Be the Best Writer’s Block Buster – 6 Foolproof Strategies to Keep Writing

Visions of drill-sergeants march through my head and I laugh at them. What do they know about writing? Well, okay, sometimes you just have to push. There is a place for brute force in writing, but why go there when you can hack whatever blocks you in so many more pleasant ways?

First things first: Yes, I am a firm believer in the idea that there is no such thing as Writer’s Block, very much like there is no teacher’s block, no fireman’s or secretary’s block. We really need to stop mystifying ourselves. However. And that is a big one, so it gets its own sentence. However, there are pretty powerful blocking factors that occur so often that bets are, you have to deal with at least two of them if you want to finish writing anything.

 

So here are the 6 most common blocks to bust:

 

1. The Problem: Lack of Motivation.

A little obvious, sure, but a lot of the time the reason you are not writing is very simply because you don’t want to. Think about it: writing for many of us is somewhere in the nebulous area between a job and a hobby. It can feel a bit like doing your homework back in school: a lot of work every day with only a bare glimpse of the benefit at the end of a very long tunnel. But this time you are not in school: you’re an adult and you have a day job (or kids, or you’re not an adult and actually have school on top of everything). Nobody is after you like a hawk denying you video games or the Wi-Fi password until you’re done.

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Write Anyway. Push through until your fingers bleed, you lazy mo-fo!

I would say: Be your own Cheerleader!

The reason you don’t want to write is because in your head, you turned it into work/homework/chores. This happens so easily because we’re humans and we’re idiots that way, but there are ways around it. One literally is to ruthlessly hype yourself up to write. Make a habit of thinking about your story while you do your actual work and your actual chores. Envision the awesome scenes you get to write that day, how well they well integrate and push your plot ahead. Think of the characters that you love and ask them how they feel about yesterday’s scene and how you can make them happy today.
And it may seem silly but it’s crucial in terms of brain chemistry: smile while you do it! Even if you don’t feel like smiling at first, smile anyway. It’ll become more natural as your scenes unfold in front of your mind’s eye.

2. The Problem: Lack of Routine

There are still writers who contest the importance of a daily writing routine in writerly success (and lets define success as finishing novels). For most of us, though, especially those of us who do not want to spend a year or two on the first draft of one medium-sized book alone, I’d seriously recommend establishing one.

A routine, after it is established, is basically a habit. When it’s a habit, you don’t have to make the conscious decision to write every day, you just take it for granted that you will. And that makes it so much harder to just skip the day. And then the next one. And the next. Imagine you were handling school or your day job like it wasn’t a habit: you’d have to convince yourself to get up and work every single morning, instead of just sighing and getting it done. Be honest, how often would you just stay in bed?

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Get up an hour earlier, shut your door and write. No kids, pets or coffee allowed until you’re done. Now get down in that mud!

I would say: Designers, make it work!

If you can get up an hour earlier, that can actually be a great plan, especially if your afternoons and evenings are filled with children or other distractions. Personally, I can’t get up earlier than I already do (3:30 am. Oh, yes. I work weird hours), and in any case I’m not a morning person. But I still have a routine.

Routines don’t have to be tied to a particular place or time. I’d love, for example, to have a special little room for writing, which I only enter to write and which has a computer without internet connection. But I can’t afford that. If you can: that would probably help.

But in all seriousness, a routine is just a conscious habit of something you do for an hour every day. Because of my strange hours, I tend to do it when I feel most awake – or alternatively before I go to bed.

Crucial: Track your word count. And if you want, also track the time you spent. I use this spreadsheet and an app called Toggl (but mostly because I am curious about how much time I actually spent writing per week/per book etc.). In a way using these things can be an extra hassle, but there is no better way to keep yourself accountable if you have trouble with the actually-every-day part of the routine.

(And yes, you can take days off. Last months, I took 5 days off: 2 because I was seriously ill, 2 because a big translation project had destroyed my brain and 1 because I was lazy. Seriously. Don’t take off more than a day a week and aim for less.)

 

3. The Problem: Lack of a Support System

Most writers are at least a little bit introverted, but being a writer all by yourself is really hard. You have your family, who are somehow simultaneously really proud of your achievements and highly skeptical of your career prospects. And then there are you friends who don’t get it, when you want a whole weekend to yourself, just so you can totally immerse yourself in your story.

There is always the one friend or family member who loves to talk to you about your writing because they have an opinion on everything and always think they are giving you such… great advise. Or they constantly ask how many copies you are selling or whether it’s profitable yet. And let’s not forget the beautiful geniuses who love to tell you that they are totally gonna write a book one day, too. Cause it’s just that easy.

I love my friends and family (okay most of my friends and family), but I really don’t want to talk to them about writing. But I do need to talk to someone. Especially at the beginning while your ego is fragile and you need someone else along for the ride to keep you going. Why do you think AA members have sponsors? Why Weight Watchers meet in groups?

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Um. What’s your problem, punk? You have me?

What I would say: Go get a support System.

