If there’s one question I constantly get asked, it’s from authors who struggle with writer’s block asking me how I deal with it. The short answer is that I’ve never had writer’s block, nor am I an expert on the subject.
I understand how frustrating it can be, but in not having it, I can sort of reverse engineer why I don’t get it, and make generalizations about why others may get it.
So speaking in general terms, I think writer’s block is a symptom of one of the following categories:
Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to write when you have other obligations such as work, school, or family. It can be tough to find motivation and maintain momentum, especially with so many other distractions competing for your attention and limited resources, but it can be done.
In this post, I’ll discuss some common resistance author’s (and others) tend to face and what you can do to overcome writer’s block.
1. NOT PROPERLY PLANNING
In my videos How to Plan and Outline a Novel and Ideas are Currency, I speak extensively about my planning process. For me, I think of writing a novel in several stages. I spend months and months planning and outlining before I even begin writing. When I actually sit down to write, I’m not spending a lot of time thinking about how the story will unfold — most of those details would have already been worked out.
So when you hit a writer’s block, it’s because you may be attempting to do two things instead of one. Your brain may be better served focused on one task at a time.
Plan, then write.
Look, this one may be a little uncomfortable to hear, but if this applies to you, then this advice could ultimately help you.
I believe like anything in life, if you want something badly enough, then you’ll find away to do it and not be dissuaded by obstacles or excuses. If you don’t have the thing or aren’t where you want to be, it’s most likely because you don’t really want it bad enough and you’re not prepared to work for it. This doesn’t apply to everything in life, but as a general rule I believe it holds true.
If you really want to write, I’m talking really want it. It’s all you think about, it’s all you talk to your friends about, you’re teeming with ideas, you can’t wait to stop doing whatever thing that is getting in the way of your writing, then you will write.
If you don’t write, it may because you don’t really want it bad enough. Or dare I say, you may not be cut out for it. Again, sorry if this resonates with you and you weren’t ready to face this reality, but I think the sooner you come to terms with this truth, the sooner you can dedicate your life to your true calling or passion.
I’ve met a lot of pretenders in my life and writing isn’t that easy to fake. If you don’t practice, you will be discovered for what you really are. You can dress the part, talk the part, put “writer” in your Twitter and Instagram bios, but if you don’t love it and practice regularly, people can tell. You may be able to fool some people, but real writers will not be fooled.
I can’t really tell you any secrets to motivation other than if you want something badly enough, you’ll find the time to do it. Otherwise, you may need to be honest with yourself and re-evaluate whether writing, or whatever it is you need motivation for, is really something worth pursuing.
Eric Thomas has a great quote, he says, “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” Steven Pressfield also addresses this in his book, The War of Art, where he discusses the concept of resistance. If you like something, but not enough to find time to do it, you may need to just move on.
If you really want to be a writer, but struggle with motivation, here are a few ways that can help you get motivated:
- Set a writing goal. I aim for 1000 words per day, but if you cannot write every day, try a realistic goal such as 3000 words per week. Based on this schedule, you will complete your first draft in about six months. Mark it on your calendar, set notification reminders, and stick with it.
- Get into a routine. Human beings tend to be quite adaptable to almost anything if they can create a habit. Getting in shape for instance works on the same principle. It may be tough at first, but then it becomes easier when you make it a part of your lifestyle. So schedule times to write and stick with it. So let’s say you set aside time to write Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday night, and aim for 1000 words per day. Chances are you’ll write more than that and finish your first draft ahead of schedule.
- Reading bad fiction is a really strong motivator for me. I’ll sit down on the couch or my favourite reading chair and dive into some book that I happen to own. Usually what happens around chapter two or three is I get up and say, “I can do better than this!” and go to my computer and immediately start writing.
Sometimes being overcome with too many or too few ideas and not knowing what to write or where to start can be a cause of writer’s block.
Let’s focus on having too many ideas. It’s like trying to drink through a firehouse, there’s just too much coming at you. My advice would be to write everything down and become more organized. Sort your ideas from good, bad, what is right for one story versus what is right for another.
