I didn’t want to write this post because I was suffering from writer’s block. And the only reason I finally did sit down to write it was because I got stuck on my novel.
So today, we’re talking about the world’s most famous writerly problem, besides being a Tortured Artist™: writer’s block.
dun dun DUNNNNNN.
Writer’s block is kind of a baffling problem when you really think about it. What, sometimes you just…can’t do the thing that you do all the time? Next you’ll be telling me that sometimes Katie Ledecky forgets how to swim. Or that Bake-Off forgets to be wholesome.
And yet, writer’s block happens all the time.
Tragically, I can’t offer a magic solution that just makes writer’s block go away. What I can offer are some of my best strategies for tackling writer’s block.
Now, a quick disclaimer—these aren’t quick fixes that will make the writer’s block vanish in an instant. I’m not here to talk about superficial solutions.
These strategies are about pulling writer’s block out by the roots and making it harder for it to grow in the first place.
- Start with a plan. Listen, I started my writerly life as a pantser. I am not immune to the ways of the pants. But over the years, I’ve learned that it is 1000% harder to work myself into a no-win situation if I take the time to plan my stories before I pen them. Even a loose outline is a massive help when you’re trying to dodge the ol’ “oh no where do I go from here”.
- Walk away. Tired, overworked brains are more susceptible to writer’s block, so if you’ve been banging your head against the wall, stop. Go do something else. Hit the gym, bake some cookies, go meet some friends. Don’t come back until you’ve recharged your brain.
- Reframe your thinking. No one knows the power of words more than a writer, so why not turn that to your advantage? Instead of calling it “writer’s block,” I call the difficult points in my writing “sticky patches.” Writer’s block sounds like a big, imposing thing that prevents you from moving forward. Sticky patches sounds like you’re walking through the syrup bog in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. It’s not easy, but it’s totally doable. And it’s made of syrup, which is delicious.
- Ask yourself if it’s really writer’s block. I am so, so guilty of mislabeling fear-fueled procrastination as writer’s block. If there’s a scene that I dread writing, or I’m worried that the story is structurally unsound, I’m suddenly, magically, crippled by writer’s block. When it comes right down to it, though, I’m not really unable to write…I’m just afraid to, because I’m not ready to take the next step. And conquering the fear of not being good enough is a whole different beast.
What are your tried-and-tested strategies for beating writer’s block? Do you find yourself mislabeling fear or procrastination as writer’s block? Did you start your writerly life as one kind of plotter and move to the other, as I did, or have you remained loyal to your roots?