Ways to Beat Writer’s Block
Posted On April 25, 2021
For me, writer’s block falls into two categories. The first one is most identifiable — fear. I fear so much. I fear that my writing won’t be any good, that it’ll offend someone, that someone will take it the wrong way, that it sounds too deep or not deep enough or too dark or too everything. It comes down to worrying about how others will react. Something I can’t control.
I recently watched Ethan Hawke’s Ted Talk from August 2020. He said, “…most of us really want to offer the world something of quality, something that the world will consider good or important. And that’s really the enemy. Because it’s not up to us to whether what we do is any good, and if history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic.”
Doesn’t that speak to you? It did me.
Filter your thoughts about reader reaction
So, if the world is an unreliable critic, and we can’t control how other people receive our work, why should we let this contribute to writer’s block? The truth is, it doesn’t have to.
That doesn’t mean you should never think of your readers. It can be helpful when editing for clarity. Let them guide you to create the best work you can. Set up filters to take what is useful and let go of what is holding you back.
It’s like this. Imagine telling a co-worker about a dinner party you’re planning. You plan to serve your best dish, one your guests like. Your co-worker suggests serving something else because that dish is too spicy. Are you going to give control of the menu to the co-worker (who isn’t coming)? Are you going to let her comments keep you from cooking? No. You may consider toning down the spice or checking with your friends about the level of heat they want, but for the most part, you’re going to shrug off the co-worker and go with your plan. Do the same with your writing.
The second reason I fall into writer’s block is from boredom. This isn’t something I’ve seen talked about a lot with writing. However, it’s something I imagine a lot of people struggle with.
Standard writing advice is to write every day. But even with the most exciting story, this can be tedious. There are parts of writing that I get excited about, like character development and the initial plotting. But the sit in your seat and get it out is what I struggle with.
I’ve got this huge story trying to push its way out all at once, and it gets stuck. The only way to do it is to write one word at a time. And I get bored with the pace, and then writer’s block sets in.
Writing a book takes time. Not every writing session is going to be exciting. And once the excitement wears off it can be hard to keep active.
For me, I like to go back to what I was excited about in the beginning. That may be rereading my plot or getting deeper into character development. I spend a few minutes doing the fun stuff and then push myself into writing.
Think about a blocked funnel. If you move the sand around and get it to flow a little, even if it’s slow, it will evidently finish. Stir things up a bit with your writing order. Give yourself a reward for progress. Find your fun again. Whatever it takes to keep moving.
Form a writing habit
The thing about habit is that once you’ve trained yourself, it becomes second nature. And if you don’t do it, you feel off.
I’m not the best when it comes to keeping to a writing schedule. But when I write several times a week, I notice the edge of getting started seems easier. I follow the advice of don’t decide not to write until you’ve at least opened your computer. And I also give myself permission to write as little as one sentence or just do editing if that’s all I can manage in that session.
Generally, whatever you do gets easier with time. If you keep hitting the snooze button it’s harder to get up right when the alarm goes off. If you let yourself off the hook tonight and don’t write, it’ll be easier to do the same tomorrow. But if you push through your barriers and write tonight, it’ll be easier to do the same tomorrow. Action begets action.
There is a lot more to forming habits than this. For more helpful advice, I suggest James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits.”
Start a new project
My final thought is that sometimes you have to start a new project to keep moving. This goes back to making it exciting again. But it could also mean that the project you are working on isn’t the right fit at the moment. It’s okay to skip around. But do be careful. To sell your work, it does need to be completed.
To be a writer you have to write. Your struggles might be different than mine, and what I’ve suggested may not work for you, but something will. Examine the root cause and address it directly. It may take creativity and several tries, but don’t give up.