Claire McEwen, hopeful romantic.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

This blog was originally published on Underneath the Covers Blog.

I doubt there’s a writer who hasn’t experienced it – that moment when the words just won’t come. Or, if you manage to spit them out, they sound like robotic drivel that you’d be ashamed for anyone to ever read.

Well, I’ve been there, a lot! So much, in fact, that I’ve come to think of writer’s block as just one more state of mind, like a bad mood, jealousy or stress. And it’s that way of thinking of it, as just one more inevitable mental state, that has helped me overcome it – at least until the next time it shows up!

As a veteran of writer’s block, I have some ideas about how to handle it. Here are a few tips that work for me.

Try not to panic.
You don’t panic when you’re in a bad mood, right? Recognize it for what it is, a mental space that you can cope with.

Try to find the cause of the block.
Is the problem in your story? If so, it’s possible that your writer’s block is actually a gift. Sometimes writer’s block has come when I’m being controlling, trying to push the story in the way I think it ought to go, whether the choice makes sense for my characters or not. Or a block has developed when I don’t have enough real conflict and tension between my hero and heroine, so my story is losing its momentum. If you can’t identify the problems in your story, but suspect they exist, ask a trusted friend, editor or critique partner to take a look at your book for you.

Are you tired? Sometimes we just need to stop and take care of ourselves. So many writers are also working full time jobs, or caring for children, and we skimp on sleep to make everything happen. A couple months ago I couldn’t write, or even think. I felt overwhelmed and kind of sick. I went to my doctor, who checked me over, asked some questions and determined that I was simply exhausted. And low on Vitamin D because I’d been spending so much time indoors, writing!

Are you comparing yourself / criticizing yourself / torturing yourself in that special way that writers do? Negative self-talk can block our creativity and writers are masters at it. So take a few moments to listen to your thoughts. Are you comparing yourself to another writer? Worrying that everyone will hate your story? Thinking what do I have to say that hasn’t been said before? (That one stopped me in my tracks for years!) Try to turn those thoughts off – or turn them around. Instead of wondering what you have to contribute, tell yourself that every voice is unique, and yours will resonate with some readers. Remind yourself that if you don’t write your book, someone else will write their book and have a shot at the success you dream of. You can’t be in the race if you don’t enter!

If you can’t figure out the cause, that’s okay!
You may not find out what is causing your writer’s block, but you can still work through it. And sometimes the solution can be quite simple.

Try to work anyway. Remember that if you don’t have any words on the page, you can’t revise them and make them wonderful. So just keep spewing the robotic drivel with faith that you’ll fix it later. For motivation, read the first chapters of Anne Lamott’s amazing book on writing, Bird By Bird.

Do something different. Take a shower, exercise, call a friend, listen to music, read an article, just give your brain a break.

Do something else creative.
This has helped me many times. Work in the garden, do crafts, paint, sew, play music, or whatever creative activity you enjoy. You can rejuvenate your creativity without the pressure you might put on yourself when writing.

Refuel. What makes you feel the most like you? For me it’s hiking, gardening, listening to music, dancing or cycling. Those are the things that refill my senses, give me ideas and make me feel joyful. They remind me why I love to write and give me new ideas to write about.

Research. When I started writing my new book, Convincing the Rancher, the words felt stale and I got stuck. I was able to arrange a trip to the Sierras, where I sat on a rock, absorbed the scenery, took tons of photos, and wrote notes. It was exactly what I needed to be able to write the story.

Visit your setting. Or, if you can’t visit your setting, search for photos of it online, visit tourist websites for the location, watch movies or read books set in the area. Look for non-fiction books and blogs about the region as well.

Do a writing exercise. Write a letter from your character to another character, or to you. Interview your characters, make a web of adjectives that describe them… there are many books and websites that can give you ideas for ways to deepen your connection with your characters and your story.

Make a chart. This is one of my favorites! I make a chart of my major plot points using a plot arc. Often I find out that I am not creating the tension I need to, or that I don’t have enough conflict. My favorite charts come from Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays that Sell.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you. I have tried them all and found each helpful at various times. And in the comments below I’d love to hear about what works for you, during those times when the good words just won’t come.

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