting—remember that.
I find that I must write a story in 4-6 weeks if I’m excited about it. If I stretch it out too long, I get bored of the story after that time frame, and it starts to show in my writing. So when I have a new idea, I do what’s called a writing sprint, where I put my life on hold and spend 4-6 weeks writing out the story. Usually it’s bursting to get free because I’m so excited for it. My last was The Sleeper’s Harp. It’s not my best work, but I’m proud that I rode the “excitement wave” and got the whole thing down in a month, all 100,000 words of it. Yes, it was a drain on my body, yes, I had to cut down my reading to seven books total for the month, yes, I had to skirt a few work duties, yes, I had to beg my husband to make dinner for me. But I managed it. This kind of writing style is not sustainable month after month, which is why I only do several writing sprints a year and not every single month.
Okay, I hope these suggestions help.
Now, a little more about my personal experience with WB. I, personally, don’t get a whole lot of writer’s block. This is because I practice what I preach. I work VERY hard to avoid it by doing all the things I’ve mentioned above. It’s those things that have allowed me to be successful in my writing endeavors. Want to know my own personal tricks?? I’ve touched on many of them above, but I’ll summarize here:
I read a ridiculous amount. Like, I’m obsessed with books. It’s currently the middle of October and I’ve read 96 books so far this year. Not only have I learned a ton about story structure this way, but I never run out of ideas. When I first started writing back in 2015, I was only reading about 6 books a year and my ideas didn’t come as freely. I have seen a noticeable improvement in my writing directly correlated to the amount of reading I do. I realized that if I wanted to be a good writer, I needed to read more. I was willing to make time for it because I want to be a good writer. As with everything in life, if you don’t want it badly enough, making time won’t be easy.
Quiet time is extremely important to me. I take a walk with my dog literally every morning. That’s 30 minutes of uninterrupted thinking time.
I spend 30 minutes a day either sitting outside, or laying down on my day-bed with my eyes shut, being “quiet” so that I can relax my chaotic thoughts and get creative. During this time, I don’t touch my cell phone or any technology.
I play tons of music in the background while I write and work. Pretty music, without lyrics, so that my brain is relaxed. I also play about 10 minutes of piano daily, which works similar to meditation for me. My mind goes completely blank and that is a replenishing experience.
I read books on my craft on writing by various masters of the art. This has helped me to be a better writer. Not every book hit its mark, because everyone’s style is different. I especially resonated with King’s book (if you can’t tell by how often I’ve mentioned it). Want a list of recs? I’ve got a blog that I have book recs for learning the writing craft. I haven’t read one for a year or two, so I am due to read another soon; I don’t want to be stagnant. I want to grow.
Writing sprints! I’ve found I write better in sprints. I like to sprint when I get a new idea, spend 4-6 weeks writing the entire book, then take a couple of months off of writing completely. This allows me to re-calibrate and decompress. Writing is exhausting. During a sprint, I put much of my life on hold. It allows me to dump the ideas out while I’m excited about them. When I do a sprint, it’s all or nothing. I’m not someone who writes in small chunks daily all year round. When I’m gearing up for a sprint, I set a specific start and end date. In the days leading up to the sprint, I’m like a hound on a scent, I start piling up ideas in my head until I’m so desperate to write I’m literally sprinting out of the gates, and the story is bursting out of me.
Finally, and most importantly, I PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!!! I was not a great writer the first year I started writing. I wasn’t a great writer the second year, either. Probably not the third. Maybe not even now. I’ve been writing for 8 years. I still have more to learn. But I have made huge progress. Please don’t expect to be great in your first year. Stephen King made a $400,000 contract on his first novel. But before that he’d been writing since childhood, submitting articles and short stories to magazines. Even authors who write great “debuts” have had time to practice, editors, etc. Sure, some people are simply naturals; there’s always an exception to the rule.
My point is, don’t get down on yourself if you’re not the exception to the rule, if you’re not a great author out of the gates. Most of us aren’t. I still cringe when I read my early work. I’m so embarrassed about it. But I used that desire to do better to fuel me. I put a lot of work into becoming a better writer. This hard work is finally starting to pay off. It will for you too, if you put in the effort.
I hate to sound cliche but if you love something, putting time and effort into it won’t feel like a chore. You will want to do it. It’s like that with any discipline. If you love it enough, you’ll put in the time and enjoy doing it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my writing journey. Sure, I had my ups and downs. A lot of people don’t know I actually started writing in 2012 and got so discouraged that I quit for 3 years before my real journey started in 2015. But overall, writing is an absolute blessing. I’m so glad I discovered it in my twenties so that I could have a lot of time with it. Some people don’t discover their true passion until their sixties, or later, and that’s okay too. Better late than never, right?
I hope these tips and my own personal tricks/experience has been a smidge insightful. It’s different for everyone. I can only comment on things from my own perspective, or things I’ve witnessed from other authors. You might have a journey and experience that’s completely different from mine, and that’s okay! Our differences are what makes us unique, and what brings diversity to the writing world. And that, at its heart, is what makes storytelling so magical.