On Writer’s Block (and Getting Over It)

Writer’s block is a strange thing. I spend a good portion of my non-writing time convinced that I’m blocked and, when I’m being productive, I’m convinced that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Stranger still, I hold these two thoughts simultaneously; but how is it that something can both exist and not?

First, I’ve come to find that writer’s block is not a monolith. It’s not some massive boulder tumbled down a mountainside to obstruct my path. From my experience, writer’s block is an accumulation of self-doubt. My worries gather over time, like debris gathered by floodwaters. Piled up, it’s near impossible to even figure out what they are.

To the second point, most of the time, I don’t have the slightest clue what it is jamming me up. There’s just a vague sense that something is off. Along with writer’s block there are questions cycling through my brain, all of them a product of my awareness that my story isn’t working as expected.

Third, I must figure out what the problem is. This can be the hardest part. Maybe there’s a character whose voice feels “off” but I can’t figure out how to fix it. Maybe I’m working from an outline and I don’t know how to get from point A to point B (or I’ve deviated from my outline completely). Most of the time, I have no clue what’s wrong, things just are not working.

So, what to do?

My strategy when facing an obstruction to my writing is to do one of two things: going over or going around.

If I take the latter option and “go around,” I get away and do something else. However, it’s more than just not writing. The point here is to take a step back so that I might be able to view my writing project with a little more objectivity. I might not be putting words on the page, but my writerly gears are still turning. For example, just last night I had an epiphany regarding the novel I’m working on as I was washing the dishes. Sometimes, those gears just run a little smoother when I’m not staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor. Meditate, mow the yard, paint a portrait of your cat, go jogging, call your mom. Whatever you do, allow your mind to relax just a bit and relieve yourself from the self-imposed stress of the idea that you’re “supposed to be writing.” It’s about taking a break and giving yourself an opportunity to take care of yourself.

If I choose to “go over” the blockage, I just write. Sometimes, if I’m stuck on a scene, I’ll jump ahead and make note to look at the skipped scene in the next draft. This can be a real test of will power, but forcibly moving forward on my bigger project or writing something smaller (hence, this you are reading right now) reminds myself that I can write. What gets written might be worth keeping and it might not. The point is to overcome that worry of writing something bad. Bad writing is inevitable; it’s how we get better.

More often than not, what I come up with isn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. The key is to press forward, keep climbing, and get to the other side of your doubt. Go over, or go around, but never turn back, and never give up.

That’s the process that works for me; results may vary. If you’ve got strategies of their own for getting past your writer’s block, let me know! I’m always on the look out for new ways to approach my own creative process.