The Monster Every Writer Must Defeat
We’ve all been there, staring at a blank Word document as the cursor blinks.
Slowly laughing at us.
This cursor is just a minion, however. A henchman, if you will. It isn’t the real monster.
No, the real monster is much, much worse.
A grotesque adversary to our writing pursuits, writer’s block lurks in the corner of every home, office, and coffee shop.
No writer is immune.
Unlike most monsters, this one specifically goes after writers. And like most monsters, it must be defeated.
One of the pieces of writing advice I see most often is, “Write every day.” Lots of writers seem to write 1k-2k words every day. Apparently there are people out there who write 10,000 freaking words a day.
And when I hear statistics like that, my first reaction is bewilderment (I mean, after I get past my initial envy).
How can someone possibly have a store of that many words to write on any given day? How do they never run out of ideas?
The Secret: Constantly Replenish the Well
Of late, writer’s block is the thing I struggle with the most when it comes to writing. The silver lining in that cloud was that it caused me to do quite a bit of research on anti-writer’s block tactics.
And, honestly, it worked.
Because it led me to the simple truth of defeating writer’s block.
Think of water in a well. If there is a finite amount of water in a well and you come back day after day and pull buckets of water out of it, eventually it’s going to all be gone, right?
UNLESS the water is somehow replenished.
You can think of writing ideas and inspiration as the water in that well. If you’re writing 2,000 or 10,000 words a day, that water is going to drain out real quick.
You have to do something to replenish it.
I’m about to tell you the 8 parts of Operation Replenish. At least in my own life, they have all been absolutely vital. You really can’t pick and choose which ones you do unless you want writer’s block to rear its ugly head again someday. Every single step is necessary.
That said, if you use all of them, you shouldn’t ever have to face writer’s block ever again. It will be defeated forever.
Are you ready?
1) Have a Plan (and a Planning Mechanism)
I would highly suggest a paper calendar, but if those aren’t really your thing then Google Calendar is your best friend. Easily the most useful Christmas gift I got was a full-size academic year planner. There is lots of space to write down post ideas and deadlines, and in the less than one week I have owned it I’ve already realized the difference it makes when it comes to writer’s block.
Reason #1: So you know when you’re actually going to write.
If you’re a writer who also has a blog who is ALSO trying to learn more about the craft, it can feel like a lot is on your to-do list. I was a little overwhelmed when I started writing again, because I felt like my schedule was already quite full with just my blog and I wasn’t sure where I was going to also fit in time for creative writing.
So here’s why the planner changed my life: I chose three days a week to work on blog stuff and 3 days a week to work on my book. And then I wrote it down, along with the time I planned to write, in pen. And you know what writing it in pen means.
It can’t be erased. *Cue evil laughter*
Scheduling your writing times helps you get into the right mindset for whatever it is you’re working on. It keeps anxiety over what you feel like you should be doing instead from buzzing around in your mind and becoming a distraction.
If you start writing a blog post and the sinister suspicion that you should be working on your book creeps in, you can just push it aside because your novel writing time is tomorrow at 3.
Reason #2: So you know what you’re actually going to write.
Don’t just jot down “writing time” on your calendar. Name the project you will be working on. Use steps 2, 7, and 8 to come up with content and then have a plan for what exactly you will write, when.
I would suggest planning out an entire month’s worth of blog posts beforehand if you’re a blogger, and a week’s worth of scenes, if you’re a novelist. If you’re the kind of novelist who can plan an entire month’s worth of scenes, more power to you. And if you’re a pantser…well, keep doing what you’re doing.
2) Make Your Content List
This is an absolutely fantastic idea I stumbled upon one day as I idly scrolled through Pinterest, and it is a proven mechanism for crushing writer’s block. It comes from Barry Davret over at the Writing Cooperative.
Here’s how it works: every night before bed, you crank out a list of 10-15 pieces of interesting content from your day. It can be a snippet of conversation overheard at a restaurant; it can be song lyrics; it can be something you read. Use your imagination. There are no rules when it comes to this. Just make your list.
Then, pick one or a few that seem interesting to you and connect them somehow with your topic, whether that’s your blog niche or a scene you’re going to write for your novel. Davret’s article about how he wrote 200 articles in 200 days explains more about how to find that connection.
What this does is it creates a wealth of inspiring content you can draw from next time you need ideas. There are bound to be some gems in there that you can grab onto next time you’re stuck. Not every piece of content will work for every situation, of course, but if you do this every day you will eventually have a gigantic list.
And really, if you don’t have anything usable by then, probably the issue is that you need to dig a little deeper into your day to find the interesting pieces!
3) Build Your Bridge to Tomorrow
The “bridge to tomorrow” idea comes from a post by Nicole Bianchi over at Goins, Writer. It’s actually a quote from Hemingway that she found, and ever since I read it it has stuck with me:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.
