As you may recall from an earlier post, I believe in writer’s block about as much as I believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy (see #7 here for details and entertainment). I do, however, know there are times when us writers just don’t feel like writing. You sit, you stare out the window, you surf on over to check out what’s new on I Can Haz Cheezburger, you come up up with to do lists or organize something to feel productive and then you blame your inability to complete your book on writer’s block.
You don’t have writer’s block. You just don’t feel like writing.
There’s loads of psychoanalytical reasons they say people get “writer’s block.” Some say it’s a fear of failure (if you don’t write, there’s nothing to lose), others say it’s guilt that you should be doing something more productive (like getting a “real” job). Maybe these are true, but if you’re going to be a writer, you have to write. You have to accept that some of your writing is going to suck and some of it is going to be rejected, and (hopefully) some of it will entertain or inspire people. But you’ll never know if you make excuses for not writing. After all, if you say you’re a writer, but don’t write, you’re just a dweeb with a laptop taking up space in a coffeeshop (or wherever you find a chair to warm while you “write”).
I’m no different. I can find a million better things to do than write. This is made worse by my inability to stay seated for more than an hour at a time (plane trips are my hell). But I know if I don’t write, well, then I’m just an unemployed sot with a nice collection of pens and notebooks.
So, how do I get over not wanting to write (aka: “writer’s block)? There’s plenty of ways (and I’m sure a web search will give you hundreds of ideas, but you should be writing, not doing web searches!), but the following are what work best for me…
1. Schedule a time to write – Some people say this should be at the same time each day to make the task a habit. I say, try to do that and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Our lives vary from day to day especially if you haven’t quit your day job and/or have kids, but you should have a general notion of your daily schedule. At the beginning of the day, find a time in there to sit down and write. Schedule it like you would an appointment. Do nothing else but write during this time. Set your computer to airplane mode to reduce the distraction of the Internet, turn your phone off (unless you’re someone’s emergency contact…), set a timer and write. Whether you find an hour or only 20 minutes, if you use this time for writing and only writing, you’ll get some pages filled.
2. Write ANYTHING – So, you’ve settled down to write and you can’t think of where to start. This isn’t writer’s block, this is just the need to get going. Think of getting in a pool: Go in a tiny bit at a time and it’ll take you forever to get in, jump right in and you’re off. Same with writing, jump right in with a sentence. I don’t care if that sentence is horrible (which it usually is) or even grammatically incorrect. The point is to get that sentence out and you’ll notice the following sentences come out more easily. And by Write Anything, I mean anything to do with your book (or article or essay), not your to do list, not your vacation itinerary, not your grocery list. That’s like jumping into the hot tub and saying you went for a swim.
3. Read a writing book – This sounds like contrary advice to the above, but this is the advice for when you feel stuck on where to go next in your story and use that as an excuse not to write. Even if you’ve outlined your story to a T, you can still get stuck on a plot point or twist or new character or setting. In this case, pick a good writing book and read a chapter (no more or you’re just wasting writing time). As you read, think about your story and keep a pen and notebook nearby. A good writing book should spark several ideas of how you can use the advice in your own story and even spur new story ideas. Again, read no more than a chapter. If you have less than an hour for your writing time, use no more than half of that time reading (the other half should be filled with intense sentence crunching!).
4. Keep up momentum by forgetting the details – If you hit a road block with your writing because you want to describe a medieval castle well enough to pass the scrutiny of a person who holds a doctorate in Medieval Architecture, just stop it! You probably stopped writing to look up images or to research or feel stuck because you just can’t capture the color of stone that would have been used on the turret of a Norman castle in the south of England in 1302. You know what I mean and I’m sure you’ve done it. You get so focused on details that you feel trapped if you aren’t creating the perfect picture. Don’t worry about it. If it is important to the story, make a note in the manuscript and catch it in the revision (if at all, too much detail is just going to bore the reader anyway). The point is that when you’re writing, keep writing. Don’t lose the momentum by getting trapped in a cul-de-sac of nuance. This also works when you forget a character’s hair color or age or favorite ice cream flavor. Make a note or just put an X instead of the details and fix it later.
5. Ignore your demons – No, I don’t mean your kids (but if you can ignore them, that will help your writing career). I mean those little critics in your head saying “that’s a terrible sentence,” “what would your grandma think if she read that,” “this story is stupid” or all the other things that can sneak into your head and halt your writing. Bad days happen, bad sentences happen, but the point is to keep writing. If you use your writing time to write, you will get lost in your own story. So lost, those little demons won’t be able to find you. When you stop writing (at the end of your writing session, of course), they may come back, but you know what? You’ve already finished and can waggle your work in their little gargoyle-esque faces.
And here’s my bonus tip…The first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. So sit down, write and get that first draft out. After that, you’ve got the framework to build a great story on.
What gets you past the “I just don’t want to write” hurdle? Please share your tips by commenting on this post….writers need all the help we can get!