I recently asked for suggestions for blog topics, and one which resonated particularly with me was ‘writer’s block’.
It’s quite a dramatised area of writing. The romantic image of the creatively-stifled author, tying himself in mentally draining knots, until along comes his muse and frees him from his own personal misery.
But from my experience at least, writer’s block doesn’t work like that.
I’ve never really been plagued by ‘the block’ … and I think there are some key reasons for that.
Firstly, I know and understand the way I write.
I have three different stages of writing. The framework phrase, then the more specific ideas phase, and then finally the most precise phase. Like cutting a piece of wood into chunks, then carving it, and then finally whittling away the finer details.
The first part is the brainstorm phrase. Everything and anything is potentially of use. And so I store it all. I don’t worry about the finer points, or being neat about it. And it’s not a problem if I don’t use half of the stuff I come up with … I just … for want of a better word … spill! And I carry on ‘spilling’ (such an awful phrase!) until I feel like I have enough material to work with.
During the second phase, I begin to shape those ideas into chapters and a more rigid framework. As I explained in ‘Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘, I try to work my ideas into a useable framework, so that chapters begin to form, and I have specific parts of a book in which the initial ideas are then filed. Because I’m still working on the book as a whole, and not individual chronological sections, it means that if there’s a particular section I’m interested in, or more inspired by, I can focus on my ideas for that part, and then go back to other trickier sections when I understand them more.
At this point I should probably interject with my second piece of advice for avoiding ‘writer’s block’. I don’t set myself any strict deadlines. Obviously I have a rough timescale in mind … but because I’m essentially writing for myself at this point, I am the one calling the shots on my time, and how I use it. And with this relaxed approach, I find I never feel specifically ‘blocked’. If I’m not feeling overly creative one evening, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere – doing more mundane, less creative tasks like numbering pages, or writing synopses of each chapter so that I can track character development etc. That way, even in my less creative moments, I still feel like I’m doing something productive.
Going back to the phases of my writing, the third phase, where I fill out the frameworks of each chapter with the actual story, is obviously the phase where I’m most susceptible to blocks. To get myself into the ‘writing mood’, I find it helps to start each session by reading the chapter beforehand. This gets me into the right tone, and just reminds me of exactly where I am. I also try to focus on the story outside of my writing time. Over time I’ve worked out what works best for me, creatively. Particularly with dialogue between characters, which is, I think, one of my strong points, I find the best way for me to work out the conversations, is to play them out in my head. In order for that to happen, I need focussed solace. And that’s where exercise comes in. Whether I’m running, or hiking, or just working out in the gym, the focussed alone time is the perfect setting for dialogue to take shape. And then I just need to make sure I can write down what I’ve come up with, as soon as possible.
When I was in Peru, I hiked the Inca Trail. Whilst I was in a group, and it was quite sociable, there were also long stretches of tough hiking when no one talked. And these were the times I found most productive as a writer. At the end of each day, as we sat around waiting for dinnertime, I would madly scribble out page after page of notes.
Finally, I have one last tip for writer’s block … and that’s to read!
The best way to think like a writer, is to surround yourself with writing. Now, I’m not suggesting plagiarism! I just think the way to be most creative, is to get yourself into a creative frame of mind. And that means immersing yourself in stories, because they will stretch your own imagination. I find, if I want to think in the first person, I need to read stories written in the first person, so that my internal voice is playing out accordingly. Likewise, I’m about to start writing a book for younger children than I normally write for, and so, I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite children’s books, so that I can achieve the best tone, and think from a children’s book perspective.
So those are my ‘cures’ for writer’s block –
- Know and understand your writing style
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
- Find other productive things to do when you’re not feeling creative
- Creativity doesn’t only have a place when you’re sitting down in front of your laptop
- Surround yourself with creativity – particularly your current genre of writing