I love that. It’s not a staple in my writing routine and because of it, I know at this very moment how I’m going to continue my novel next time I sit down to write it. Here’s a practical way to do this.
It’s actually quite simple: I stop before I’ve used up all of my ideas.
And let me tell you, that’s not easy to do.
It’s easy to stop when you have no idea where to go from here in your writing, but it’s much more difficult when you know exactly what should happen next.
I know I, for one, don’t want to wait for the gratification of getting to write that scene.
But it’s SO important to do it anyway.
An Important Note
I’m a very forgetful person, and if you are too, please, for the love of God, read this next couple of sentences.
There’s no point in building your bridge to tomorrow if you aren’t going to remember where the bridge was tomorrow. 🙂
So here’s what I do to keep that from happening.
I write a list of bullet points summarizing everything I know is going to happen next. Here’s what the last page of my novel looks like right now:
4) Let Go of Your Perfectionism
This one is perhaps the most difficult, yet most important of all.
I know I skip over lots of ideas because they don’t seem good enough, or they won’t appeal to my audience, or I’m afraid I won’t know what to do with them, or whatever.
There are three mantras that I believe will help you through if perfectionism is keeping you from putting words on a page:
- I am allowed to write badly.
- First drafts are ALWAYS bad. Mine will probably not be the exception.
- I am under no obligation to post/publish this.
After you’ve come to terms with those, you can just write whatever comes to mind. It’s very freeing.
5) Get Active
I will be vulnerable and tell you that I have been neglecting this one. Neglecting feels like an understatement. It’s the level of neglect a person should be sued for.
Exercise has LOTS of mental health benefits like…
- Stress relief
- Sharper memory and thinking
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Stronger resilience
- Feeling more relaxed
- Improve self-confidence
- Mood boost
- Release of endorphins
And I have to believe that every single one of those things can play a role in easing writer’s block. I would venture so far as to say that we as writer’s probably need all of those just as much as the general population, if not more!
Next time you’re really feeling stuck, consider getting your workout in before moving on. It might be what you need to get those creative juices flowing.
6) Free Write
Writer’s block has one nemesis, and one nemesis only: typing fingers (or, I guess, pens scratching on paper). As long as you are going through the motions of writing, it is powerless.
Next time it rears its ugly head, show it who’s boss by writing LITERALLY the first thing that pops into your head. And then keep writing about it. Write until you know what direction you want to take your writing; until an idea that’s actually usable pops into your head.
Don’t be afraid to stream-of-consciousness it. Who knows? Maybe a fresh, exciting idea will come out of doing this exercise.
There are literally no rules to this one, so I won’t tell you how to live your life while you’re doing it.
7) Read. A lot.
Remember that well I talked about earlier? Nothing replenishes it faster than reading what other people in your niche have written. If you’re a fantasy writer, read a lot of bestselling fantasy. If you’re a blogger, pick a few influencers and follow them closely.
Eventually you’ll probably start to see elements shared by every fantasy writer or every influential blogger…and then you can emulate them. Read so much that these elements become a science in your mind. Treat it like research.
If you don’t like science, just enjoy the immersion of it all and think of it like an adventure similar to the one you want to take YOUR audience on.
One of my goals for 2018 is to read as much as I can every day. Want to join me?
8) Write What You’re Excited About Writing.
Sometimes we can’t seem to start writing because our brains just simply don’t care about what we are writing. Therefore, it’s difficult for it to invest the energy into creating the words.
So, start with what you’re excited about.
If you’re a novelist and you are actually pretty bored by the scene you were planning to write today, write the scene you’ve been looking forward to writing! Don’t try to “save the best for last”–aka, save it for your future self to enjoy and write in a linear fashion. Trust me, I’ve done it before and I think it’s one of the dumbest mistakes I’ve ever made. Usually when I get to the scene I was so excited about before, my enthusiasm for it has sort of fizzled.
Use that enthusiasm while you have it!
Case in point, I wrote this section first because I was excited about it and after I wrote all of the other ones I had literally no desire to write it. Funny how it works.
On the flip side, maybe at some point some enthusiasm for that scene that seems so boring now will come rolling in.
And with that, the writer’s block monster was banished.
Never to be seen again.
Caution: If it does happen to be sighted someday, employ one of the above tactics immediately. If it gets too close, it WILL try to distract you, and nobody has time for that. This is a monster that needs to be stopped before it gets within jeering range.
Don’t forget the first step in Operation Replenish.
8 steps is a lot. But, if you have a plan in place for replenishing your well, it’s doable.
The world needs your ideas.
Don’t let the monster take them away from you.
Until next time,