Before we begin, a disclaimer: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think that what we call ‘writer’s block’ is really just ‘thinking time’. Everyone needs to leave ideas to ‘ferment’, which can hold you back from writing for a little while. Sometimes writing isn’t always writing actual words on a page. Sometimes it’s just thinking really, really hard. Your brain needs time to develop concepts. Creativity isn’t something that can be forced.
For every book I’ve ever written, I’ve left a gap of sometimes up to a year between writing the first and second halves. Usually when I reach around 25,000 words into a book I lose all confidence I had in it. At that point I’ll lie in bed a lot and whine to anyone who’ll listen, and then I’ll do some of the following things, to try and get back on my feet.
Set yourself a writing target each day, based on how much you can write easily.
Even if it’s just a paragraph on the bus, it’ll all add up, and by the end of the week you’ll have a lot more words than writing nothing at all! If I’m struggling to get started I’ll write stream of consciousness nonsense until I remember how to write again, because I somehow seem to forget how to write every time I open Microsoft Word.
Set yourself rewards for writing.
I only let myself go on twitter or have a can of coke or read a book if I’ve written my wordcount target. Anything that can trick me into writing, basically!
Use writing exercises to kickstart your brain into writing.
I’ll try to write some scenes between the characters that aren’t relevant to the plot, just to get into their heads a bit – I like writing one hundred declarative sentences about them, like ‘Matthew loves his fountain pen’. It’s harder than it sounds! One tip I’ve heard works really well is to try and write a scene with two characters who hate each other kissing.
Talk it out.
I’ll give the manuscript to someone I trust to read it for me and give me feedback and constructive criticism. It always helps to talk things out, and you’ll probably know as soon as you try and explain your plot problem what the solution is. It has to be someone who you know is willing to give you negative feedback, because (although it sounds backwards) I find knowing exactly how bad something is makes me feel a lot better. If I know this and this and this is terrible, but the rest is fine, then I know I can fix it. I can feel confident about the bits that aren’t bad, because one person likes them – and the bits that are bad, I can probably manage to fix.
There are lots of online writing communities you could join and approach for feedback – as long as you’re willing to give some in return. There are people who say you shouldn’t share your writing until it’s finished, but I totally disagree. My biggest inspirations usually come from discussions about my book. Just don’t talk about it so much that your friends are bored of it…
Try writing something else!
If after all of that, you really, really can’t do it…. then maybe it’s not the right idea for you at the minute. Maybe come back to it in a few months. If I end up abandoning an idea, I don’t think of it as a waste – it’s all good practice. Even if you discard the plot, you can reuse the characters, so none of your character development is wasted.
I absolutely promise you, your writing isn’t bad – however much it feels that way. It’s frustrating seeing this huge colourful world in your head turn into feeble words on a page. But in someone else’s head those words will rebuild the world you first pictured, and making that happen is worth the pain of writing, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.