How Do You Cure Writer's Block?
Updated: Apr 17
OK, you know that you should be writing now, don’t you? BUT…here you are, messing about on the internet, looking at other people’s articles about writing. Maybe you’re even feeling a little bit guilty about trying to fool yourself that you’re ‘researching’…Well, don’t worry; you are researching.
In fact, if you read this article to the end, and follow the advice in it, you will actually produce something today, and you will pick up some useful tools to smash through the dreaded barrier of ‘writer’s block’.
Of course, there are those who believe that writer’s block doesn’t exist:
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” - Terry Pratchett
But is that true? Surely, we have all had that moment when we sit, staring at the keyboard and nothing is happening…We decide to try typing the first thing that comes into our head and…nothing. The drivel of automatic writing could hardly be considered any kind of cure.
We could then decide to follow another quote:
“There is no such thing as writer's block. There is only not enough information. If you can't write, learn something.” - Nikki Giovanni
…but where, as a writer, will that lead us? Browsing the internet in search if ‘knowledge’, fooling us into thinking that we are ‘researching’, whilst we wander blindly through a seemingly endless warren, from all of the rabbit-holes that we have been led down. And still, we haven’t got around to writing anything.
So, how do we get around it? Well, the first thing is to stop worrying if it’s going to be any good. Yes, you heard me right. When you’re getting that first draft on paper (or a hard-drive), it really doesn’t matter if it’s not very good.
Here’s another quote for everyone who is sceptical so far:
“There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough.” - William Stafford.
Yes. That’s right. Lower your standards. You’re writing a draft. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. The perfect reply to the last quote is (you guessed it), a quote:
“There is no such thing as great writing - there is only great re-writing!” - Ernest Hemingway
Got it? The block really gets you when you’re staring at a blank page, or screen. Once you have a 50 – 60- 70,000 word manuscript to go at, all you have to do is go through it and polish it. Of course, many of us don’t want to do that work. We would all love to produce the perfect masterpiece on the first draft. Sadly, it seldom works like that.
So, firstly, lower your standards, at least for your first draft. When you were at school, did you ever tell your teacher: “I didn’t do my homework because I had writer’s block?”
Yeah, here’s another quote:
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it – when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands”. – Jodi Picoult
If you’re really stuck with a work in progress, (as long as you don’t have a pending deadline), it’s a good idea to have two or three projects to work on. Of course, you need to set a limit here, otherwise you’ll end up with nothing but a massive catalogue of unfinished manuscripts. Set yourself a limit of three projects at any given time and stick to it, but having that hance to swap can sometimes be enough to give you the motivation when you’re stuck with one particular project.
“I don’t believe in “writer’s block”. I try and deal with getting stuck by having more than one thing to work on at a time. And by knowing that even a hundred bad words that didn’t exist before is forward progress.” — Neil Gaiman
If you’re getting stuck, and can’t think of anything to write, why not have a go at fan fiction for a half hour or so? What have you got to lose? You’re not writing anyway. If you’re writing fiction and getting stuck, stop for a moment and think about whatever TV show movie, or existing book is closest to your own work and have fun writing about that instead.
One (or both) of two things will happen: Because you’re not setting up barriers for yourself by having to produce your masterpiece, you’ll relax, and get words own on the page. You may find that, without any pressure, you’ll actually start enjoying yourself. When you start doing that, the ideas will come a lot quicker.
But what’s the point in that? You ask. All I will have to show for it is some fan-fic, that I can’t sell or publish for copyright reasons.
Wrong! What you now have is a STORY, an idea on paper. You have something that you can, if you wish, adapt to your own characters.
“But I’m using a bit of fan-fic. The characters are someone else’s aren’t they?” No, of course not. You’ve just written their reactions and the situations. You can change their reactions and adapt the situation. Even though your first draft was fan-fic, it was just a template.
I know that this is going to sound cynical to some, but there is nothing totally new under the sun. If you work on changing and adapting your fan-fic story, and do it well, no-one will know how you got your story done, and you will get it done.
Time for another quote:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.” - Mark Twain
Of course, there are other types of writer’s block. You may find yourself trying to force an incident, or situation into a story that simply doesn’t fit. There comes a time when you really have to ‘kill your darlings’. No matter how much you love an idea or a character, you should give yourself a time limit as to how long you are going to continue trying to squeeze them in to a story, before you take the plunge and remove them. It’s not the end of the world. The idea may find the perfect story at another time. You simply have to know when to cut what isn’t working.
Yeah, here’s another quote:
“I've often said that there's no such thing as writer's block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen-whether I'm working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book-it's usually because I'm trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.” - Jeffery Deaver.
So, I hope some of these quotes and ideas have helped. How do you combat writer’s block? Please feel free to share any ideas and tips that you have.