Breaking Your Mental Blockers
Writer's block is a writer's worst nightmare. Not only does it stifle your creativity, but it's frustrating. It's so frustrating because there's no one reason for writer's block. Your case could be a matter of stress, an emotional issue, an issue with the story or even just too many distractions. The most popular cure for writer's block is just writing. It doesn't matter if it's garbage, they say, just get it out. However, sometimes that just won't clear up your creativity and all you end up producing is garbage. All you end up with is double the frustration that way. In this article I wanted to take a look at cures for writer's block, but also a more important idea: Prevention.
Note: A lot of my tips are for novellas or novels rather than short stories, seeing as that's what I write. However, a lot of these things can be applied to short stories as well, so do take a look.
Prevention At a Glance
- Be focused. What are you writing about? Why? Who's involved? Where is it? Many of these questions are great for organizing your thoughts about a story. However, which story are you applying this to? If you have three projects on the go at the same time, you're diverting your energy. Sure, you're going to find one story idea more exciting than the next, but working on one idea, smoothing out all the rough edges, you're going to come out with a slicker finished product that you'll be proud of no matter what.
- Be organized. Are your projects a jumble of notepaper or random files on the computer without real titles? Now, titles are hard, I admit, so I'm not telling you to rush and use a title you don't like. Use a generic title for related files (or better yet, group them in subfolders) such as the name of the main character. You can always change it later, but for now you're saved searching through hundreds of notepads for just the right passage that was scribbled yesterday at the bus stop. If you use a computer, but scribble on paper occasionally, transfer your notes sooner rather than later. You're bound to loose track of them or forget the location of your paper.
- Be comfortable. When you sit down to write, you should try to make yourself as at ease as physically possible. If you like to listen to music while writing, all the better, because that way you can drown out outside noises. (Hint: Use headphones and a portable discman so you don't annoy the whole outside world while you're at it.) Try to get a comfortable chair in a place where you have good lighting. Computer screens are hard on your eyes, and you don't want to squint while scribbling on paper. If you are working on a computer, keep in mind that it is generally almost as mobile as your notepad with a little work (a laptop would make this much easier). Most people have sockets outside as well as in- try soaking up some sunshine one day, providing that the people sharing your computer don't mind. DO NOT FORGET YOUR COMPUTER OUTSIDE. It can rain or hail or snow whenever it wants to. Weather is not very predictable.
Other things that will add to your comfort level include your clothing. Make sure you're not in an outfit that makes you feel fidgety. Bring a bottle of water or your preferred juice of the day. Remember that while coffee tastes good, it also tends to be full of sugar and caffeine. Neither of these things will help your concentration. Tea, while also caffeinated, is very good for your body and doesn't necessarily need to be sweetened at all. Don't bring something you like to eat to your keyboard. You'll spend more time munching popcorn or potato chips than you will actually working. Besides that, it's too easy for food to get in between the keys and ruin your keyboard.
- Ignore the outside voices. You're never going to write anything worth your own time if you've made sure that you leave ICQ, MSN, AIM or Yahoo Messenger open. You're diverting your attention to a hundred different people aside from the ones you've made up. Creating a realistic character that you believe in is hard enough without outside voices affecting your world. Don't sit down with the intention of writing and then check your email, either. That will just get you thinking about other things and you'll more likely than not just forget about your story in the process.
Breaking the Block
Now that we've talked about some ways of focusing yourself and keeping out distractions that can potentially cause writer's block, how about the ways to combat an existing problem? Like I said before, many people just say, 'Write as much as you can for as long as you can.' This isn't necessarily a solution though. There comes a point where some junk is enough junk. So let's start from the most common solutions.
- Deal with emotional stress. I've put this one first because if this is your problem (IE, a fight with your mom/significant other, personal trauma, etc), then it has to be fixed or dealt with. This is not like number eight, where you can deal with your life or you can not. Personal, emotional stress is a mind-killer and if you want to get it back, you're going to have to end up dealing with your problems. If you have something huge going on in your life and you find yourself unable to write, try dealing with life first and come back to the keyboard second. This stuff is less important by far and it will wait for you.
- Have an understanding of your story and what you want to do with it. Understanding your own writing is the key to keeping it flowing. There's only so much you can do with a tangent of an idea. Eventually the spur of the moment enthusiasm dies off and you're left with a scene, idea or character that sits in the middle of nowhere. If you really like it, you've got to figure out where it's going in order to use it. Maybe that'll involve you creating an entire new story out of this entity, and maybe what you wrote isn't even a starting point. You have to let your ideas evolve into a pattern of thoughts before they will take you anywhere. Figure out what you're doing and why before giving up due to writer's block. Nothing will come from nothing, as the old saying goes.
