How to Beat Writer’s Block – 7 Tips from the Trenches
Whether you’re writing your first novel or your twenty-fifth, at some point during your writer’s life you will find yourself staring at a blinking cursor on your computer screen and wondering why the words have stopped flowing. It might happen gradually, like a car coasting to a stop after running out of gas, or it might be abrupt, like slamming into an invisible brick wall. Either way, when it happens, you’ll know it.
If you asked a hundred writers, you’ll probably get a hundred different answers as to what causes writer’s block. And that’s okay, because regardless of the root cause, I can practically guarantee that one of these practical tips will help you get your mojo back and the words flowing. So buckle your seatbelts and keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times, because this ride is about to take off.
TIP #1 – PHONE A FRIEND
As a co-author, Phone A Friend is my goto solution whenever I experience writer’s block. If I get stuck, the first thing I do is pick up the phone and call Jeff Wilson. Now, I realize that this luxury is not available to the rest of you who don’t have a Jeff Wilson at your disposal. And as much as I’d love to give you Jeff’s phone number, he’d probably kill me if I did, so that’s off the table.
But, the advice is still sound. You just need to find your own friend to phone, and this person does not need to be a writer. The only real requirement is that you trust the person and they are willing to listen. Phone a friend works best if you need (a) a different perspective, or (b) encouragement.
In case (a) tell your friend you want to have a brainstorming session. Explain to your friend, the basics of the conundrum—be it plot or character related—and see what ideas he or she can come up with. Two heads are better than one, so bounce ideas off of each other and if you both take it seriously I guarantee you’ll come up with new possibilities and some angular momentum to get you moving again.
In case (b) bare your soul, have a gripe session, and fish for the compliments and encouragement you need to relight the fire. If your friend can’t help then either move onto Tip #2 or trying Phoning a Different Friend!
TIP #2 – REBOOT YOUR CREATIVE CENTER
As writers, we’re creative types. We weave words together to spark emotions and paint pictures in our readers’ minds. But that creative engine inside us can is primed by all sorts of inputs and stimuli. Whenever my characters are feeling flat or my prose uninspired, I listen to music and it immediately stirs emotions and connections I didn’t feel before.
It doesn’t matter whether you listen to Taylor Swift or Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen or Adele, Eminem or Luke Bryan…what all these Singer-Song writers have in common is that they are story-tellers forced to tell their tales in three minutes and 200 words or less. It never ceases to amaze me how conflict, romantic entanglement, heartbreak, and sometimes even a character’s life story can be told in a single song. Something about adding a soundtrack to prose can stir tears more readily than words alone. If you can’t find your words, try music to spark emotions, find new metaphors, and jumpstart the creative center in your brain.
TIP #3 – REREAD A BOOK YOU LOVE
I’ve not met a successful author yet, who wasn’t a passionate reader before becoming a writer. If you’ve lost your mojo, dust off one of the books that made you want to be a writer in the first place. Reimmerse yourself in the characters. Feel their struggles. Hate the villain. Be inspired by the protagonist. Refamilarize yourself with prose that paints a picture in your mind. And rediscover what separates an ordinary story from a great one.
Sometimes, our writer’s brain just needs to be reminded how a really good novel feels and flows.
Think of this like visiting a trainer at the gym when you’ve forgotten how to properly do the excercises. We all need refresher courses from time to time.
TIP #4 – RETRACE YOUR STEPS
This little gem is my goto when Jeff is busy. If you ever find yourself lost in the woods, chances are good your first and best option is to try and retrace your steps until you get back on the path you recognize. Lost your car keys? Well, where did you go and what were you doing before you lost them?
If it’s unclear what in the story led to this predicament, then retrace your steps
The same logic applies to writer’s block. Somewhere in the pursuit of putting words on the page, you got lost. Start first by going back to the beginning of the last chapter you wrote and rereading up to the point where you’re stuck. If that doesn’t help, go back to another chapter, and then another chapter, and so on until you feel the story’s purpose and proper direction again.
TIP #5 – START EDITING
Can’t think of new material? No problem, go back and start reworking what you already have.
Any of you that know me, also know that my goto piece of writing advice is “All Writing Is Rewriting.” I’m a true believer that writing a great novel is an iterative process—kind of like painting a masterpiece. First, the artist makes a pencil sketch depicting all the basic elements, establishing the subject’s proportions and deciding on the composition and layout. Then she starts color blocking and filling in the big picture details. On the next pass, she works in the finer details, adding nuance and definition to enhance the contrast and seduce the eye. Writing, in my opinion, works very much the same way.
No writer thinks of every plot detail on the first pass. Nobody writes mesmerizing dialogue right out of the gate.
So, if you’re stuck, start editing. It is impossible not to find areas of improvement, things you missed, or ideas you didn’t think of the first time through. When it comes to writer’s block, rewriting is the best tool for discovering how you can make the story better.
TIP #6 – JUMP AHEAD
If going back and rereading and/or rewriting didn’t help. Then try skipping ahead. This is quite possibly the most intuitive and simplest solution of them all.
Imagine the following scenario. You’re driving down an avenue with traffic lights and you’re hitting green light after green light until eventually, you hit one that turns red. You wait for it to turn green, but it doesn’t change in the expected time. You wait longer. It still doesn’t change. You begin to suspect its broken. How long are you willing to wait before you exclaim “screw it” and drive on.
Writer’s block is sorta like hitting a broken traffic light that’s stuck on red. At some point, you just have to move on and continue driving to your destination.
If chapter eleven is kicking your butt, fine, move on to chapter 12, or chapter 20, or any chapter that sounds more fun and interesting than the one giving you heartburn. You can always go back and fix the broken red light later.
TIP #7 – GIVE YOURSELF A MULLIGAN
In the sport of recreational golf, a mulligan is an extra shot a player takes after a bad one which is not recorded on the scorecard. Basically, it’s a free do-over. If none of the above tips help you with your writer’s block, this is my final piece of advice. Give yourself a mulligan.
Delete the chapter you’re writing and start a new one. Scratch the character who’s dragging you down. Blow up the scene that’s not working for you. Whatever it is that is a pain in your backside, get rid of it and try again. It’s okay. They’re just words!
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