5 Ways I Beat Writer’s Block
by Joanna Neilson
As a writer, often trying to do several different projects at once, there’s nothing scarier than an attack of writer’s block. The blank page jitters. The word well running dry. I define it as a combination of either not knowing where to start, what to focus on in the writing itself, or just being devoid of an idea and the drive to do the work at the crucial moment. It can hit at any stage of the writing process, and particularly when there’s a hard deadline coming at me.
However, there are several ways I’ve discovered to circumvent this scenario. Say I’m trying to write this article, for instance, or inspire myself to continue with a tantalising story idea that won’t quite gel. Those are the times when writer’s block needs its ass kicked, and listed here are the top five ways that I handle it:
1) Google is your friend. Hit search and allow yourself about half an hour, maximum, for reading related articles and finding pictures. Ideally try to learn something new about the subject, and keep digging. Something out there is certain to stimulate your imagination and give an incentive to build on your own thoughts or narrative. This is not an excuse to browse for random distractions, this is research. Stay the hell away from gossip sights, cracked.com and TVTropes, or you’re a goner.
2) Talk to mentors, visit relevant online forums: This is very different from point 1) which was only browsing online. ‘Talking’ involves engaging with actual humanoid people who you trust to share their experiences and ideas in a positive way, and to give you some solid writing encouragement. Of course, they might also reject your idea and laugh, in which case they are not your best bet. Find people who will explain WHY the idea needs tweaking, or who you think will reignite your interest in the subject. Their enthusiasm will inspire you and you need people whose curiosity and support will deliver a boost, even if they’re fairly distant on a writing forum. You want constructive advice and a buck-up of morale, not someone who’ll laugh their asses off at your first stuttering suggestion. For this reason, I’d avoid negative forums like geek paradise Ain’t It Cool, where everyone and everything is snarked to pieces. A shared brainstorm with someone you trust is often a vital part of completing a piece. New perspectives may burst from you as you integrate fresh ideas to the article or story. You can always edit and rephrase things later. Note, this is not the same as plagiarism.
3) Apply the stimulant of your choice! For me, it’s coffee. Two strong cups of it, and a decent breakfast. This can also be music and imagery to kickstart the imagination. Use whatever you need to get revved up and to visualise your finished piece (ahem, within legal boundaries, if that concerns you). Other useful prompts include a little meditation, getting hold of photos of what you’re working on, mind-mapping, exercise, and sunlight – use anything you can to nudge your brain towards the goal. It also helps with reaching a level of detachment, because what you might need is a way to mentally step away and trust your first instincts so you can just…write, dammnit!
4) Close Twitter, emails, Facebook: One of the more insidious distractions. These portals are very helpful but are best consumed in smallish doses. Turn off the phone, too, or at least silence it. Lock the door. Let everyone who might interrupt know that you’re working, or find somewhere where they won’t bother you (there’s a reason having a laptop in Starbucks is a cliché). It’s advised all the time, but if there’s some way to separate yourself from these constant interruptions for a decent chunk of concentrated time, chances are your brain will plug into that whole ‘create a frickin’ masterpiece’ request you’re trying to get out of it, and it will start to deliver. Then you can check the Twitter feed.
5) Draft, leave it, repeat: Perhaps you’ve just been staring at it for too long. Switch off your inner critic, keep to the crux of your concept, and bang away at the keys (ideally after point 3) typing out your first thoughts like crazy, and then bounce away from it until you’ve decompressed a little. Also, try writing by hand for a bit. This isn’t quite the ‘hundred monkeys working at typewriters’ principle but I find it another useful way of tapping into the inner creativity lurking under all the brain-clutter. When you’re literally tapped out, take half an hour to complete a chore you’ve been putting off, or try catching up with a friend and talking about something else. One exception is that, if you do have a steady flow of words coming, however slow, it’s best to keep going until bathroom break or body fuel is required. If you’re at that awful point where the words aren’t quite working, take a very short break and maybe make some notes as you stretch and walk around. Do not give up. Not until you feel better about yourself for putting in the effort. There is a slight risk that you can lose the thread when you step away, so try to stay in tune with your mood and your mind. Keep a notebook or similar close at hand.
After beating out writer’s block, the fun of editing begins. Keep going over the words. Check for any weak sentences and sneaky typos. Cut it back, only add to it where necessary, overall make sure you thin it out. If there’s a word count of any kind, stick rigidly to it. The best way to hone your piece is to question and rewrite. There are lots of ways to save different versions of the text or just cut and paste extraneous sentences to another document.
Make sure you constantly ask,’ does this text fit what I was trying to say?’ as you edit, and really trust your instincts. Apply all the ideas above. There are plenty of other things to try for surmounting a dry writing spell, but nothing beats hitting your stride. These ideas are the major ways I’ve learned for surviving it. Over time I’ve found that the more writing I do, the more I can do in the time given. Constant writing strengthens consistency and removes fear of making mistakes. They’re only words! Ultimately, that practice will do the most to slay a beastly attack of writer’s block. Just trust yourself to get started and try not to pause for very long. If you want to create your masterpiece, it’s time to start.
- War of Art by Steve Pressfield
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Pinterest.com – perfect for finding and storing ideas, pictures and articles to prod the imagination
It seems inevitable that Halloween baby Joanna would develop a fascination for the strange and bizarre. A writer from the age of three, one of her first professional writing assignments, for the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper in her native UK, was a report on a Halloween Ghost Watch at a local theater.
She is currently inspired by writers from Christopher Hitchens, Alan Moore, Philip K. Dick, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Patricia Briggs, but she believes in a varied literary diet and devoured more than 100 books last year. Joanna also reads a wide range of graphic novels and enjoys watching films. She catches up on decent television shows when time allows. Books remain her first love, and she is never far from a notebook and her Kindle. This year she looks forward to creating books of her own.
While carving out a professional writing career Joanna has had reviews published in the Hampshire Chronicle (UK based), and also interviewed a notorious British ex-politician and his wife (the Hamiltons). More recently she has begun writing for new horror site Dark River Press, and she is currently hard at work on completing her first full length novel for the end of 2012.
On her original fiction-themed WordPress site ‘Joanna K. Neilson: Create or Go Mad’ she keeps her muse hopping by writing short stories (and contributing to Flash Fiction Fridays), and she also runs the busy media review site ‘The Haunted Eyeball.’ Please check out her detailed Portfolio on these sites. A particular highlight is her work for the ‘Tracy Island Chronicles,’ a site devoted to the original Gerry Anderson series Thunderbirds, for which she writes fan fiction under the pen name ‘Pennyspy’ and contributes regular episode guides for TIC’s bi-monthly newsletter, ‘Ned Cook’s NTBS Newsflash.’ She’s continued her media interview trend for the Newsflash, with interviews with Shane Rimmer, the voice of Scott Tracy, and Matt Zimmerman, the voice of Alan Tracy. She is also interested in interviewing other writers, actors and artists, and in promoting indie authors and giving them greater exposure to potential readers.