- Write as much as you can, no matter what it sounds like. Up to a point, this is a very useful piece of a advice. A lot of authors lack the discipline to sit down and write everyday, which is a great practice. Program your body to get used to a daily routine in which you sit down and write, no matter what. Set aside time for yourself specifically to write, just like meetings or a trip to the gym. The simple habit of writing can make sitting down to it much easier everyday. The next day, if you really hate your previous work, trash it. There's no harm in the practice, and there's certainly no harm in learning to see the trash in your own work. However, if for weeks you're still just writing and then scrapping it without improvement, you may need to clear up your creative passages with some more variety.
- Write as much as you can. No matter in what format. No one said you had to work on your current project every time you sit down. Having six plots on the go can be detrimental to your concentration level, but free writing or journal writing can never go wrong. Free writing, for those who don't know, is simply the act of writing continuously, without pause, for five or ten minutes (or more, depending on whether or not you hit a roll). In free writing, the only rule is to never stop. Even if you have to keep scribbling, 'Nothing to write, nothing to write...' keep going. Eventually, something will come to you. Free writing shouldn't be a conscious effort, but it will take time before you can stop thinking about exactly what you're writing, or how something isn't grammatically correct, or how such and such is worded awkwardly. After you can let go of conscious fixes, you'll be able to look back at your work and feel surprised at what you wrote, and maybe find some gems in there that will spark your ideas.
- Write outside your genre. I'm willing to bet that most people who read this are fantasy writers. I'm also willing to bet that those same people have written something with a murder mystery tone to it, or a romance, etc. Not your favorite genres, but it might be just the thing you need. Give the knights in shining armor a break for a minute and give the modern day world a thought. Scribble down short short stories about the world around you or even in your own home. Details of a place are important to give it life. Try Non-Fiction writing: Jot down an article on your favorite hobby. By working in a different genre, you're giving yourself the chance to experience a perception of a different time and place through different eyes that you might have never thought of before. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.
- Write in a different medium. Sometimes we get tired of short stories or novels. Or maybe you're a mythological poet who needs to use a sentence fully, instead of broken by lines. Experiment with different styles of writing using premises from your own stagnant work. Put characters or settings into poetry. Use short short stories to focus on description of a place or the tone for a picture-perfect idea in your mind of what you want. You might want to write an actual scene from your story in poetry form, even, to get a different perspective on it. I feel I'm repeating myself on that one, but I think a great deal of writer's block could be cured just by seeing things in a different light.
- Use a different medium to write with. This is a short tip, but an interesting one. If you write on a computer, when was the last time you spent any time working on a piece of paper? Conversely, when was the last time you tried to type? Another idea is simply changing formats on the computer. If you use Word or WordPerfect, why not try Notepad for a bit? The idea behind this switch is that it will let you break away from your pages full of story and notes and give you a fresh slate. Sometimes in the midst of a novel, throwing a scene in the middle somewhere can feel staggering because there is already a pattern surrounding that scene to weave it into. Start fresh and see where you can take the scene on a piece of paper, ignoring the patterns in your pre-existing story. Paper is also wonderfully liberating because you can choose to write in the margins or scribble diagonally if you really want to. Write notes to yourself about the scene/idea/character- they might be important later! Remember, though, to transfer your material to the computer quickly once you're done.
- Allow yourself to get up. Many people think that because they have the discipline to sit down and ignore the rest of the world that they will be better writers for it. Aside from being aggravating, ignoring your life is dangerous. Life is what will give you ninety percent of your thoughts and inspirations. The main problem with this, however, is aggravation. When you know that you're supposed to call Sally that day and there are books in the hallway you meant to clean up as well as a snack downstairs you've been meaning to eat and dishes to do after that, how can you concentrate? When minor problems threaten to overwhelm you, get up and fix them. When you come back and sit down to write again, it will be with a clear mind and you can focus. Yes, you loose time at the keyboard, but you probably weren't being very productive in the first place.
- Be creative in other mediums. So writing still won't come to you no matter what you do with it. So don't write for a while. Doodle, scribble, make songs or paintings. Fold origami and decorate it. Play around with your camcorder and make some movies (or commercials- how convincing can you be in thirty seconds?). Decorate your house or room or find a feng shui book at the library and organize your room. Do something else that inspires creativity in you. You might find yourself thinking about your story anyway- and that can help- but the point is to vent your pent up creativity into other places. Maybe you just needed a break.
