How to overcome writer’s block
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
If I added up the amount of time I’ve spent staring at a blank computer screen in my 20 year career as a writer, I could probably have written a novel series longer than Harry Potter.
But the fact is that this is an inevitable part of a writer’s journey and it’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, sometimes it can be useful. Unless it goes on for too long, that is.
I was inspired to write a blog post on how to overcome writer’s block because I’ve just experienced it myself while writing my second novel. I’d thrashed out an idea that I was really excited about and I couldn’t wait to get started on it. Or so I thought.
The first few pages flowed like a dream. I was in the zone. I was loving it. But then I got stuck. The familiar feelings of doubt came back to me – this is a rubbish plot, you are an imposter, you can’t write a NOVEL, what the hell were you thinking woman?!
Thankfully, by using the same techniques I’ve used many times before in my career – when writing anything from magazine features, to thought leadership articles, to press releases to blog posts – I overcame it. Now I’m 10,000 words in and going strong.
It’ll probably hit me again, the proverbial brick wall. But I’m ready for it.
Here are my tips for how to overcome writer’s block.
Do more research
Think about why you’re struggling to write. Is it because you haven’t done enough of the groundwork yet? It’s much easier to write when you know what you’re writing about.
Perhaps you need to do some more research on your subject matter or some more planning on your timeline or characters. As writers we sometimes feel that any time spent away from writing is time wasted. Like if we’re not actually WRITING, we’re not being productive.
But good writing most often comes from good planning. You’ve got to know your subject. So, go back to your concept and look at what needs fleshing out and developing further.
Do a brain dump
A brain dump is a wonderful thing to generate ideas. It prevents your inner voice – you know, the one that overthinks EVERYTHING – from getting in the way.
What you need to do is to write down whatever you’re thinking, without actually thinking, for a few minutes. Literally, just start writing. Forget about spelling, grammar, full stops, punctuation. Heck, forget about anything other than getting some words down. No one’s going to read this but you.
For example, when I was writing my first novel I knew what the ending was already but I wasn’t sure how I was going to fill all those damn chapters between the beginning and end. So, I did a brain dump. Fifteen minutes later I’d made some significant character developments and generated some solid chapter ideas. Not bad for a few minutes’ work!
Having actual words written down also gave me the inspiration and confidence I needed at that moment to plough on with the novel.
Don’t be afraid to go off-piste
As writers, we sometimes feel that we have to go in chronological order. I started my career as a journalist, so an integral part of my writing style has always been: What happened first? And then what happened? And THEN what happened?
This style of writing is my default setting, my comfort zone, so I always start any piece of writing at the beginning and work my way down. But that doesn’t always work, especially with longer pieces of writing, like novels.
If you find yourself stuck at the beginning, why not start working on a later chapter or section of your piece? This can be just what you need to get the creative juices flowing again and give you some inspiration to go back and revisit your earlier chapters or sections.
For example, in my first novel when I was struggling, I jumped forward to a later chapter, told from the point of view of another character. She’d been on my mind for a while and I found her much easier to get into. I concentrated on her for the next few writing sessions. After I’d finished drafting her bits, I felt in a better position to jump back to the start again.
Some writers find that writing the ending first is a great way to set the pace going for the rest of their story as they’re always working towards that end goal.
Take a break
No, I don’t mean a three-month break. I mean step away from the computer, make a cup of tea, go for a walk. Sometimes your brain just needs a bit of freedom, away from the pressure of a blank computer screen staring back at it.
I’ve had some of my best ideas in the gym, shower and on the school run. Then I can’t wait to come back and write them all down.
You could also try a change of scene, moving to another location to work. This could be somewhere else in your house, your garden if the weather’s up to it or a local café.
Write about something else
If you’re not on a mega tight deadline and you’ve got other things you want to write about, have a literary change of scene.
One you’re writing again – about ANYTHING – even if it’s unrelated, it can help to reset the creative process. For example, maybe you can overcome writer’s block by writing a blog post about how to overcome writer’s block. I’m not talking about me here. Honest.
Talk about it
Imagine yourself talking to a friend or relative about what you’re writing. Better still, ACTUALLY talk to a friend or relative about what you’re writing.
When we talk out loud, we seem to find it easier to locate the words we’re looking for to describe what we mean. We also tend to be more concise than when we’re writing (where we seem to feel like the more words the better. And as we know, this is rarely true.).
As you chat aloud, to your real or imaginary friend, you may find yourself developing plots or characters or solving problems you’ve been struggling with for some time.
Mind over matter
At some point you just have to stop procrastinating and crack on. There’s only so much you can do to try to get past writer’s block.
So even if your mind is screaming “noooooo! Don’t do it! You can’t do this!” just fire up your laptop, get your notepad out, reach for your iPad – whatever floats your boat – and start writing. Your first draft might not be the finest thing you’ve ever written but it doesn’t matter. It’s easier to work with something than to start from scratch. With a bit of finessing, that crappy piece of work can soon be transformed into something beautiful.
Writing is like a muscle – it gets stronger the more you do it. Remind yourself over and over again that you can do this. You can write. You just need to take a deep breath and get going.
You’ve got this, writer, you can do it. You really can.