Writer’s Block? It Happens to the Best of Us – Here’s How to Deal With It
Nearly every writer I know has experienced t writer’s block in some form or another. It’s an insidious condition that can stall, slow down or stop us from fulfilling our literary dreams. For some, it can be the reason they are failing to get that first book finished and subsequently published.
Over the years I’ve suffered writer’s block numerous times, although I was able to prevent it from stopping me from writing and publishing y 35 books, and counting.
Back in my twenties, I was fortunate to learn how the prolific noted science fiction writer and biochemistry university professor Isaac Asimov, best associated with I, Robot, dealt with his writer’s block. If he was working on a book, and he got blocked, he switched to another project, going back and forth between projects, not letting a block on one project stop him. He might not have finished each project in strict chronological order, but the volume of his output speaks for itself: estimates are that his literary legacy is 400 or more books and short story collections.
There may be some who are shocked at a recommendation that you switch to another project before you completely finish the first project, especially if “don’t stop till you’ve finished your work” is the maxim they work and live by.
Then there are those who feel they need the “muse” or a creative impulse to strike for the writing to continue and that when it doesn’t you stop because to keep going would only produce substandard writing.
If you fall into either category, take heart.
Just apply a solution I call “creative procrastination.” It’s something I came up with as a time management strategy in that it involves putting off doing one project that feels stalled, by switching to something else that is equally vital to your career. This is different from avoiding your writing by going to the movies, basking in the sun at the beach, chatting on the phone with a friend, or raiding the refrigerator. Instead, you are dealing with your writer’s block by writing something else. In that way, you might finish up one, two, or even three books at the same time, or the second book, before the first one is completed. But at least you’re writing and moving your writing career along. If it worked for Asimov it can work for you.
What are some other ways to deal with your writer’s block?
Let’s go back to those examples I just listed about ways you could have “wasted” time instead of writing something else. Going to the movies, enjoying the beach, or the ski slopes, or calling family and friends. If you allow yourself to do one or more of those pleasant activities, but give yourself a time limit, it can
help you to get back on track with your writing. “I’m going to the movies even though I should be working on my book. But after the movie, I’m returning to my desk and I’m going to get back to writing.”
That break might be just what you need to get over your writer’s block.
Dealing with writer’s block is a very challenging type of avoidance because, unlike most other forms of procrastination, you can’t just “will yourself” to write. Well, that’s not exactly true. You can will yourself to write, and you could then write, but the words might read as if forced. Writing is as much art and magic as it is a task. And I’m talking about nonfiction writing as much as fiction although, of course, the creativity that you need to write a thriller or a sci-fi novel are even more demanding than writing a biography or a nonfiction self-help book but even nonfiction depends on literary mastery.
Understanding what might be behind your writer’s block, and dealing with those issues, might help you to break through it. Is there something about your project that has you stumped? If you’re writing fiction, is there a plot or character concern that you need to work out before you can go forward? If you’re writing nonfiction, do you need to do additional research, or rethink the premise behind a particular chapter, before you can go forward? Is there something going on in your personal or professional life, unrelated to your writing, that might be the cause?
Here are some other ways to deal with writer’s block, whether you’re writing your first book or your tenth:
- Acknowledge that you’re experiencing a block. Make it concrete by looking at when it started and how it is manifesting itself.
- Don’t berate yourself for having writer’s block. Remind yourself that even the most prolific and professional writers experience it but they deal with it and go forward.
- Do you have a fear of success or failure? If you do, writer’s block, by stopping you from finishing this book, can also stop you from facing the music that inevitably occurs whenever a book is published. Whether that means dealing with the sales of your new book —will sales be average, terrific, or disappointing? — or reviews, from the media as well as from family and friends, you might have to deal with these fears as a way of conquering your writer’s block.
- Try writing for a limited time period. “I will write for ten minutes,” can help you with your writer’s block if you feel as if you can’t “get into” writing at all. (You may be pleasantly surprised that your ten minutes of writing turns into an hour or more before you know it!)
- Try free-writing. This is a technique that encourages you to write anything and everything that pops into your head, without judgment or criticism. This could get your creative juices flowing again and then you can redirect that writing flow to the specific book you are working on and that you want to finish.
- Plow through till you get the first draft done. Another way to deal with your writer’s block is to make a pact with yourself that you’ll keep going forward on your book till you finish the first draft and then you’ll go back and reread what you’ve written. That technique might help if you’re being overly critical about what you are writing and that’s shutting you down.
- Make writing the first thing you do in the morning not checking e-mails or any of the other distractions that can stop you from getting to your writing when you’re nice and fresh and energized.
- Check out some other writers about getting over writer’s block. See Brian Moreland’s guest blog, for example, “7 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block,” http://www.writersdigest.com/editor- blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/7-ways-to-overcome-writers-block
- Read the writings of others —fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, children’s books, essays, blogs — to inspire you to get back to your own writing.
- Listen to music, exercise, or dance as a way of getting yourself out of the physical and mental rut that writer’s block can get you into.
- If you have other talents, such as drawing, painting, or playing the guitar, spend time rediscovering those skills. Getting the creative juices flowing again in any medium might help you to overcome your writer’s block.
- If writing in your home office isn’t working for you, try writing at a coffee shop, like Starbucks, or joining a writer’s room, or a shared office space situation for a diverse group of entrepreneurs or smallbusiness owners. (I had a seat in the famous “Allen Room” for writers at theNew York Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue when I was researching my first book. Other writers who were there at the time included Pulitzer Prize- winning author Robert Caro, biographer of President Johnson and New York City Mayor Robert Moses , and Susan Brownmiller, among others.)
- Take a walk.
- Get back to your desk, wherever it is, and sit there, instead of avoiding the whole situation.Don’t give up and move for at least an hour. You might just find yourself writing because you are facing, and not avoiding, the task at hand.
I know you’re eager to get back to working on that book now so I’ll sign off and wish you the best with this, and all your writing projects!
Jan Yager, the former Janet Lee Barkas, has been publishing books since the age of 26 when Scribner’s published her social history, The Vegetable Passion: A History of the Vegetarian State of Mind, when she began researching several years before while still in college. Her publishing company, Hannacroix Creek Books (http://www.hannacroixcreekbooks.com), recently reissued a reprint of The Vegetable
Passion as an e-book. Some of Jan’s 35+ other books in 32 languages include nonfiction works like When Friendship Hurts, published by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. and Canada, with translations into 28 languages; Friendshifts; Work Less, Do More (2nd edition); Effective Business and Nonfiction Writing; and The Fast Track Guide to Speaking in Public, which has a chapter on speaking for authors, as well as three novels, The Pretty One; Untimely Death; and Just Your Everyday People. For more on this author, go to:
http://www.drjanyager.com. Follow Jan’s tweets at @drjanyager. Follow the tweets that she writes for the publishing company at @hannacroixcreek
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