Having too few ideas, which I’ve talked about this in my other post How to Come up with Good Ideas for your Stories, tends to be the result of not exposing yourself to the world enough. In general you need to have experiences in order to write. You need to rich reservoir of experiences you can pull from.
When you spend the time in the planning stage to sort and organize your ideas, then they begin to make sense. You can start building your outline and focus future ideas. Perhaps you lack a second act or a really satisfying ending. Or maybe you really need a certain character that will be integral to your plot, but nothing comes to mind. Whatever the case may be, you can focus on what you need and train your mind to think about those areas in your story.
- There are many software programs that can facilitate the writing process and eliminate distractions. Try Write Room (Mac) or Dark Room (Windows) – they make the entire screen blank with only a cursor and your words visible. Some writers find this helpful so they’re not tempted by the browser icon. While I’m discussing writing software, try Scrivener, it can be really useful for compiling notes and organizing large documents.
- Another method I’ve heard of is having a “writing computer” that is not connected to the Internet. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand and not wander by checking email or social media sites. It is also useful for not losing your work since there will be no threat of viruses. One word of caution; however, most people’s so-called ‘writing computers’ will be old, and old hard drives can stop working without warning. Make sure you’re consistently backing up your files. You may want to get an external hard drive and leave it plugged in.
- It’s not always easy to sit and write when it’s sunny out, or when people in your house want to hang out, so what you can try is writing late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is asleep. If you’ve never tried writing from midnight until 2:00 am, you should. You may be surprised at the result. Sometimes my best ideas come to me when my mind is fatigued. I also find this adds motivation because you’re reinforcing your work ethic. Of course you could be sleeping – that’s what most people are doing – but not you, you’re working toward achieving a goal.
- Try cleaning your house, room, office, desk… whatever needs cleaning. I don’t know what it is, but when something is cluttered, my mind becomes cluttered and I can’t focus as well. I like to take care of all the distractions before I start writing, so they’re not nagging me.
Like many things in life such as building a new relationship, forming a new habit, or learning a new skill, momentum can go a long way.
Here are a few things that can help with momentum:
- One really effective method to achieve something is having a buddy working toward the same goal. Together you will push each other and keep each other accountable. A writing buddy can also be a great way to brainstorm, or bounce ideas off and see which ones stick. This has been a tremendous help for me.
- Creative writing classes are another way to get honest feedback. Look up courses at your local college or university and see if they offer a class that fits your schedule. You will partake in group discussions, writing exercises that sharpen your skills, and perhaps most importantly, you will have other writers critique your work. At first, this can be demoralizing to have a group of people rip your story to shreds, but you’re all there to learn and become better. It also puts you in touch with other writers who can edit your work.
- Even when you’re not writing, it doesn’t mean you can’t be working on your story. One great quote I like is from Burton Rascoe, he says, “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” Try to think about your story on your commute to and from work, while you’re working, when you’re at the grocery store… and then capture any ideas you may have. Then compile those notes into a master ‘note’ file so when you sit down to write, you will have momentum throughout the week. In other words, you’re not forcing yourself to come up with ideas at the time when you need ideas – it may not be the most efficient way to work. I come up with ideas all day, even when I’m sleeping, and when I sit down to write, I’m excited to explore where the ideas lead me.
- If you find your momentum has waned a bit, you may need to re-evaluate the plot and see if you’re still passionate about it. There’s no shame in abandoning something that doesn’t work and starting fresh, just make sure abandoning doesn’t become a habit when the going gets tough. Some days are more of a grind than others, but hang in there and keep jabbing away at it. If the plot is no longer entertaining you after you’ve given it due consideration, then maybe it’s best to leave it alone. You can always come back to it.
- My final piece of advice is this – You’ve heard the phrase, ‘you have to crawl before you can walk’, well the same applies to writing a novel. Try writing a blog post or a short story first. The simple satisfaction you receive upon completing a short story will often inspire you to work up to a larger project.
- 10 Tips for Writing Proper Dialogue
- How to Hook the Reader in the Opening Paragraph
- How to use the Level Ramping Technique to Improve your Storytelling