One of the most common problems I see people talking about on Twitter is writer’s block.
But is that really the issue? Whatever the reason that you’re stuck there are plenty of ways to get you through.
Identify the problem
Students often suffer from writer’s block. Or do they? Have you done enough research? Have you got enough references? Do you know what your argument is? If not, of course you’ve got writer’s block!
The solution is to write about what you’re stuck on. Begin by typing, ‘I’m stuck on this essay because ..’ and go from there. If you find yourself writing ‘because I can’t decide if Sue Bridehead really was a bad person or just misunderstood,’ you’re getting somewhere – you might even be able to fly straight into some of your essay. If you write, ‘ because it is so boring and I hate it,’ head to #2.
Sometimes it’s admirable to try to keep writing and writing – but it might not be the best use of your time. If you’re writing a paper you need to have your references ready to go before you start writing: they should tell the shell of your argument in themselves. If they don’t have that, head back to the books. Same if you’re stuck with your ms, whether it’s a middle grade fantasy or literary fiction. If you can identify what you’re stuck on you can get into some more research. If it’s all just a big stinking blur some good starting points are your main characters’ jobs, where they live, popular culture in their childhood. Get deeply into their world and the creative juices will quickly begin to flow.
Take a shower
Right-brain activities are great for unkinking the mind that is in a confused panic. Washing the dishes, gardening, driving and walking all work too. Just make sure it’s a mundane task that doesn’t require thinking about.
When I was writing ‘Sarah’s Song’ I had so many ideas for add-ons that I could have launched SarahWorld. When I wasn’t writing or re-writing the text I was likely to be found musing over song lyrics Sarah would write, sketching the clothes the characters wore or creating recipes Christina would make in The Greasy Spoon. Similarly, my protagonist Aimee in ‘At the Hour of the Morning Drink’ draws with pencils – sometimes when I got stuck I sketched. It was a good way to spark ideas for pictures she might draw, the pencils she liked to use and the way drawing made her feel; and once you’re motoring with one part of the story it leeches into other areas.
It doesn’t matter if you make a playlist for your character or just turn to some scrap-booking. If you have your characters in your head while you are working it’s likely your mind will drift until it hits a kind of solution.
Buy someone lunch
If you are one of those extrovert writers, get together with a writer friend or long-suffering child, husband or dog. Feed them something delicious in return for their attention, then unload. Tell them what you are stuck on, explain why the plot doesn’t make sense or bemoan the fact that you’ve written yourself into a corner. They may listen and nod, between mouthfuls. They may have questions – which usually lead to answers. If you give them enough cake they may have suggestions. And you’ll both be eating so no-one loses.
Put away your pen and close your laptop for the day. Grab a favourite book and read. Even if you’re not concentrating on the structure, dialogue or characterisation, it won’t be long before an idea sparks. The minute you relax, and turn your attention to the way someone else is putting their story together you will undoubtedly gain an insight into what is weighing your writing down or blocking your path to inspiration.