Even the most prolific novel writers can occasionally get hit with a writing slump. But is it writer’s block? And if so, how do you get over it? Below are 10 tips for overcoming writer’s block.
If you’ve spent a lot of time trying to write a novel, you likely know the feeling. You’re rolling along turning out page after page of your novel when suddenly the pace begins to slow down. Soon you find yourself stuck like lint to a brush. No matter how hard you try, you can’t get a decent creative thought out of your head for anything, let alone on the page.
Often these writing slumps are temporary, lasting for a few days or less. In this case, they may be related to something personal that comes up in your life, and you have trouble focusing. As soon as the personal problem goes away or you figure out how to cope with it, so does the writing slump.
Other times, though, they’re way worse. They persist for days, weeks, even months. You become frustrated, puzzled, anxious. Eventually, you may even give up ever trying to write again.
What the heck is going on here?
Some call this writer’s block. Others believe there is no such thing. I won’t argue with beliefs or terminology or definitions. I will say this: wherever you fall on the writer’s block belief spectrum if you write long and hard enough you will likely hit some kind of slump eventually. It may be a lengthy one or a short one. And if it does happen and it lasts long enough, it can zap your self-confidence when it comes to writing.
Fortunately, there are things we can and should do about it. Writing slumps hit us for many reasons, both internal and external. And when one of these does hit us seriously, usually, the worst thing we can do is hope it will soon go away on its own. Regardless of the reason for it, the key to overcoming writer’s block is to take action. I firmly believe that the longer we let writer’s block linger, the harder it becomes to break free.
Here are ten tips on how to overcome writer’s block. They fall into three categories:
- What To Try Before Writer’s Block Hits In Order to Avoid It
- What To Do When It First Strikes
- How To Overcome Writer’s Block When It Persists
As I said earlier—and it’s worth repeating—the sooner you act, the easier it is to overcome writer’s block. Often the fix is quick but not always. The last couple of tips below are long-term remedies to go to when you get really stuck and the quick fixes won’t do the trick.
TRY THESE BEFORE WRITER’S BLOCK HITS
- When you sit down to write, promise to treat yourself to your favorite food after a day of writing. For me, this would be a few pieces of chocolate. Or maybe some chips. You’re motivating yourself to get off to a running start with your writing. Don’t overdo this or you’ll regret it next time you step on a scale.
- Write first thing in the morning before breakfast, before you hit social media, before the phone starts ringing, and before everyone else gets up. Even before the sun comes up if you can manage it. The key is to avoid the distractions that intrude on your writing.
When I wrote my first novel, I would get up at 5:00 a.m. and write for two hours before getting ready for work. My days started before dawn when it was just me and my hot cup of coffee, and I got a whole lot of writing done.
TRY THESE SHORTLY AFTER IT STRIKES
- Take a long, hot shower before writing. I do some of my best thinking in the shower when I let the water glide down my back. There’s something soothing about the sound and touch of pulsating water. It’s so relaxing, and it sends my mind off to never-never land.
A student told me about water-proof writing paper that she takes into the shower with her to jot down thoughts. So I went searching and found this on Amazon: Aqua Notes Water Proof Note Pad. It has great reviews.
- Instead of a power nap, take a creative nap. How does that work? Before you drift off to sleep think about the part of your writing where you got stuck. Your mind will get to work while you’re sleeping and solve the problem.
If a nap won’t do the trick, try this at night before drifting off to sleep. Yes, it really can work. When I do this, often I wake up and the solution pops into my head immediately or it will come to me while I’m tinkering with the coffee maker.
- Go for a 20-minute walk. Alone. Avoid interaction with others. If you live where the neighbors will want you to stop and chat, drive yourself to a more secluded spot. My favorite place when I need this is the local park. While walking, do NOT think about your writing. Instead, think happy thoughts about the blessings in your life.
It’s so easy to obsess about negative things, especially when we’re in our usual surroundings. Sometimes all we need is a change of scenery to get our creative juices flowing again.
When you get back to your writing you should feel refreshed and clear-headed.
- Read nonfiction books about writing. These can be inspirational books for writers and other creative types or books on writing techniques. Many of them have exercises to inspire and motivate you creatively.
Here are several to try: (1) The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield;
(2) The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, by Gay Hendricks; and two of my favorites, (3) The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron; and (4) Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.
- Try mind-mapping. In the center of a blank page jot down a few words describing the scene or character or whatever you’re stuck with and draw a circle around it. Then let your thoughts wander, adding whatever comes to mind, with branches (lines) and more circles. This allows you to think freely without the confines or structure of thinking in sentences or paragraphs or trying to follow your outline.
There are lots of websites and books on mind-mapping as well as software and apps to use if you prefer to work electronically. One of my favorite tools for mind mapping is Scapple (by the makers of Scrivener), a kind of a mind mapping tool on steroids.
- Think of a positive influence in your life. It can be a person, place, or thing. Write yourself an upbeat note about the person or topic. Sometimes negative thoughts get in our way, and we need to remind ourselves of our blessings to get our heads straight.
HOW TO OVERCOME WRITER’S BLOCK WHEN IT PERSISTS
- Learn or do something new, something you’ve never done before. This is a long-term solution to get your head out of a deep rut and really shake things up. Learning something new rewires the brain and helps us to see things differently. It can also inspire a sense of accomplishment and renew your self-confidence, which has likely taken a hit and a toll on your writing.
Some ideas; take dancing or cooking lessons, take up sketching, enroll in a yoga or meditation class, paint a wall or room in your house a color that’s out of your comfort zone.
- If nothing from the above works, my final suggestion is to take a long, long break from writing or even thinking about writing. I’m talking weeks or even months. But don’t just stop writing and keep going about life the same old way. That won’t fix anything.
Instead, get away. Far away. Go visit family or friends out of town for a few days. Do a weekend getaway alone or with someone you enjoy traveling with. Stay in a hotel room across town for several weekends in a row. Stay for a full week or two if you can manage. While there, pamper yourself with room service, spa treatments, and long, hot baths. Start a journal.
Many of these activities will seem difficult to do or take up for one reason or another, especially the last two. But you know the saying: “You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.” You may need to do something difficult if you’re really stuck and serious about overcoming writer’s block.
In the end, it comes down to how much you truly want to write that novel.