Let’s imagine writer’s block has a face. Choose a high school bully or the dude who cut you off in traffic the other day. That’s your writer’s block. That’s the nefarious entity that has plugged up all the words. It happens to almost all of us.
(Ignore those writers who say they are never blocked. They are like people who can eat entire cakes and never gain weight. They are exceptions, and extremely aggravating at that.)
So, how do we punch writer’s block in the face? Let’s count the ways. Five ways, to be exact.
1) Figure out why you might be blocked.
Rant about it to a friend. Blog about it. Ponder the matter as you pound your head into the keyboard. Are you stuck on a plot point? Are you just plain exhausted? Are you scared?
If it’s the latter, fear can happen for all sorts of legitimate reasons. Maybe the story is too personal. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by the knowledge of how much this draft sucks. The act of acknowledging that a story scares you will help you to move past that. As they used to say on G.I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”
2) Write through the garbage.
So you wanted to write 2000 words a day. That ain’t happening. Okay. Be easier on yourself. Set a more modest goal so you can inch your way forward. Maybe 200 words. Or 500. Or one new poem a week instead of every day. It’s all about momentum. Progress is progress.
3) Give yourself permission to take a break.
So, how exactly is this “punching writer’s block in the face?” It’s about YOU taking control. YOU make the decision to step back. There’s nothing more frustrating than spinning your wheels–staring at that blank screen, or more likely, Facebook or Twitter as you hate yourself for squandering your writing time.
When I do novel drafts, I always get feedback that my characters need more agency. They need to be in charge, not the plot. Real life people need more agency, too. If the words aren’t flowing, set your own vacation: a day, a week, a month. Whatever you need. Set the work aside and let your mind keep churning over the problem that has you stalled. It amazes me how many writers have figured out plot problems when they are in the shower.
4) Tackle another project.
If you have some publications already, check the contracts and start sending out reprint submissions. If you’re blocked on all your fiction efforts, go to nonfiction: write blog posts or consider submitting some essays to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Yes, really. That’s one of my coping mechanism when the fictional words don’t flow. The pay is great and it’s a book brand that people recognize worldwide.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, immerse yourself in projects away from the computer. Clean the closet at long last (and if you’re like me, you might get some Chicken Soup stories out of it). Organize your computer files. The key thing is to be productive in some way. Because trust me, falling deeper into frustration and depression won’t likely help you to work through writer’s block. Far from it.
5) Help out another writer.
If your block is because of first draft doldrums, plot holes, or various strains of despair from the writing process, it might help for you to read someone else’s early draft. As writers working on our own, it can be lonely. We think we’re the only ones who can write something that sucks this much. Guess what? Other people write sucky drafts, too. This isn’t about schadenfreude; nope, it’s about perspective. It’s refreshing to read a work that is fundamentally flawed but still thoroughly enjoyable. Your story or novel might read like that, too. Sometimes by analyzing someone else’s writing, it gives us insight to our own weaknesses.
If you don’t have a support group of writers for a critique exchange, well… that needs to change. Being a writer is hard; don’t journey alone. I started out exchanging critiques on Online Writers Workshop. If you have at least one pro short story sale or meet other qualifications, you might want to join Codex Writers, which is my online home.
You can punch writer’s block in the face all on your own, but there’s something extra special about having a whole group of writing buddies there to help you spar.
Just remember: you’re a writer, even if the words don’t flow the way you want right now. Be kind to yourself. You’ll make it through.
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN from Harper Voyager.
Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.