It’s on the list of a writer’s least favorite things, right next to cringey clichés and dangling participles. It’s the moment when you finally sit down to spend some quality time with your characters, only to find that they won’t talk to you.
In other words, writer’s block. In other words, the bane of our existence.
Every writer has had to fight “the block” at some point. Because of that, we’ve accumulated tips and tricks for beating writer’s block to help us break out of the slums and into sweet, sweet productivity.
Identify the Source
Even though writer’s block can feel like an ambush, it doesn’t usually come from nowhere. In most cases, something specific is keeping the words from hitting the page. If you can identify the reason, you can beat the block. Three huge reasons include:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Losing your story’s direction
More than one reason may be at play at a time. If you’ve lost your story’s direction, you can’t fulfill your grandiose expectations of yourself, so you turn to distractions. We’ve all been there. Figure out the source of your block, and then you can…
Eliminate the Source
Now that you know what’s holding you back, it’s time to fight the dragon! Here are some quick tips for beating writer’s block’s many sources.
Rough drafts are called rough drafts for a reason. They’re supposed to be rough. You can take a rough draft and polish it—fix the plot hole, tweak the dialogue, and add the perfect turn of phrase—but you can’t polish something you haven’t written yet. If you find yourself stressing about a story because you think it’s awful, repeat this mantra to yourself, “It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be finished.”
Sometimes, the issue is that we just don’t know what the heck is going to happen next. And that’s OK, too. Here are a few ideas to help you get your story back on track:
- Use a beat sheet
- Try stream of consciousness journaling to dislodge ideas without worrying about the format
- Ask questions (e.g., “What’s happening right now? Why isn’t this working? What is this character’s current motivation? How would I respond to this scenario?)
- Write a “splash timeline” to sum up the whole story in bullet points to remind you where you’re going
There are two types of distractions: internal and external. External distractions are easy to manage. Put your phone in another room or play ambient music to block out the noise. Internal distractions are trickier: boredom, anxiety, or self-doubt.
Dealing with these distractions starts with acknowledging how you’re feeling. If you need a break, take one. Do something relaxing that will renew your focus, such as reading, stretching, taking a walk, or enjoying the mental benefits of a massage. If you’re anxious or doubtful, accept those emotions. We all feel that way sometimes, but try to remind yourself that the feeling doesn’t change the truth. You are a good writer. And you can do this.