Writer’s Block is the Common Cold

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Moroccan Guards

Writer’s “block” is a good way to describe it. It’s like you’re driving down the highway and you know exactly where you are and where you’re going. You can describe every bush and tree, every creature that scampers out of your way. And you can see beyond that, far beyond. You can make out the mountains in the distance, and you can see exactly how the road twists and turns before you reach your destination.

Then – BAM!

The cops have set up a road block. There are signs and cars and flashing lights, and suddenly you can’t go anywhere. It stops you dead in your tracks and all you can concentrate on is the distraction of the sirens and the officers waving their guns in your face. Your surroundings have disappeared and you can’t quite recall how to get to those mountains in the distance.

This is an accurate metaphor, but I’ve got another one.

Writer’s block is our common cold – everyone gets it, no one really knows how to cure it, and we just have to wait it out until we feel better. But, luckily, there are ways to prevent writer’s block, and there are ways to push through it. (Kind of like showing those cops you do indeed have a driver’s license. Or like pumping yourself full of orange juice and cold medication.)

The first question is: What is writer’s block, really? It’s important to realize that it affects people differently. For me, at least, it’s when my brain just doesn’t want to work. I can’t think properly or I can’t concentrate. Writing one paragraph takes me an hour instead of five minutes, and I don’t like anything that I put down on paper. For others, it is the complete inability to come up with any detail pertaining to their story. It is a frustrating and time-consuming illness.

But, like most bugs, you can do a variety of things to prevent yourself from catching it. I suggest writing every day, whether you have time or not. It’s hard to stop writing once you get in the swing of things, but sitting down for even ten minutes a day helps. Skills are learned through experience and patience, and the more you write, the more skills you’ll pick up. I like to keep my iTouch handy too – there’s an app on there for note taking, and I use it all the time. I even have some full blown stories and character backgrounds on it. I tend to get ideas when I’m away from my computer, and this is a simple thing that I can do to get those ideas on “paper” before I lose them. It’s aggravating to have a great idea that you can’t remember when you go to write it down later that night, and that’s actually one of the ways that my writing block gets set up.

Another thing you can do to keep yourself from getting writer’s block is to make an outline. I know a lot of people don’t like them, and even I’m not particularly fond of them, but they do work. Research shows that writing down your goals helps you to attain them. An outline works the same way – it shows you what you’re working toward, and reminds you of the big plot points that you need to have in your story or series. My first novel is complete, but it’s just one book in my trilogy. I wrote an outline for the next two books so that I would always remember what I am working toward. Knowing what’s coming next also allows you to put clues and important details in earlier installments!

But even the best drivers get pulled over, and even the cleanest and most careful people still get sick.

So, how do you get around that road block? It can be tough, and sometimes all you can do is wait it out. Our brains are powerful machines, and they’ll work through any problems on their own, but there are ways to help them out. As it is with the prevention of writer’s block, the best thing to do is, well, write.

I know what you’re saying. “Um, isn’t that the problem?”

Yes, it is. So, try writing something else. Work on a different story or try out a new writing exercise. Sometimes shifting gears is the best thing to get your mind working again. Like I said above, for me writer’s block is about not being able to think of anything good to write, or not liking whatever I do come up with. The best solution for this is to just plow through whatever you’re having trouble with and come back to it later. Sometimes, you have to write something really, really bad in order for you to get it off your mind. Then, you just move on and edit it when you come back around to it. It’s like how they always say not to edit while you’re writing, because it kills your creative buzz. Same thing.

I actually have a really good example of this. In my novel, there’s a battle scene near the end. I was having a lot of trouble writing it, and I just couldn’t come up with anything that sounded good. I also didn’t really know what exactly I wanted to happen – who should live and who should die? Which characters do I want to focus on? Where and how exactly will the battle take place? I couldn’t answer any of these questions, and all I could think about was what happened after the battle. Well, I couldn’t ignore what happened during the battle, since that was an important scene, so I just wrote whatever came to mind. It was bad. Like, very bad. The writing literally consisted of “This character does this. Then this character does this. Then this happens.” It was very choppy and very poorly written, but I left it and moved on to the next scene. Now, I had my work cut out for me when I got to this chapter in my editing process, but it was much easier having that outline of the scene and then just fleshing out the events once my brain had decided to work properly again.

A lot of writers use music to inspire them. I like to go outside and walk around in the woods, or visit somewhere peaceful where I can be alone. It allows me to notice the magic of nature more easily, and as my stories usually center around nature, this is quite useful. Something else that might help? Set your work aside for a while. That might seem counterintuitive – how can I get work done if I’m not writing? – but it’s not. Writing isn’t a science, and you can’t force yourself to do it if the inspiration isn’t there. Go mess around on the internet for a while or get some other things done that you’ve been putting off. Chances are that when you come back your mind will be a little bit clearer, and you’ll be able to write again.

Remember, the police are there to protect you. Sometimes you can overexert yourself by writing too much. Writer’s block might just be your brain’s way of telling you to slow down. And everyone gets sick – that’s why we have an immune system.  You’ll come up with your own way of overcoming the disease.

If you’ve got any additional suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Even my own tips don’t work for me all the time, so it would be nice to hear some other people’s thoughts.

Happy writing!

  1. Hi, thanks for posting this – good stuff. I find, myself, that even if I have an outline I’ll quite often still get stalled in some manner. Often when a new idea comes in, or even if the words don’t flow properly. And then some of those techniques you’ve given above can help. Thanks again, and good luck with your writing!

    Matthew Wright

  2. Sara Grambusch says:

    Your writer’s block gave you a great post. No fair! There are some good analogies in here. I like the common cold 🙂 I recently took about two weeks off from writing to move and I am seriously having trouble even writing a blog post. I don’t have any useful suggestion besides just struggling through until your brain kicks itself in gear.

    • Thank you! It can be really tough when you’re brain decides to take a vacation. Sometimes I just start writing about anything that I can think of – writing exercises help a lot with that. I find that completing a short poem or a short story really helps to get your brain in gear. When you write a novel, it can be very exhausting. Being able to actually finish something – even if it’s something small – is a relief and I find it really helps me!

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