Yes, I am aware the problem description was leading up to that, but seriously. I was a floundering idiot with a far-off dream that I never even had the guts to try before I met my support system. Seriously. I have loved writing since I was a kid, but all I ever did was write fan fiction and later long rambling role-plays with friends. Every time I’d try to get my act together and write something real, I would immediately get intimidated by the whole thing and quit again usually about a chapter in. Then I met this beautiful tropical rainbow otter Lorrie (admittedly while playing role-play writing games with her) and she told me she’d written a novel. I read her manuscript and over the next few months listened to her tell me that she was writing a little most days, and before I knew it she had finished a second one.

That totally demystified writing to me. It made it seem totally possible and we’ve been supporting each other ever since. We are learning from each other, we make each other better. Every time one of us is down, the other helps her back up. Everybody needs someone like that. It’ll make you a way better, way more consistent writer to have someone who genuinely cares about you and your writing. Oh, and it totally helps if you feel just a tiiiny bit competitive – after all, if your writing buddy got their word-count in, so can you! Oh, but that’s where the competitive stuff should end. Always revel in each other’s successes as best you can.

How can you go about finding such a marvel? Writing boards are a good start? Nanowrimo always brings together a lot of writing enthusiasts. I met mine embarrassingly enough on rpg-directory. Just keep your eyes open and be nice to the people around you.

 

4. The Problem: You hate your writing

Now, if this is a general condition, there is not much I can say, except: put in the work or find a new hobby. Also: critically read as much good literature as you humanly can and I bet it’s not as bad as you think it is.

But what I am actually talking about here, is the momentary block that occurs when you know your last chapter/scene sucked and it feels like you building on shaky ground. I’m a perfectionist, so this is one of my major plagues. Even if I know for a fact that none of the desperately needed edits will affect the new chapter/scene I am currently trying so hard to get myself to write, it still feels like I am building on sand, on grimy, yucky toxic waste sand that makes me hate building.

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Stop whining. Keep writing no matter what, just push through. You can always edit later.

What I say: Just fix it and be done with it. It won’t take that long

Seriously. Don’t believe all those people who say writing has to be one continuous flow of inspiration. If you don’t like the last scene, work on it until you like it. Not only will it save you work later on, it’ll also go with a big confidence boost and catapult you right back into the happy mind-frame you need for writing.

This is what I don’t understand about the whole “edit later” approach: Writing is supposed to be the fun part! And yet we are constantly told to rush through it as roughly and fast as we can,only to extend the not-so-fun part of editing. I don’t hate editing anymore, but if I have to choose between writing and editing, I’d choose writing every day. I don’t WANT to spend months editing when I can fix easy stuff in half-hour intervals between my regular writing schedule.

 

5. The Problem: You don’t actually know what to write

We don’t even have to go into a planner or pantser discussions here. Not knowing what to write actually affects both. And it’s not as obvious to discount as to say “no, no, here: this is what I want to write. I totally know, this isn’t why I’m blocked.” If you KNOW that you don’t know, it’s usually not a big problem – then you can just come up with something and bam! Unblocked.

Sometimes, however, I know exactly what I want to write in a chapter, how I want it to end. Maybe I envision the perfect cliffhanger and it all sounds perfect. And then I sit down and stare at the page and realize that either I have no idea how to get there, or that my naïve idea just doesn’t work on the page or I have to twist and force characters to make it work… and it all feels like a big clusterfuck of a hurdle that I just don’t even know how to begin untangling.

I don’t know what the Drill Sergeant would say.

Glare at you until you come up with a less existential problem, I suppose.

What I would say: Baby Steps

A lot of the time, you don’t actually realize this is the problem. You just feel blocked. So I think this tactic is worth trying anytime writing just feels impossible: Take a pen and paper and make really asininely specific notes. I often do these during lulls at work if I have to start a new chapter afterwards or don’t know how to finish a scene (once you internalize this issue, you usually know in advance when it is going to occur.) Here are some of mine. And yes that is how that notepad really looks like right now. I should invest in something a little sturdier if I am to carry it around everywhere.

Laila

Now, I know that for many people that would take the fun out writing, make writing feel like typing down ideas. But I have a different perspective on this. For me, by reducing the amount of multi-tasking you have to do, it makes writing a less brain-power consuming activity. And that way, all your attention can go to making pretty sentences and bring the scene to life in the best possible way without worrying about setting it up right in the first place.
If you get along fine without this, you’re golden. But if you often feel blocked, it might be worth a try. After all, you wouldn’t build a house all at once, either. First you lay a foundation, then a framework etc. Some things are easier to tackle if you separate them into smaller, more manageable chunks.

 

6.  The Problem: You can’t hack the plot

This is a really annoying one. It usually occurs somewhere past the middle. You are full of enthusiasm for having made it this far, you figure hey, it’s like hump-day: should be easy from here. Not.

