Last week, I talked about how to deal with the bane of every writer: the dreaded writer’s block. However, a lot of writers are willing to try anything to break through. Anything. I’ve been there, attempting the first thing that came to mind. I’ve also gotten some very well-meaning (and even more misguided) advice from a variety of sources. It took me awhile to come up with effective strategies, the ones I went over last week, and I want to help spare you the painful trial and error process. Here are four things I’ve actually tried that I would never, ever recommend you attempt.
Learn from my failures.
1) Trade One Difficult Task for Another Difficult Task
Stop me if this is familiar: you’re hit with writer’s block, so you decide to loop back to another thing. This can be a very effective strategy, if the other thing isn’t another problem spot. You see, that isn’t a break. It isn’t sleeping on it or letting an idea germinate or anything positive…it’s deliberately trading one very frustrating thing for another very frustrating thing.
When you’re dealing with writer’s block, you’re already in a tense mental state. You’re on edge, wanting to just get some more words out. And it absolutely is a good idea to push through that frustration and try to get some words on the page to get the creative juices flowing. However, if you were already stuck on something, this is the worst time to try it again. You’re just going to feel even more stuck, even more frustrated.
Not much fun, is it?*
The exception for this is if you have a flash of inspiration. If, while you’re stuck on today’s Gordian knot, you suddenly realize that you know how to cut yesterday’s knot, then seize the moment, because you’re still moving forward at that point. You know going into it that you’re unstuck in this area, so it’s a great way to get yourself a feeling of accomplishment and actually make some progress. However, you have to be one hundred percent certain that you’re unstuck to avoid creating a negative feedback loop. Otherwise,try working on something that you know will flow easily, as opposed to turning your war against writer’s block into a two front conflict.
*I promise not to ask too many blisteringly obvious questions.
2) Stare Blankly at the Page Until Inspiration Strikes
One of the most common pieces of writing advice when you’re stuck is to “Just keep writing,” to force yourself to get the words out and on paper. I agree with that, up to a point, but I think there’s a lot of misconceptions around this advice – so much so that I left it off my original list.
Writer’s block manifests in different ways for different people at different times. If your writer’s block is taking the form of “I don’t know if this is going to be any good” or “I don’t have the inspiration right now” (Inspiration, by the way, is something that probably needs a whole blog post on its own in the future) then you absolutely should try to push through and make the words happen. You can always revise later.
If, on the other hand, you’re writer’s block is “I don’t know what to write here,” or “I don’t know where I’m going with this,” then “Just keep writing” is not particularly helpful. You end up just staring blankly at the page, letting your Inner Editor and uncertainty tear at you.
Instead, try writing something else (see above). Any of the suggestions I made in my last post are definitely worth trying in these cases especially writing about what you saw, since that often will help jostle your brain into gear. If you’re still stuck, then it might be time to do something else-something that keeps your body active but gives your mind time to wander. Go for a walk, do some light cleaning, or mild exercise. Set a timer so you don’t turn this into procrastination, but taking a little time away from the screen (or notebook, or grocery bag, or Post-It…I don’t judge anyone else’s process) can help to free your mind some from the tyranny of the page and let your creative juices flow more organically.
3) Have a Drink, Because Everyone is More Clever With Alcohol!
I’m sure we’ve all heard Hemingway say “Write drunk, edit sober.”* I’m pretty sure one of my college Creative Writing classes had that on the wall or something. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but so many people take it seriously as a way to beat writer’s block. Booze, beer, wine, or weed have all been mentioned as cures for writer’s block. Hell, Stephen King has been very open that much of his early work was written under the influence of various substances, including cocaine.
Well, if it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me, right? Uh…no. King shared this publicly to discourage that strategy, not advocate it. In fact, in a Rolling Stone interview, he revealed that in Misery, he drew inspiration from his battle with drugs to write a truly disturbing antagonist. For some reason, even the “write drunk, edit sober” devotees never seem to suggest cocaine as a solution to writer’s block. I cannot imagine why.
Look, I absolutely understand the theory behind this advice. You’re frustrated, you’re tense, and intoxicants can help relieve that frustration or tension. However, it also destroys your focus – and your fine motor skills, such as typing. I know that the few times I attempted to write while drunk, my setpences starged lokinng somew ting liike thysd because my typing skills headed off for a nice long holiday…along with my inhibitions (I know some of you can relate that). On the one hand, it was nice to have an excuse for how many typos I make. On the other hand, it was usually so messed up that even my spell checker could only give me a helpless shrug when I turned to it for aid. More importantly, when I looked at it with a clear head, I usually didn’t like what I had written. Often I wasn’t even sure I understood what I had written. And that’s assuming that I actually had written, which after three or four drinks, well…drunk people do love chasing butterflies.
And then the next day you get to try to write while hungover, which is a fresh hell all on its own. If you’ve never attempted to write while hungover, try spending an entire day without drinking anything, then slamming your head into a wall repeatedly as soon as you wake up the next day, then try writing.**
*Before you nuke me in the comments section with a tactical English Lit strike, I know Hemingway didn’t actually say it. We don’t have a good source for it, but it was most likely Peter de Vries. “Hemingway is the most misquoted of the twentieth century authors,” however, is totally a legitimate Hemingway quote. No no no, don’t look it up. Just trust me. Would I lie to you? (Of course I would. I write fiction. However, everything else on this blog is legit. So far…)
**Please don’t actually do this.
This is the big one, the number one thing you should never, ever do because of writer’s block:
Quit. I don’t mean “quit for the day” or “quit for the moment” (if you’ve read this far, you already know that sometimes that can be good). However, writer’s block should definitely not cause you to quit forever.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that they can’t go back to a project because they got stuck on it. Even worse is when I hear people have given up on writing their current project, and the worst is when they’ve given up writing altogether because of writer’s block. It hurts my heart, but at the same time I can completely understand it. Writer’s block can be one of the most disheartening struggles to face as a writer, and it’s so easy let the doubt settle in, wondering if you’re a real writer, or if you’re good enough, or if you could ever finish this. It’s all too tempting to just say, “No” and move on.
Let me tell you right here, right now: don’t give up. You can do this. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it will be easy. It’s going to be an incredibly hard thing. You are going to pour your blood, sweat, and tears onto the page, then you’re going to get a new page that isn’t gross and do it again. You’ll have times when you are stuck. You’ll have times when you are frustrated. You’ll have times you are so very, very tempted to select all and hit that backspace button. There are times when you should abandon a project, and we might discuss what those are at some point, but it should never be because of writer’s block.
You can do it.
So stop reading and get to it. After you write something in the comments section, because any and all writing is a weapon in the war against writer’s block.
Anything else you think doesn’t help with writer’s block? Other things that work for you? Has “writer’s block” lost all meaning for you too after seeing it so many times? Let me know in the comments below!