- Do something else- and think about it. It's possible that you just need a break from any semblance of creative sparking. Give yourself some time to mull things over in your head. Where's your story going? Why? Did that last character step in at the right place? You could go on forever depending on your story. What else will you do while you're thinking? Literally anything. Do dishes, work on your garden, clean your room, do homework, go out and watch a movie, etc. Every day life is an important addition to the writer's mind. Orson Scott Card noted in his book How to Write Sci-Fi and Fantasy (a great read if you've ever looked at picking it up) that H.P. Lovecraft was a horrible dialogue writer. Why? He was a recluse with little contact to the outside world aside from letters. The outside world is our living guide as to how people can think, look and react. After all, stereotypes exist because there is a general consensus about something. There are always exceptions to the rule, though. Go out in the world and find out what they are. Watch people in a coffee shop or a grocery store. Think about them, and give them stories of their own. Maybe a part of their life is exactly what you need.
- Read outside your genre or regular authors. Reading the same two authors every time you read because they're your favorites can get stale. You know their plot devices, you know their character stereotypes. You're not learning anything new as you read. I'm not saying you have to, but if you're going to be a writer, you need to experiment. New authors or different genres of reading can give you that highly-valued new perception I keep talking about. A great place to find books to try if you don't want to pay full price is the Used Book Store. The Used Book Store is your personal treasury of cheap novels. If you're iffy about a new author, find the book there. As you read, you're broadening your horizons about who, what, where and why according to someone else. No one reacts the same way, so understanding other people's characters is infinitely valuable to your mental processes.
- Use creative prompts. If you have the internet (and obviously you do if you're reading this), then the best place to get creative prompts is writing lists. Check out Yahoo Groups (www.yahoogroups.com) and find a list that's right for your genre and interests. Some moderators do a weekly prompt (or monthly, or daily...) for the group. If you're feeling inspired by the idea, jot down a short piece and then send it in. Try to give your piece and beginning and an ending so that you won't be tempted to stop work on your real project. The benefits to this are threefold: a creative spark to practice your writing with, a group who could possibly critique your work for you, and interaction with other writers. Other places you could find creative prompts are in the first few pages of Writer's Digest magazine. Get into your local bookstore and find a copy and then jot a few ideas down for inspiration later.
- Work on a different story. This is one of the last tips because I think it should also be one of your last options. Most authors I know have about six ideas on the burner at once, which is fine. However, five of those ideas should be on the back burner while one boils up front. This minimizes the amount of time you waste playing with other ideas while there's a fertile story-ground right in front of you. It also stops your concentration from getting divided into six areas at once. If you're suffering from writer's block, your story shouldn't get abandoned as a bad effort or an unworkable plotline. That may not necessarily be the case. More likely than not, you're stumped creatively and that can be fixed.
If nothing has changed no matter how hard you try (and you should've tried hard), maybe it is time to move on. Don't scrap your old work, just put it aside for now. Grab something off that back burner and start fresh.
- Create something entirely new. This tip is on the same line as thirteen. Maybe you've worked a single scene into a new plot idea. Work with it instead of an old idea if you feel that's too stale. I don't think a writer can ever have too many on-going sagas, so long as they get finished. After all, most writer's biggest fear is that one day they'll wake up and have nothing to talk about. That said, create as many ideas as you want to, but focus on one.
- Exercise. In itself, it won't break any of your creative blocks. But when you consider the fact that we writers, as an occupation, are measured in gumption by how long we sit on our butts and type, you've got to wonder about not only mental health, but physical health as well. Exercising can get you out into the world if you play on a team, jog with a friend, or even just walk your dog and toss a stick. You don't have to buy a forty-dollar-a-month gym membership just to keep yourself in shape. Getting out of the house will also stamp out the indoor blahs. It's a fact that physically fit people pump more blood. More blood to the brain means more action. Your time behind the keyboard can not only become more meaningful, but more plentiful as well if you don't feel that you're forced to be there.
Well, that's the end. I hope that you got something out of this. As recommended reading, I'd like to remind everyone of a book called Pencil Dancing by Mari Messer. It's a huge creative booster, full of ideas for writers, painters and artists of all kinds.
One last thought: Of all the things I've said here, I think that the last sentence I wrote in tip fifteen was the most important. You can't feel like you're being forced to write. You'll kill your own enthusiasm for the craft that way. I think that you have to love writing for the story itself, or it won't mean much to you. Either way, enjoy your work because if you don't, no one else will. Happy scribbling!
| ||THE WRITER'S BLOCK : 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination.|
Here's the first book on writer's block that's packaged in the shape of a block. (3" x 3" x 3") With 672 pages and more than 200 photographs throughout. Next time you're stuck, just flip open THE WRITER'S BLOCK to any page and you'll find an idea or exercise that will jump-start your imagination.
| ||Pencil Dancing : New Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit|
Pencil Dancing offers readers a fresh take on developing creative confidence, overcoming blocks and taming their inner critics. They'll discover fun and effective ways to achieve satisfying creative expression and enrich their daily lives, approaching creativity from the point of view of a "dance" between conscious and unconscious, left and right brain, creator and critic, logic and creativity.
