Writer’s block is the age old enemy of the wordsmith, and most advice goes about addressing it all wrong.
Worse than strategies that often redirect or disconnect your attempts to put words to paper is that much of the advice out there build up Writer’s Block with a mystical aura, speaking of it’s existence as if it were an evil sentient force bent on traveling the globe, looking to diminish the writing capacities of professionals and hobbyist alike.
When we take a look at Writer’s Block with more logic, it’s far more mundane than all this. Truthfully it’s our anthropomorphizing of what amounts to some simple solutions that gives Writer’s Block all it’s power.
If you’re sick of staring at a blank page or flashing cursor then it’s time to take your power back. To banish the illusion of Writer’s Block from your vocabulary and so remove any sway it has over your ability to wordsmith.
What Writer’s Block Really Is
Put simply, Writer’s Block is a state of mental confusion. This confusion can occur for a wide range of reasons, but regardless of the specific reason all causes of this terminal writer’s disease ultimately boil down to one core symptom — we don’t know what to write next.
This is distinct from some of the other blocks we can experience as writers, such as emotional fatigue, physical tiredness, or distraction to name a few. The biggest mistake we can make in addressing Writer’s Block is to mix it up with these other challenges that are covered here.
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Create a Structured Outline — Exploring Progression of Plot
The most immediate and direct thing you want to do for Writer’s Block is create a structured outline for the next section. This is true whether you’re a pantser or a planner because writing without a structure nine times out of ten will mean writing yourself into a corner you can’t escape.
Most commonly if you’re in this situation you’ll find yourself saying things like. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen now. It’s going to be impossible to write them out of this. The only way out is for someone to die.
While we can argue the story merits of some solutions, what’s absolutely true is that the events of your story should not be dictated solely by the path your story takes. Yes stories grow and evolve organically this is their nature, but it is your job as the writer to reign in this evolution when it doesn’t serve your intent and desired narrative.
Writing to New Inspiration — Exploring Motivations of Character
When you feel as though your story has fallen into a trap and you’re cornered with no 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd degree way out it’s sign you need to reverse time in your story. This will be easier if you understand the structure your story is using, but even if you aren’t the most simple thing to do is go back a few chapters and start writing into new directions.
To do this you’ll want to give agency and control of the events to one of your other characters. By this I don’t mean write the story from a new lens (though if you really must you can) rather have one of your other characters influence the narrative with their perspective, values, or desires. Then have the story react to importance being placed other than the pathway that took you to the block.
This is actually something many writers do instinctively though they get caught in another trap, the rewriting trap.
The intent of writing to new inspiration isn’t to rewrite the story or even change the events that led you to where your story has been cornered. It’s intent is to open up the world and possibilities available to you that you may not have seen previously.
This can look like a coinciding yet separate event, a side character or walk on character, a change of venue, and so on that can make the difference of both creating stronger resonance and unblocking your narrative.
Brain Dumping — Exploring Progression of Priorities
This is what it sounds like, but with a small twist. Unlike other brain dumps you might have done this isn’t about clearing your mind. If a mind clearing is something you need, that’s still a great thing to do but this is apart from that.
In this brain dump you’ll write down everything you can think of from the start of your book to the point you are at now. This should be done without going back to review, even if all you’re doing is scanning.
What this is going to reveal is what’s most important to the narrative, including any missing elements, or unrelated events in the narrative that might be influencing the story such that it brought you to the spot where you’re now stuck.
Once you begin seeing where something is taking up narrative space that it shouldn’t you can remove it, where something is missing you’ll likely find motivation to get these missing sections in.
Note: It may be that after your brain dump you’ll need to pair this tactic with number 1 of this list to break through the Writer’s Block.
Explore More Sides — Exploring Conflicts of Message
In your story you’re exploring some topic or theme. Generally a topic is covered in a chapter or series of chapters, while a theme is examined in a larger section or even the whole story.
With this tactic you’re going to start looking deeper into the topic and explore more sides of it. If you are in-line or agree with the topic, then you’re going to want to examine how you might portray it if you disagreed with it. If you see it as a solution to a problem then you’re going to look at it as if you see it as a problem creator and vice versa.
What this provides is a deeper examination of the conflicts of your story, and where some critical element of your topic or theme may be missing or see where you might uncover additional motivations that can help get your story moving again.
You can combine this with the brain dump tactic or you can free write on the topic. In this space it may even be beneficial to hit the books and do some research on whatever your story is exploring. We don’t know, what we don’t know after all, and not knowing is an almost guaranteed recipe for stalling our narrative.
Focus on Fantasy Fulfillment- Exploring Potential of Possibility
Often in our stories we get caught up in the realities we are creating. We start applying rules and regulations to actions the way we might do in real life. This is a fallacy of writing that we can break out of simply by breaking the arbitrary rules we’ve set.
The truth is anything can happen in your world — circumstance, coincidence, serendipity, even miracles are not just part of the stories we tell sometimes they are mandatory.
“Realness” is less a factor of believability then you might think. In fact if you look at fantasy or sci-fi for some extreme examples realness is entirely unnecessary for believability. So here at this place of infinite possibility consider what your character might do without inhibitions, with an abundance of luck, or as your ideal reaction to whatever situation.
Approach the circumstance your writing on as if you had all the knowledge, power, and courage at your fingertips. Your story, your characters, your message can take risks in ways you might never do in real life. This is your power as a writer and the narrative you’re putting out into the world.
Writer’s Block isn’t a Curse it’s a Sign
Above all, your story exists so that you can say what you want to say. Writer’s block appears when we struggle to find or understand exactly what it is that we are saying about one element of the writing or another.
There’s no ethereal force out to bring your creativity to it’s knees. There’s nothing external that’s in control of your writing. That control belongs solely to you and your mind. This is the ultimate lesson of the writer, nothing has power without the power you give it. We see this time and time again as our characters overcome the impossible odds we place in front of them. They examine, learn, grow, and shrug off the chains of their perceptions and wants to achieve the dream.
It’s only through following the examples of our own creations with our own examinations and reflections on an given element of our writing that we can begin to know what it is we are saying. This is when Writer’s Block will disappear, because when we know what we want to say nothing can stop the tidal flow of words out of you onto the page.