Dealing with Writer’s Block
I’ve always wanted an antique typewriter like this. But I feel like if I had one, this is how it would look 98.5% of the time.
But, anyway, now that I’ve distracted you with that cute picture, I’m going to say something that’s going to be rather unpopular.
I don’t believe writer’s block exists. I don’t believe that there’s a muse out there whispering in your ear, helping you plot your story or urging you to finish. Sure, it’s a lovely, romantic idea, but it’s bullshit. There’s no outside entity that allows or prevents you from writing.
For all of you out there who are struggling with finishing your books, or your papers, or your blog posts, or hell, even your grocery lists, and are currently flipping me off, hear me out.
If you’re really attached to the idea of a muse, consider this: You’re your own muse.
I’m my own muse.
I might joke and say Hugh Dancy (Hannibal style) is my muse, but obviously, he’s not. I may find him inspiring, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.
Are there some days when the words come easier than others? Absolutely.
Are there days you can’t write no matter how hard you try because you keep getting cock-blocked by life? Oh, yeah.
There are lots of way life can cock-block you: being at the mercy of other people’s schedules, being at the mercy of your own schedule, stress, anxiety, crippling self-doubt, overthinking, second-guessing yourself, sickness, grief, ADD, depression, kids, significant others–you get the picture.
Then there’s the self-inflicted cock-blocking of the internet, Netflix, books, craft projects, Facebook and Twitter, and, god help me, Tumblr.
And all of those things–even the positive ones take up valuable, mental real estate. If your brain’s main focus is one or more of those things (or anything not related to your story) it can be exceedingly difficult to find your flow and put words on the page. Somedays, it’s downright impossible.
However, there is hope.
Remember that thing about you being your own muse? Well, it’s true. You may not have the power to control other people, life events, or your mental state. But you can do things that can help facilitate writing–or at least free up some head space for it.
1.) Eliminate as many outside distractions as you can during your scheduled writing time–all the little things that pull you away from your story. Or that make it easy to be pulled away.
a.) Turn off your phone or silence your texts tones. 98% of those calls and messages will keep.
b.) Turn off your wifi. If you need to look up something in your story, make a note and come back to it later.
c.) Ask the people in your house to cooperate and leave you be. If this doesn’t work, go elsewhere and get your word count in.
2.) Actually make time to write and stick to it. Okay, so you’re not a write everyday kind of person, that’s cool. But you need to sit down and work on your story on a regular basis to finish the damn thing. Make dates with your characters and keep them.
3.) Use writing prompts. Let’s say your scene is stalled, find a writing prompt to get you writing anything about your characters–whether it has to do with the plot line or not. Here are a few that a very cursory search of Pinterest turned up.
“I’m only telling you this because you won’t be able to tell anyone else.”
“There are at least seventeen ways this could have gone better. Literally. Like, I’m counting them right now, you moron.”
“That is a terrible, horrible, incredibly foolish idea. Let’s do it and see what happens.”
“I don’t like salad or eye contact.”
“Sometimes memories are the worst form of torture.”
“This would be a lot easier at night time.”
“That’s the closest I’ve ever come to a heart attack. Let’s never do that again.”
Or, to save you from the siren song that is Pinterest and/or the rest of the internet, grab a book open it to a random page, chose a line of dialogue or narrative, type it into your manuscript and go from there. Obviously, if this scene finds its way into your story, you’re not going to be able to keep that line, but the idea is to get you writing again.(Be sure to mark it by bolding or using a different color text so you can remove it more easily.) Even if this scene doesn’t remain in your book, it still got you moving, and the action of writing has the lovely side effect of jumpstarting more usable thoughts that you will be able to incorporate and keep.
4.) Don’t stop writing because you feel like what you’re writing blows. Parts of it might, but there are also parts that are salvageable. Blank pages will still be blank at the end of the day. Shitty pages can be transformed into something awesome.
5.) Phone a friend. Brainstorm. Make notes. Talk it out. This is honestly one of the things I find most helpful. Talking about the point in the story where I’m feeling stuck, often shakes my brain loose or my friend will say something helpful that shakes my brain loose and I’m back in business.
6.) Offer yourself a reward. If I get 1000 words, I get X. (Cup of elaborate coffee, cookie, five minutes on Tumblr (set your timer, though!) an episode of your favorite show, etc.
7.) Play Frogger. No…not that horrible, annoying video game. If this part of the story isn’t working for you, jump to a different part and write that. Connect the dots later.
8.) Write something stupid, over and over and over and over. This is advice I once got from Jenny Trout. She told me that when she would get stuck, she’d type the phrase: ugly yellow tube socks over and over and over until her brain finally got sick of it and wanted to write something else. She might end up with pages of: ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks ugly yellow tube socks
But eventually, she’d come up with something else. I think the trick here is that if you type something over and over for a long enough period of time, your brain will be all, “Fine! I’ll help you come up with something else. JFC, just stop typing ugly yellow tube socks, already!”
9.) Push through it. Give yourself permission to write shit. The shittiest shit that ever shitted. Just keep going, because eventually your brain will catch up with you and your story and you’ll be back where you want to be.