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Combatting Writer's Block

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. As long as your fingers can move over the keyboard, eventually it’ll segue into something.” — Mary Kay Andrews

“I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.” — Toni Morrison

I include two quotes on the infamous disease named "Writer's Block" because there tends to be two different beliefs on it: ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist or recognize it but push through. I don't like either of these beliefs. Writer's Block is 100% real. If you are a writer (or anyone who needs to write on some occasion) you will come face to face with Writer's Block at some point in your life. Pretending that it doesn't exist isn't an option. Pushing through and not coming back to edit isn't an option. The way I see it, Writer's Block is a disease of the imagination. Until you can get the imagination running again, whatever you write will suck.

But there are ways to combat Writer's Block so don't worry.

First though, let me further define it a bit for you. I received a question the other day that I felt was an excellent question.

What is the difference between Writer's Block and distraction?

I personally feel that while there might be overlap, these two conditions are entirely different. I am often distracted while writing and even more so while editing. I often click away to other tabs, check my email, call to my dog and give her a treat, or do anything that keeps me from focusing on the task at hand. But when it comes down to it, if my distraction is a result of my lack of desire to edit/write as opposed to my inability to write, then it is not Writer's Block. On the other hand, when I have Writer's Block, I stare at an empty screen or at the end of a chapter I have already started and I simply do not know where to go from there. I can physically write but the block on my imagination prevents me from laying out the same level of writing I usually would. Another author put it beautifully: “Writer’s block is a misnomer and can be compared with turning off a faucet. Like the ability to write, faucets can develop problems when they’re seldom used. You get all this rust in the pipes. When you turn on the faucet, a lot of rust comes out.” — Susan Neville

Another important distinction to make is the types of blocks there are. I personally feel that Writer's Block comes in many shapes and forms but ultimately, I have found in it 3 major types:

  1. Chapter Writer's Block: This is the Writer's Block that prevents you from starting or finishing a chapter or a section of the book. Maybe you are staring at a blank page, maybe at a layout of your chapter, or maybe at 2,000 words of the chapter (and you just need a few sentences more!). Whatever it is, this form of Block makes it so that you are totally unsure of how to either start that section or finish it. And yet, if you move onto a different chapter of the same project, you can feel the juices flowing again. Move back, and they are stuck. This chapter is your bane. This chapter will be the end of you. This chapter is awful. You feel like you might just scrap this chapter and start again or get rid of it entirely (is it ok if the book never has the 13th chapter?) But really, it is just Writer's Block.

  2. Project Writer's Block: This is the Writer's Block that affects the entire project you are working on whether that is a book, a poetry anthology or a school project. It doesn't matter what part of the project you are working on. You can swap poems, paragraphs and chapters for days and you still cannot get the creative juices moving. You love the project (or at least, you have to finish it for school) but no matter what, you just do not know what to write. And yet, if you swap to another project, there is that imagination of yours again. It is only on this project that it is sucked away.

  3. Total Writer's Block: What it sounds like, total Writer's Block is when, no matter the project or part of a project, your juices are not flowing, your imagination is zapped and you do not know what to write. This is the worst of the worst. You do not know where to go from here.

I generally deal with my own Writer's Block one of three ways. The three ways tend to work differently depending on which type of block I have but they do generally all work and when one isn't helping or isn't helping fast enough, another often helps. These three Writer's Block medicines are my saving graces. They have helped me out of plenty of jams before and I hope they can help you as well if you fit them to your own situation:

  1. Push through: At the most basic level, pushing through Writer's Block can be effective as a solution. If I am a few sentences away from the end of my chapter and feel the Block coming on, I often push through. My final sentences might be crappy but I know that I can come and edit them later and would generally rather be able to tick the chapter of my "to do" list than come back when the writer's block is gone and write three sentences. However, I find this method to be ineffective if I am trying to write a whole chapter (or more) with the Block. If this is the case, I generally switch to one of the other methods rather than coming back to rewrite an entire chapter. Nevertheless, pushing through can help to get the "rust" out and return my imagination to me.

  2. Work on another project: If my imagination fountain is dry (particularly if I have total Writer's Block) I generally will work on something other than the novel project I am working on. Rather than messy up the pages of my novel with crappy writing from my Writer's Block, I will instead choose to try and work through the Writer's Block by writing poetry, working on a school assignment, or writing a blog post. While these are generally the "projects" I choose, many people will also use writing prompts to get their juices flowing. I also believe that any art form can help to restore imagination so choosing to paint, draw, or in my case, do calligraphy or make stunning cards can get the imagination flowing.

  3. Work on the same project in another way: This is actually my favorite method for ridding myself of Writer's Block and it is usually the way that I do so. I have mentioned my binders detailing my characters and my worldbuilding and when I get really stuck in Writer's Block, I like to work on the same project (in this case, The Criminal) but on a different side. Generally, this means worldbuilding, character-shaping, or plot making. I have, at times, laid out plans for the plots of the following books, answered random questions about my characters, and made maps and family trees, and timelines for the book series. Everything that I do in the same series gets my excitement up and my imagination flowing and adds to the information that have for the series so that even while I am not working on writing, I am working on the book while I fix my Writer's Block. No matter what your project is, you can do this as well, worldbuilding, finding more information for your school essay, planning order and format for your poetry anthology, and more. What little extras can you research and work on for your project that might bring you excitement, joy, and imagination restoration while you recover from Writer's Block?

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