How To Defeat Writer's Block
Writer’s block. Just thinking those words can give a writer nightmares, but we’ve all been plagued by this inevitable phenomenon at some point. It can take days, months, or even years to get past this dreaded obstacle, and there’s no one-size-fits-all method for dealing with it. However, there are some techniques I’ve found to be useful over the years, and though this is by no means an exhaustive list, I’d like to offer options that have helped me stimulate creativity in those dark moments.
Go Back to Basics
One of the easiest ways to push past a mental obstacle is to refocus on the basics, which for me means plot and character. Consider what needs to happen to progress the plot to its ultimate conclusion at the end of the story. Think about your characters’ goals and motivations, what their character arcs should look like as a result, and how those affect the plot. If you’re not a big planner, it might help to lay down the main landmarks you want to hit on the way to your book’s resolution. I recently attended the Killer Nashville Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense Writers’ Conference and heard panels of professed pantsers admit to jotting down a few bullet points when they got stuck. There’s no shame in penciling in a rough roadmap, and even hard-core planners can benefit from pausing to get a clearer idea of where the story should go and if any directional changes are needed.
Seek Inspiration from Other Sources
It’s a common misconception among writers that inspiration can only be found in the writing of others, though there is some truth to that. Reading a wide range of books can be very helpful when you’re struggling to craft your own. But watching movies and TV, listening to music, playing games, and other story-based hobbies can be just as beneficial. I was stuck on a book idea for a few years until I watched a TV show with a related premise. The show featured a character dynamic I really liked, and when I implemented a similar dynamic in my story, it practically wrote itself. You just never know where you’ll come across that spark that will burn away your writer’s block, so immerse yourself in stories of all kinds and give your subconscious free rein to dream.
Talk it Out
Sometimes one brain isn’t enough and you need to lean on others. That’s okay. Most of us have a family member, a friend, a critique partner, or a writing group we go to when we’re dealing with a real head-scratcher. Hearing an outside perspective can be all it takes to trigger that lightbulb moment, or just explaining the problem aloud might be enough to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve been known to talk things out to myself when I’m really struggling to piece together what I want to do. Simply putting words to a blocking issue can reveal possible avenues that lead to a solution.
Play the “What If” Game
This is a fun way to brainstorm ideas. Give yourself permission to really go crazy. Kill a character. Shift the setting. Change the POV. I read a book a number of years back where the author was struggling until she experimented with using two POVs instead of one. Or think about what could go wrong and write that. Consider how it would benefit the plot or characters to go that direction and how that could up the stakes and tension. Our goal as writers is to never leave our characters in an idyllic environment, so sometimes throwing them into the worst-case scenario is exactly what the story needs. The idea is to open your mind to new possibilities. Playing the “what if” game doesn’t always result in usable material, but it will broaden your thinking, relax your mind, and infuse your creativity with fresh life.
Experiment with Prompts
If you’re having a hard time coming up with your own “what if” scenarios, there are tons of scene prompts and sentence starters available online and in printed form. Though they won’t all be relevant to your story, trying to make them fit might present you with fresh directions. Again, the intention is to stimulate new thought and get your mind out of the rut it’s stuck in.
Take a Break
There’s nothing wrong with walking away when you can’t work through a particularly bad batch of writer’s block. The key is to not stop writing. Skip the place you’re stuck and come back to it later. Write the ending. Do writing exercises. Work on something else. Or try sleeping on it and coming back fresh in the morning. Sometimes you just need to give your brain some breathing room to work through a problem. It may take longer than you hope, but the solution you come up with will be far better than anything you’ll manage by forcing it. Unless you’re working against an unalterable deadline, it’s best to let inspiration come naturally.
Unfortunately, there’s no tried and true method to conquer writer’s block when it rears its ugly head. One method might work great for you and do nothing for someone else. Or it might be pivotal to finishing one book, but fail to help with another. But the good news is that you can always get past writer’s block. You’ve done it before, and that should give you the confidence to confront it without letting it drag you down. Getting writer’s block doesn’t make you a bad writer, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write anymore. It just means you have one more wall to knock down before you find your story buried in the rubble. Don’t give up, don’t let imposter syndrome in, and keep trying. You will break through eventually, and holding your finished book in your hands will make all the effort and anguish and sleepless nights worth it.
Written by Jessica DeLand
Jessica DeLand is a YA contemporary fantasy writer from McKinney TX. She graduated from Brigham Young University–Idaho with a B.A. in English and is a full-time mother of three young children. Her hobbies include art car karaoke watching movies sewing crocheting and co-op gaming of all kinds with her husband. Follow her writing journey on Twitter or Instagram @delandjessica or learn more about her at jessicadeland.net.