Over the years, I’ve experienced what many refer to as writer’s block. However, I don’t think that name is entirely appropriate to the feeling. Instead, it’s more of a malaise. I simply don’t want to write what I know I “have” to write. So, I don’t write, not a single word. I’ll avoid emails, text messages, anything that reminds me I “should” be writing.
I’ve decided that writer’s block is less about not being able to write at all and more about the psychology behind feeling like you need to write something specific. When I give myself permission to write whatever comes to mind, I’m able to write all sorts of things. I’ll stop avoiding the mundane, but I’ll also write for fun.
The way my brain is wired, I suppose I avoid the obligation aspect of writing, even if that obligation is only to myself. Instead, I’ll pick up another hobby and run with that for a bit. I have a plethora to choose from so it’s easy to distract myself.
I realized years ago that there had to be a healthier way to get out of this sort of funk. That was at about the same time I understood what was “blocking” my writing. I developed some coping strategies that usually work for me. They aren’t a guarantee, but more often than not, they will get me writing again.
Distractions have been my go-to when faced with writer’s block for years. Eventually, I figured out that I didn’t need to completely eschew writing in order to be distracted from whatever obligatory project I was avoiding. Instead, I could still write—I just had to give myself permission to write something completely different!
The goal with writing as a distraction from writing, as crazy as that sounds, is to remember how fun writing can be in the first place! As I’ve said in previous blogs, I’m a non-monogamous writer, anyway. I applied that tendency in order to combat writer’s block.
The biggest part of this technique is giving yourself permission to do something different. For many of us, that isn’t easy. Writers latch onto an idea and dislike being pulled away from it, even by a new idea. I’ve felt the same way myself even though I knew, deep down, that I could never finish one project without a few more started.
So, the secret here is grace. Give yourself the grace to change focus. Take some time to write something else, no matter what that is, and then try going back to the project that’s giving your problems.
This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Although I’m not a fan of writing short pieces myself, I’ve found that doing a few unrelated drabbles or flash fiction stories can loosen the stranglehold of anxiety that causes me to avoid a longer, more difficult project.
I like to use Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Prompts as one source of prompts for short fiction. They archive their prompts, so you don’t have to do the current one. You can pick something that catches your eye!
Another source I like for prompts is Reddit’s Writing Prompts subreddit. There are thousands of prompts to choose from in any genre you can think of. There’s also the Writing Prompt Generator, which gets a bit more detailed in its prompts.
Whatever way you choose to distract yourself, the important thing is to circle back to what you’ve been avoiding. Eventually, deadlines or your own mind will push you to finish.
When that’s the case, I’ve found that one of the best ways to get a story flowing again is to skip ahead and write a part that interests you more or that you aren’t as eager to write. Although I’m almost always a strictly linear writer, this method has helped me push forward when I thought I never wanted to look at a particular story again. The goal is to write a passage or scene ahead of where you’re at now. Then, look backwards to figure out how you’re going to get there.
This also works when you have an outline. Sometimes, you just don’t want to write a part and need to save it for last. It’s okay. Give yourself permission not to like it.
GIVE IT SOME BACKSTORY
Sometimes, it’s the characters that are giving me problems. I can’t figure out how they’re going to find the solution I need them to find, or I’m not sure how they’ll react in the situation I’m putting them in. When that happens, I step away from the story but write with those same characters.
I’ll take a character or two and write a short story or drabble with them as the focus, preferably before the start of the current story. I’ll write about their childhood, a traumatic incident, a happy incident, whatever it takes to help me figure out what I need to move again in the main story.
This method works best for me when I have a large cast of characters. If I’m focusing just on one character, I’ll probably end up adding characters in the backstory and then feel compelled to fit them into the main story, anyway!
CREATE A NEW CHARACTER
Speaking of characters, another exercise I like to do to motivate myself to continue a story is to write about another character in that world, one that isn’t in the story I’m writing. While this may seem unnecessary, I find it helps me get a good grasp on the world. I might take that character and write about how they would handle the situation I’m stuck on. It’s best to do that with a character who’s a complete opposite from your main character, though, because then you have an idea what your character wouldn’t do!
One way or another, all writer’s block periods come to an end. You can hold out hope it will go away on its own, but often that leads to months or years of no writing whatsoever. You could start to feel down on yourself because this is supposed to be your thing! Making it fun again, getting away from the pressure of a project with an external or self-imposed deadline, can help you avoid all of that and lead to more success in completing projects in the long run.
© Allyson Pauley 2021