FARP Article Guestbook
|5 Oct 2010|| Rhianna Vamp Conners|
This was really helpful, thanks! Maybe with the stress pointer, though, you could add that some people find it easier to write when they’re stressed. I personally run off to write some fanfiction or do some doodling when I’m stressed, and it helps me out a bit
|9 Dec 2010|| Mzhades|
I liked the article, but I also find that sometimes, if you can’t think of anything to write because it seems it’s all been done, think about the person you hate the very most in the world, and write about them. You know exactly why you hate them (they are rude, unintelligent, mean, disgusting, liars
), so you can perfectly personify a totally horrible person. Then, after you’ve put all the things you hate about this person on paper, you may find out where to go
. "Yes... I could use a jackass like that."
|4 Jun 2011|| Amanda Moore|
So far, I haven’t had too much trouble with writer’s block, so thank you for the tips on preventing it! I’ll be sure to look back at this if I’m ever really stuck!
|14 Jan 2012|| Klw|
Another tip I’d add goes right along with your last paragraph about you having to enjoy what you’re doing: Pretend you’re writing in a diary instead of a newspaper. Perhaps the most severe writer’s block you can get is critiquing yourself in the middle of writing a scene. You’re having a great time with this one character, then all of a sudden you think "What would that one critic think about this?" or "Has someone already written a story just like this before?" or "This is just like all of my other failed work." Then you get discouraged and stop writing. The key here is that you can’t think about what other people think until or unless other people actually get involved. Writing a story that you enjoyed writing is far more valuable to you as a writer than writing a story that gave you regular paranoid fits but that you would be more comfortable submitting for publication, because if everything you write gives you paranoid fits, you’re going to lead a very unhappy life.
|15 Feb 2012|| Tapreea|
One thing I have found when reading something new, Hunt down something you don’t prefer even something you don’t like to read, I prefer Slash fiction but I still try out every once in a while a harem/or Het pairing. this helps me see the reverse view on an action, how someone else could interpret an action. Most of time this urge lasts about a day or two then I want to read my normal fair but I have changed things up enough that the slash fiction gets a new feel.
|17 Mar 2012|| Anon.|http://Missing [/URL]!
[B]I am in desperate need of involvement in activities I grew up enjoying. writing is one of them. There has never been more of inspiration than this time period, though my personal life situations are priority. That in itself has me stuck in a rut. When imagination comes to the inspirational and creative, is just that. How to find the believers , the group that have it in them to experience and the new ones who, I would say are deprived. if reading at home or for school never went any farther than start to finish. The T.V. shows I watched as a child that inspired neighborhood playtime. Acting out the characters, ideas to promote creativity in theme setting or roll play. Time of from school and traveling. Meeting people from areas other than that which I lived. Going to a school that promoted the world around. Hands on learning. Things such as studying about silk worms. Being able to take them home for a week. Watching how they eat up close. What they eat. How they got their name, the "silk" worm. The change they go through. Then being able to share that up close at home with family and friends. I have deprived my own children of atmosphere. Though, much of this seemed to be off to the sidelines. Now that it has returned to my memory and life. I have blockers.
|17 Mar 2012|| Noscreenm|
with such widespread use and access to computer communication, It should be easy to locate and communicate with groups who are creative, have imagination, the fun of outside the box. There is a group that has made their own ?????? Join in. leap in, hop, The setting is here. In real life help gather tools . brain storm.
|9 Oct 2012|| David marsh|
Supporting all those who expose injustice your friends at http://www.tomthumb.info/tt/ Yours Tom Thumb and friends.Thank you.
|19 Feb 2013|| Aqua|
To me sitting in the train helps quite a lot. I once started writing something that should only be a little fanfic because I was bored on my two-hour-travel in the train - it turned out as a 42 chapter, over 300 pages long project that took me nearly three years to complete, mostly because I only wrote while sitting in a train. Since that time I always need something to write in a train. I can also write anywhere or anytime else but trains are the best place.
I’m also glad that I have finally found music I can listen to while writing. People in trains are never completely quiet and I often wished I could listen to something else but loud stupid babbling but listening to music was nearly as annoying. And then I found something I think I shall call "epic music". Something that sounds as if it could be used on Lord of the Rings or a fantasy game. That’s rather inspiring but annoying.
|30 Apr 2013|| Jade Louise Danson|
Added to my favorites
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