Some writers scoff at the idea of “writer’s block”—that moment when the writer’s brain seems to freeze and the flow of words seems to have turned off like a faucet. Others swear that it’s a real thing, the bane of the writing life.
I tend to think it has more to do with personality than other, more objective, factors. Some are prone to it. Some aren’t.
Since I’m in the latter category, I asked some of my clients who have struggled with writer’s block in one form or another to share how they cope with it. Here’s what they said:
It’s helped me to see my creativity as a finite quantity. Usually I’m so full of ideas…but if I’ve been pouring into, say, freelance clients and my own work is constantly kicked to my B-priority list, writer’s block charges at me a lot faster. For me, writer’s block tends to snuggle up with burnout. Am I feeding my creativity with life-giving activity? Usually the answer is “fat chance” (Janel Breitenstein, author of the upcoming Zondervan release, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families)
When I feel “blocked,” I save my work, turn off the computer, and walk away for a few hours. That’s when I take time to pray over the work and ask for a clear mind and good words (Cindy Sproles, author of What Momma Left Behind).
When I come up dry at the keyboard, it’s usually a sign that I’ve neglected some aspect of creative rest and recreation. Respecting a weekly Sabbath helps prevent this but I also pay attention to it as a “check writer engine” light and back away from the computer. I engage in activities I know recharge me creatively like getting out into nature, watching great movies, reading a gospel, or taking a long nap (Lori Stanley Roeleveld, author of Running from a Crazy Man (and other adventures traveling with Jesus)).
Ever jump started a car by pushing it to get it rolling and then popping the clutch? That’s what I do to overcome writer’s block. Even if I have no idea what to write about, I put my fingers to the keyboard and start typing. Eventually an idea pops up and I take off. Muscle memory overcomes inertia! If that doesn’t work, I take a walk (Lori Hatcher, author of Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible).
When I can’t write new material, I edit what I’ve got. More times than not, it helps me get back into the story and write. If it doesn’t, I close the computer, grab some chocolate, and mumble these words: Tomorrow is another day (Michelle Shocklee, author of the upcoming Under the Tulip Tree).
When I’m feeling blocked, I take a 16-minute nap. It is just long enough to free up my subconscious and not too long to feel groggy. However, my imagination often wakes me up early with a plethora of ideas, and I can’t get back to my computer fast enough (Leslie DeVooght, http://www.lesliedevooght.com).
How about you? How do you prime the pump, so to speak, and get the words and sentences flowing again after a period of blockage?
Usually, my writer’s block isn’t really about writing. It’s a butt-in-chair block. The key to overcoming it is sitting down and writing. On those rare times when words don’t come, I resort to sitting and editing. When the editing goes on long enough, I grow tired of the old words; new words come.
I go for a walk to a particular beautiful place, just five minutes from my home, and when I get there, I spend just a minute walking in that area thanking God for anything I want to thank Him for, looking at the view, and then I walk briskly home.
The physical activity, the view, the attitude toward God usually gets me going just fine. And if not, I trust the process and also say as I close the computer, another day…
It’s more a matter of energy for me now, and the dread of losing what edge I may have.
Every poem depletes my strength,
every crafted rhyme;
can I still go on at length,
and is it worth the time?
Does quality still resonate
from what I try to say?
Or have I found a darker fate,
am I now just in the way?
Is it time to fold the tent,
and walk into the night,
give back to God what He has lent,
make departure sweet and right?
In dulce et decorum est,
knowing when to quit the final test?
I have narrowed down my writer’s block to two causes:
1- I am running on empty in my creativity. To combat this, I do something else creative, like painting, scrapbooking, photographing, sewing, or even baking.
2- I haven’t spent enough time planning and visualizing my story. If I don’t know where it needs to go, especially if I don’t know the end, I won’t have any idea of how to get there. To combat this, I’ve been spending a lot more time on prewriting and plotting.
Brennan S. McPherson
Couldn’t agree more that failing to fill your creative tank is a huge part of writer’s block.
When I feel a little lost in where I’m going with a story, I go back a scene or two, even to the beginning if necessary. It helps me to find the way forward.
If I find a particular scene resisting me as I try to start writing it, I jump ahead to a scene I know is coming and work on that for a while. I have the ending scene and a few of the high-intensity scenes roughed out almost from the beginning.
I keep a timeline that includes each scene in an Excel file. It starts rather skeleton and gets filled out in detail as I move forward. Adding detail to the timeline also helps me refocus and get back to writing. I write stories where important events are happening in different locations with different people that will come together at the right time, and the timeline makes it possible (easy?) to keep track of everything. This timeline of scenes also makes it easy for me to go back and find the right place to check a detail for consistency when I’m writing a later scene.
I also find if I go back a chapter or two and read that as if I’m editing, by the time I get to the new scene, I’m back in writing mode.
Sometimes I’ll leave the current WIP entirely and play with ideas for future novels or write a scene or two from those.
Very interesting … more to do with personality than other objective factors. I never thought about that before. I’m someone with so many ideas, it’s hard to focus on one, develop it, and really see it through. Then I wonder why I get stuck when I’ve sidestepped down a rabbit hole. Very insightful post! Love hearing from other established writers … and hearing their advice.
Kristen Joy Wilks
For me, writer’s block involves fear. What if what I write is terrible? I use writing sprints and a NaNoWriMo syle (just get the words out) push to get myself going. I also write early in the day and use the rest of the day to really invest in my family, take walks, and recharge with other work.
If I use my gift of words frivolously, the words won’t be there when I need them. I’ve had to learn not to throw what is holy to the swine…