Whether you never had a clear idea of how to wrap the plot up to begin with, or whether you had one that just doesn’t seem to work out as you planned it anymore, this is the place where you are most likely to get stuck. And not only does this make the rest of the book appear annoyingly nebulous, it usually makes you question everything you have written leading up to it, as well. After all, if the plot doesn’t work out, isn’t that because you didn’t set it up right? Tears and a dramatic loss of motivation are the result and often enough, your brain just shuts down and refuses to deal.

The Drill-Sergeant would say:

Stop whining. Keep writing no matter what, just push through. You can always edit later.

What I say: Fix it now. Figure it out.

It’s hard to criticize that approach, mostly because it seems to have a lot of devoted contesters. But it just doesn’t work for me. I refuse to push through something I don’t believe in. That makes writing depressing and heartbreaking and all I can think about is all the work I will have to put into rewrites and whether the chapter I am painfully forcing myself to write right now will be one of those I’ll axe in a few months.

I have actually let books rest for a couple of weeks while working on something else for this reason alone, although I don’t necessarily endorse this approach. (If you do follow it: make sure you actually work on something else in the meantime. Keep your brain active on writing matters, at least).

But the truth is, this one is gonna take some time. There’s no easy fix. If you want, start by reading what you already have and hopefully (usually) it’s much better than the nightmare you built up in your head. Then sit down and brainstorm. I like pen and paper – I also like mind-maps, and notes. I like to write down the different plot lines or character lines next to each other, to see how they interlink and how to fix whatever is not working for me.

Often it already helps to clearly formulate the problem. Problems are so much easier to solve once you name them precisely. Not: My plot sucks. Try: It makes no sense that the detective would continue to go after the murderer after losing his job. Or a current problem I am mulling over right now: Once the MC has solved her issues with the Fae, she can’t just walk back into her father’s castle and talk her way out of being away for a year and casually liberate her father from his tyrannical former advisor. That’s boring and too easy. Something more exciting has to happen.

Try radical thinking, try flipping all the rules of your story upside down, and investigate the motivation of your characters, re-read your favorite books. Whatever works.

And I don’t start writing again until I figure it out. Usually it doesn’t require nearly as much cutting and rewriting as I imagined and I’m back on the horse in less than a week!

 

Now, in all fairness, there is one problem for which I haven’t quite figured out a foolproof solution. But I’m going to tell you how I got through it anyway.

 

7: The Problem: The world sucks and everything is hopeless.

To be fair, this is not so much a writer’s block as an everything block. That’s what depression does. But it’s particularly nasty for all the things you need for writing: courage, creativity, self-love, confidence, hope.

I hardly wrote a word for 6 months last year because the world sucked and everything was hopeless. Now, I was recovering from a major depressive episode at the time and was working on getting my life back on track, so it wasn’t really time wasted, because I have a great job now and I’m feeling much better. But the truth is, the writing lapse came from a totally different stupid reasons and I just didn’t have the emotional resources at the time to recover from it faster.

We released a book – After Life Lessons – and the reception wasn’t quite what I had hoped. And here’s the thing. It wasn’t that a lot of people didn’t like it. That hurts, sure, but that’s not a real problem, even to someone like me, who tends to hear criticism 10 times louder than the praise of all the kind and lovely reviews I’ve gotten.

The problem lay in what they wrote. A lot of people pretty much hated exactly the things I love about the book. They complained that there wasn’t enough zombie action, which was exactly our intention – to take the zombie genre and cross it with some deeper, more emotional topics that we find far more interesting. Or they called the female protagonist names, called her bitchy and selfish. And we were so proud of the three-dimensional woman we’d created and it made the prospect of writing women’s characters for other women just such a sucky, limiting and unappealing prospect for a while.

That was tough. All the books I have penned so far have room for improvement. Of course they do. I am not a master writer. I think I’m pretty good and getting better every day. It doesn’t bother me when people point out my flaws. I probably know them already and am way harsher on myself than they could ever be.

But to bash what I love? That hurt. And it still does, when readers so eloquently point out to me that they don’t get me and I don’t get them. It shattered my belief that I would ever write something a lot of people would like, because apparently, I just love what people hate. How do you fix that? How won’t that problem just get worse and worse the more I write and find my voice as a writer?

The Solution, I think…

…is time and a mixture of all the different strategies outlined above. I worked on going easier on myself and part of that was to just give writing a rest for a while, to concentrate on editing and publishing and letting things rest. Hell, I tried meditating and other self-improvement stuff. It meant many long talking sessions with my writing buddy, a lot of reading of famous books that also had tons of reviews that just didn’t get what I loved about them.

And most of all, it took getting over that hurt and remembering all the things I loved about writing. It took healing and getting to a better head-space so that I would listen to myself and my friends again.

And you know what? That’s okay, too. No, there’s no such thing Writer’s Block. But we are all human beings and sometimes we don’t function the way we would like to. Sometimes we are not productive super machines, but that happens in every human endeavor.

So let’s be good to ourselves, try our best and silence that nagging feeling that it’s never good enough. We can all find it in ourselves to follow our passion, even through the bumps and chasms in the road.

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