Our nemesis and adversary, the most feared in the land: Writer’s Block.
The most common discussion that I hear among writers is how drained they are from writing, how frustrated they are with plot lines, how stressed they are about meticulous details, or how overwhelmed and annoyed they are with their work. These conversations are painful for me. Writing creatively is supposed to be therapeutic, not stressful.
I believe that these negative and anxious attitudes can be the exact reason for facing Writer’s Block in the first place. I know that’s happened to me; I get all upset and angry and everything just builds up, leaving me completely unable to write.
There are definitely other causes too: boredom, stressed out in other parts of life, not feeling the passion anymore, ect., To avoid these issues, there are a few ways to ensure that your passion is not crippled and to enable yourself to avoid Writer’s Block (in most circumstances).
#1 Ask yourself “what’s the purpose?”
Dr. Jennifer Dawson explains that writing just for yourself is “a beautiful and important type of writing.” When we as writers get caught up in the concept of manuscript writing, we begin to think that it’s just a stage towards becoming published and this can cause us to lose sight of why we are actually writing (Dawson). If you are getting caught up in the material purpose of your writing, such as getting published, then you are not focusing on the true therapy of writing and it’s purpose of communicating passion and knowledge with others.
To combat this, maybe write your “mission statement” and tape it to your office wall or your bedroom ceiling. Or maybe you should purposely take time away from your writing–not because you have Writer’s Block–but because your brain needs rest and your mind deserves to experience life in other ways too.
Try some of these things and you may consistently find yourself in a positive state of mind when you are writing! Remember your purpose and push yourself to always strive for achieving this goal.
#2 Don’t limit yourself.
Thisbe Nissen instructs writers to turn to other writing prompts and “try to create a short story” that’s maybe only one or two pages. “Having things along the way that you could actually finish” is important because it allows you to have “a sense of completion” (Nissen). Another method may be to revise what you’ve already written but in a separate file/notebook. Mix it up and be creative!
Another way to feel accomplished is trying something new all together! Try going on a walk or going to a new coffee shop. Take a long drive to a place you haven’t been, or try writing in a different style.
By breaking away from the norm, you’re breaking open the gates to let your thoughts and ideas flow and therefore refuel your imagination. Also, trying something new can give you a new sense of accomplishment that may help you from feeling limited.
These are just a few tips, but sometimes, Writer’s Block is inevitable. So regardless of what causes Writer’s Block, or the emotions that are attached to this nemesis, there are a few ways to work through the mess of frustration.
Unhappy with your plot? Rethinking and Sticky Noting…
Julie Bevins explains the benefits of using sticky notes as one method of removing oneself from the page. She describes how physically moving the body and the ideas is a helpful method of viewing plot lines and characters in a broader capacity. By altering your perspective to become more expansive, you can open up your mind to rethinking how you want to approach certain ideas.
To do this, get sticky notes of all sizes and shapes and assign each sticky note a different thing. Maybe each large sticky note is for a character and the neon orange color is used to describe physical appearance while the blue represents their fear. Or, you could use colorful paper and create a story arch on a blank wall or an open floor.
Feeling like something isn’t placed right? Reorganizing and Cutting Up The Manuscript…
Dr. Gretchen Rumohr also describes how “most though…happens on paper” for some people, including herself. Having this alternative medium can make your brain work in a new way that stimulates more expansive idea flow. However, even writing things out on a different medium doesn’t solve every problem. Cutting up manuscripts can help!
DON’T FREAK OUT. YOU AREN’T DESTROYING YOUR MANUSCRIPT
We are not cutting up the manuscript. Instead you section off pieces of your manuscript. One section could be the exposition, another could be the climax scene, another could be where character development happens, ect.,
Don’t have a printer? Write general ideas or scene names on index cards!
From here, reorganize your scenes and characters so you can view your story in a new formation. Dr. Rumohr explains how this is helpful when you’re not sure how to make something fit or if you’re unsure with the rhythm of the story or intention of the piece.
Don’t know where to start? Taking advantage of the endless and expansive possibilities.
The last method would be to use white space. This has been recommended by a friend and she showed me that white space essentially allows for you to visualize characters, plot lines, and scenes with colors and in your own organizational way. You can also take these bits of white space and spread them out on the floor to create a full chart like a solar system or a graph.
Personally, I love this method and have begun to use it for creating and developing my next series. Use arrows, different colors, huge circles, ven diagrams, charts, graphs, or pictures!
By organizing your thoughts in a larger and physical way, you have the opportunity to review your work without having to let it sit in your brain and hover over you like a storm cloud.
Literally just stuck and don’t know where to go? Feeling empty? Asking for help and breaking the rules.
Are none of the above ideas working? Try to completely re-imagine your plot on some blank space! Use colorful markers or pens. Find pictures or artifacts and paste them on your paper! Thisbe Nissen discussed in a talk that artifacts are like little portals into the world that you are attempting to create. Maybe using these little pieces of pictures or thin artifacts will give you something tangible to write about!
Don’t be afraid to break the rules!
Dr. Rumohr describes the concept of “muffling the critic” which was originally coined by author Ashley Hope Perez: usually “feeling stuck involves a chocolate bar or a box of potato chips” to quiet the voices and critics in your head (Dr. Rumohr). Of course, breaking the rules shouldn’t become the norm, but it can break built up habits or the criticisms that you may have been telling yourself.
One last piece of advice that Julie Bevins, Dr. Gretchen Rumohr, and Dr. Jennifer Dawson all recommend is having a community of writers that can read through your work and provide alternative perspectives and various forms of feedback.
This method has the potential to solve a variety of problems, blocks, or even help discover answers to unspoken questions. As writers, we unconsciously lock ourselves inside our brains and get so concentrated on the complex details that we forget the true purpose of our writing and our story. Having a writing community that can provide an additional perspective on our work can remind us of our purpose, renew our minds, and even inspire us to try something new!
Overall, people see Writer’s Block as a tragic crime of the brain to actually stop working. Some believe it’s impossible to overcome, as if the Writer’s Block is a creature by itself. The truth is that this inevitable creature is quite possibly curable — and even helpful.
In all honesty, I believe that Writer’s Block is like friend to writers. It’s the (sometimes rude) reminder to stop, breathe, and review. As Julie Bevins says, Writer’s Block forces you to “get out of the page” and forces the writer to experiment with their own writing process; take a moment to view things in a “new visual way” and evaluate your writing (Bevins).
Unfortunately, these pieces of advice and methods to either avoiding or persevering through Writer’s Block, are not complete. But you can always try warm baths, taking a break, going on a walk, listening to music, or even having conversations with friends and family. These methods might help you push past Writer’s Block or its symptoms.
Now although Writer’s Block can be especially annoying if you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s also important to remember that sometimes these road blocks force us to step away from our obsessions and focus on other aspects of our life. Don’t get too discouraged! Just because you have Writer’s Block, this doesn’t meant that you’re a bad writer! It happens to the best of us.
So write on! Try something new!
Have questions or have a comment or suggestion? Leave it below!
Bevins, Julie, M.A. Aquinas College Writing Center Coordinator. Personal Interview. 25 September 2019.
Dawson, Jennifer, PhD. Aquinas College Associate Professor of English. Personal Interview. 30 September 2019.
Nissen, Thisbe. Personal Interview. 26 September 2019.
Rumohr, Gretchen, PhD. Aquinas College Associate Professor of English & Chair of English Department. Personal Interview. 2 October 2019.