Punching Writer's Block in the Face
Writer’s Block vs. Procrastination:
Procrastination is putting off writing for some reason. Writer’s block is being unable to write because you don’t know what to write next.
“A blocked writer has the discipline to stay at the desk but cannot write. A procrastinator, on the other hand, cannot bring himself to sit down at the desk; yet if something forces him to sit down he may write quite fluently.” But don’t these two scenarios amount to different performances of the same role? Every seasoned procrastinator loves to tell himself that, amid his flurry of avoidance strategies—rearranging the furniture in his office, pitching himself into a YouTube rabbit hole, surrendering to a fit of self-Googling—his brain is secretly marinating ideas and hatching plans. (As the underground narrator of Invisible Man puts it, “A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.”) Surely this percolation process is also happening inside the “blocked” writer, even if he’s motionless in his swivel chair?” — Alice Flaherty, The Midnight Disease: The Drive To Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain
Is Self-Doubt the Underlying Issue?
When writer’s block stems from self-doubt, it takes the form of a parasitic thought that attacks the faith you have in your abilities as a writer and sense of self-worth.
Are You Experiencing Burnout?
Burnout can stem from self-doubt or a lack of direction. Are you at a crossroads with a shifting plot going in a different direction from where you planned in your prewriting? Did you already make so many changes to the original plot that you don’t recognize the book anymore? Are you too comfortable in your routine or have a writing process that doesn’t allow for freedom?
What Should You Do?
1. Ask yourself, “Why can’t I write?” — Are you looking at the big picture and thinking that writing a 350-page book is too daunting? Sounds like procrastination. Instead, you need to give yourself smaller goals. What are some easier-to-handle goals you could give yourself?
2. If you want to write but you’re feeling stuck, go back to your outline — It could be that you’re overwhelmed by the plot because you didn’t structure your novel enough. If you didn’t outline your novel at all, you may have to go back and do so. The good news is that revisiting the outline or starting one from scratch will give you lots of new ideas.
3. If it’s procrastination, then sit down and set a timer for 10 minutes — Allow yourself only 10 minutes to write and when the timer goes off, you can stop. Usually, you’ll want to keep writing and you’ll ignore the timer.
Try the Pomodoro Technique: https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique
Choose a task, anything at all.
Set a timer for any amount of time (default 25 minutes).
Make an oath that you will focus on this task for 25 minutes no matter what.
Immerse yourself in the task without any interruption for the 25 minutes. If you remember something else you need to do, write it down on a side paper and continue. Do not stop under any conditions (barring emergency).
When time is up, put a check on the paper.
Take a short break. If you are feeling productive, set a timer for the break.
Do another Pomodoro (steps 2 to 4).
After four Pomodoros, take a longer break.
Cuts down on interruptions.
Will show how much effort is needed for a specific activity.
Will also show how much progress can be achieved within a time period, and can be used to gauge future productivity.
Can be scheduled.
All objectives, times, and tasks are all customizable for whatever you need.
4. If you did this exercise and you’re still stuck with a plot line, then it’s time to take a break and do something else — Work on a different project, do something mundane like laundry, or talk out the issue with a writer friend.
5. Practice self-care — Are you going for a walk to clear your head before writing? If walking is too hard on the body, then choose a quiet place to meditate and think. Are you eliminating all distractions so you can write in peace? No phone! Do you have a designated space to write?
6. Give yourself permission to write badly — “The first draft requires a show of sinew, not nuance. We write badly because we need our early drafts to show us, in broad strokes, what we’re actually supposed to be writing about. We write badly because we need to focus our energy on the larger story and structure, and can’t possibly attend to all the elements that make up a developed or refined work. We write badly because, even if we revise as we draft—and, mea culpa, many of us do—either we can’t revise with a complete manuscript in mind or we’re too close to that manuscript to have sufficient perspective.” As Hersey said, “Writing a crappy book is far better than writing no book. And by allowing yourself to write that crappy book, you’re paving the way to write the book that meets your expectations.”
7. For burnout, try this: Choose a minor character or an unexplored setting in your story and create a spin-off centered on them. Give life to that character whose sum of their entire existence was to spill coffee on your protagonist and trigger the start of your protagonist’s Worst. Day. Ever. Or choose that broken down intergalactic saloon near Jupiter that your hero destroyed trying to thwart the villain—what was its story before it was a screaming, flaming ball of death and destruction?
Write another scene. Write something cool or exciting that happens later. Write the ending, write the middle, write something NOT IN DIRECT ORDER of where you were stuck.
8. For self-doubt, try this: Break out your old writing. Riffle through decaying notebooks in your parents’ basement if you need to. Read through it all. Awkward, preteen love poems and all. Your very first short story. Anything you can find that goes back to your first attempt at writing. Notice how much you’ve grown as a writer?
Let’s Get Proactive:
Who will be your sounding board when you get stuck on a plot line?
Choose an activity to get the blood flowing to your brain.
Prepare for the worst with a plan of action for when life gets in the way. There are broken bones, lost loved ones, impromptu trips, and many things that stop us from writing. What is your plan for when these things happen?
Write the truest sentence you know (Hemingway).
Do something else creative:
Listen/play to music
Grow a plant
Read poetry. Sometimes a little romanticism is all we need to refocus. Poems are quick, bewitching, and full of beautiful words. Read a few and get back to work.
The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.