Writer’s Block – How to Beat It
When I started freelance writing, one my goals was to submit at least one article or short story every month, while I wrote a novel and worked a full time job. Writing energized me. I had more ideas than I had time to write! A writer friend asked me, "Are these submissions newly written or rewrites? Most were new, but some were reworked or sent to markets that accepted reprints.
What Is Writer's Block?
“I don’t have that many ideas,” my friend said.
This is the mindset that stymies many a writer, but it doesn't have to. “The ideas are there," I told my friend, "but you have to look for them.”
Before we look at how to beat writer's black, let's be clear about what it is. The official definition is: “A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.” Note the key word temporary. Training your muse to hunt for ideas helps beat this temporary condition.
Strategies to Beat Writer's Block
One of the reasons we run into these temporary blocks is that we don't know what to write next. These strategies work for me:
- Work on more than one project: One strategy I use to beat writer's block is to work on more than one project. When I run into a dead end on one, I work on another. This keeps my muse active and creative, and often when I take the pressure off, inspiration strikes and I get an idea for what comes next for the piece I set aside.
- Skip to Another Part of the Story: If you're working on a story, especially a longer piece or a novel and you get stuck, skip to another part of the story when you know what happens. I remember when I was working on my novel, The Inheritance, a scene where my protagonist was following a narrow mountain path. I loved the scene, but I had no idea how to get him off that mountain to where he needed to be later in the story. Instead of waiting for inspiration to come, I moved to the scene where he is in the valley. As I worked on it, I had a great idea for how to tie it all together. Today that book has been nominated for an award!
- Free Write: Another: Another way to beat writer's block is to set the timer for 20 minutes and write. Don't worry what you're going to write about. It can be anything. Once you get started, you may be surprised to find that your writer's block is gone.
- What If?: Another way to conquer writer's block is to ask what if? For example: what if I change from first person to third person? What if I write this from another POV? Dare to ask what if this character has a darker side I didn't see before? Or your evil character has a shred of decency after all?
Where to Find Inspiration
If you, like my friend, think you don't have that many ideas, here are a few places to look for inspiration. When you do, you may be surprised at all the ideas you find!
Interests: Make a list of your interests. Just doing this can inspire an idea for an article or story. Your unique interests open doors to all kinds of ideas. The trick is to write about them. Willingness to be transparent enough to open a window into your life is a necessary ingredient. People read interesting, “real” articles and stories. When you open the window into your life and write from experience, keep it real.
Experience: "Ben Franklin said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.” What experience can you share to help others learn, get inspired, or even change their life?
Conversations: Beat writer's block by talking with others. This moves beyond interests and experiences and takes you onto new, fertile creative soil of what interests others.
Classes: Take an online writing class, or even a non-writing related class to inspire new ideas. Classes also challenge you to try something new. For instance, I'm by nature a fantasy writer, but recently took a short mystery class. The result is a story called the Dead Zone, which would never have come about without the class. Dare to stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Writer’s Groups: Join a writer's group. Interacting with other writers strengthens your abilities as a writer, and cultivates new ideas. Listening to the works of other writers, the process they follow when writing, and sometimes even the inspiration behind the story or article opens avenues worth exploration.
The Best Way to Beat Writer's Block
If you find yourself sitting at the computer staring at a blank screen, stop forcing the issue. Change to another project for a half an hour or so. If you don’t have another project, consider your interests, experience, make a phone call or go out to lunch with a friend to engage in conversation. Life is full of things to write about. The trick to beating writer's block is to tune in to the possibilities—and write!