I have been asked over the past few days how to overcome writer’s block. Some people have great ideas and never seem to translate them into story form. Others are excited about their story and can’t wait to write the next scene. Then after the scene they’ve been waiting for...they get stuck.
Do Not Panic
No matter how excited you are about your story, there will come a time when you aren’t sure what comes next. It is all right. It happens to all of us. This roadblock does not mean your story will die. It is a problem, but one that can be solved.
While some of my suggestions will not apply to all writers, this is definitely one that applies to everyone – don’t panic!
Take a Break
Yes, we are in a race, and time matters. But sometimes breaks can clear your head. Walk outside. Acknowledge the other people in your house. Do some chores. Feed your neglected pets. Watch a TV show. Try to relax. You are not at the end of the road. You have not failed. You have not abandoned your story. You are taking a break. Breaks are good.
No matter what type of writer you are, breaks will help!
If taking a break doesn’t help you, try rereading what you’ve written. To me, it helps to read the scene I just penned to figure out where I’m going next. I might get stuck because I just wrote something that doesn’t mesh with the rest and my brain is going nuts. Or it might help me remember where I need to go next. Or I left a clue that I forgot about in that last scene.
Now, remember that all writers are different. If you can’t reread without fixing everything, and you know that you’ll never move forward if you go back and reread, then skip this step.
Skip a Scene
I’m the type of person that has to write things chronologically. I have seen this suggestion many times, and I will repeat it here. Though personally I cannot do that, it helps others. Some people suggest skipping around and writing the exciting parts when you get bored or stuck. I think the theory is that it helps you get in the zone again, then you can go back and figure out what you’re missing.
If you cannot do this step, then ignore it.
Make a Note
This is another suggestion I’ve never been able to implement. But in trying these things, you will eventually find what works for you – which is what we’re aiming for.
Say you’ve planned out your story, and you know that Sally and Johnny will talk about Important Plot Point C after entering the alien building. But you aren’t sure what that alien building looks like, and you aren’t sure what to call this building, this alien race or even if it should be different.
Or maybe you’re stuck because you’re not sure how to transition from this conversation into Important Plot Point C. Try making a note and moving on. Weird alien building description here. It’s green.
See if jumping past what is tripping you up will help.
Set out a treat for yourself, perhaps your favorite snack or beverage. But you cannot partake of your treat until you reach X amount of words. I’ve heard of people who eat one M&M every 50 words. Having a tangible reward in front of you may help you move on.
“But I can’t!” you object. “I don’t know what to write!”
Did I mention that writing doesn’t exactly work logically? Sometimes all you need to do when you don’t know what to do is to start writing. Whether or not you like what you’re writing, the difficult parts or the places you are unsure of generally do not last for long. You can always go back and fix things. Just write something down. You know Johnny is down in the dumps and you aren’t exactly sure why. Or you don’t want to be depressed today. It’s okay. Just write something.
See if writing half a page helps. If not, take another break.
Take the Day Off
The time will come when you race to the finish line and type until you are exhausted. But if you need time away from your story to deal with real life or contemplate what happens next, do it.
Know that you can always come back to your story. The time apart will do you good, most likely. And while you can theoretically take a break for weeks or months, then come back and finish your story, that is not what I recommend. I’m talking about finishing your story for this NaNo, not the next one.
Did I Forget Anything?
If you’ve found something that helps you get past writer’s block, then feel free to share it!