5 Strategies to Banish Your Writer’s Block
You sit at the keyboard staring at a blank screen. The cursor blinks, each time it feels a little more forceful, a little more condemning. Pressure keeps building until you finally throw your hands up and walk away because the words aren’t flowing. So now what? the trouble with waiting for writer’s block to pass is it gets easier to avoid writing, to get out of the habit of writing. Then we’ve created a circular issue that can lead to writers giving up on a project, or the art of writing entirely. So, how do we get out of that circular death spiral?
Distraction can be an effective tool. See, writer’s block is a psychological phenomenon. With writer’s block, we place so much pressure on ourselves that our minds do what they do any time we get too stressed out— they shut down. This shutdown is a normal response to high levels of stress because it protects ourselves from the emotional fallout of overstress that would happen if it didn’t shut down. If we distract ourselves from that source of stress, we can relieve enough of the pressure to let the words come again. So, go take a shower, work out, go for a walk, read a book, or pretty much anything you find relaxing, soothing, and where you don’t think about writing. Whatever you do, it needs to take your mind in a different direction than writing for a bit. Come back to your work in progress after the break to try it again.
Distraction not working to get your work in progress going? Try a writing prompt. OWS has a variety of prompts you can start with. There are several ways you can make a writing prompt work for you. First, you might use the prompt to jump start your work in progress. How would you incorporate that prompt into the action underway? Another option is to temporarily set your work in progress aside and write whatever comes to mind from the prompt. Follow that train of thought for a while to see where it goes. The prompt may be useful to develop some of the character’s back story or to do some world-building. My story, Through the Gates of Hell found in the newest OWS Anthology Mirrors & Thorns, started as a response to a writing prompt about setting a scene with a monastery. Even if it doesn’t generate something in your story, knowing the information you’ve developed due to the prompt can help you get the progress going again. Or, challenge yourself to see how else you could use that prompt.
Music and Art
But, what if prompts don’t inspire anything? Another way to work around writer’s block is music and art. Just like prompts, music and art can be used in several ways. First, psychologically, these mediums are working in the right side of the brain, which is part of the more emotional and implicit memory part of your brain. You know, some of the stuff we are trying to tap into when writing to elicit more investment from our readers? Because music and art work on this part of our brains, they can also do quite a bit to calm, soothe, distract, and help us process whatever is creating the writer’s block. Finally, at least for this post, music and art can serve as inspiration for a scene or a story no different from a prompt. Don’t believe me? Subscribe to OWS Inked because the upcoming issue will be filled with stories inspired by music.
Still stuck? Try playing the “What If” game. Start by throwing out all sorts of what if questions. Remember, this is brainstorming, which means no judging the questions—just put them out there. Nothing is off limits and so what if it is a crazy what if, put it out there. Once you get yourself a good list going, then go back and answer the questions. What would your characters do? How would this what if change their current predicament? Keep going until you find a scenario that, even if it is a drastic left turn from where you thought you were going, works for your story. If you haven’t found an answer, no matter how crazy, by the end of the list, brainstorm more what ifs and do it again. Worst case scenario, you’re still stuck where you’re at, but have a plethora of information about how your characters react in a bunch of different situations, which is still helpful overall. Best case scenario, you’ve gotten yourself out of your jam.
But what if it’s a terminal case of writer’s block, you ask. My first response is to remind you there is no such thing as a terminal case of writer’s block. After that, I’ll offer you another way of addressing it—writer’s groups. Whether it is OWS’s Word Mafia on Facebook, a messenger chat, or a real live writing group, make an appearance. Talk about your work in progress. Explain what got you excited to write the story. Discuss where you’re at in the story and what’s got you stuck. Chances are just talking about it will help you solve the dilemma. If not, you’re in the company of people who get unruly characters who don’t follow the storyline and have left you hanging. They’ll probably also be able to help you find a way around what’s got you stuck. At bare minimum, you’ll have others to commiserate with.
There you have it. Five strategies to banish your writer’s block. The biggest key is to remember writer’s block is a psychological occurrence no different from choking during a sports event. It stems from the pressure we’re putting on ourselves to produce something amazing. Whether it’s one of these strategies or something else, the key is to take the pressure off for a bit and let the muse breathe. The words will come again, I promise. Let me know how it goes!.
Stacy Overby is a child-chasing, teenager-wrangling, author and poet who hangs out in Minnesota with her family when she’s not writing. She, her work, and her social media links can be found at www.thisisnothhitchhikersguide.wordpress.com.