“…There is no such thing as Writer’s block…”
At least, that’s what I keep hearing.
“It’s a lie. It’s an excuse. It doesn’t exist.”
Writer’s Block is real. Every writer ever has faced it.
But – there is a serious problem with calling it “Writer’s Block.”
Let me show you…
Last week, I was at the doctor’s office and overheard this scene:
Patient: “I don’t feel good…”
Doctor: “OK. Where does it hurt?”
Patient: “I don’t know. I just feel bad.”
Writer’s Block is an unhelpful term because it lacks precision. Like Doctors, writers need to know where the problem is in order to solve it.
When we say, “I have Writer’s Block” – we’re actually referring to 1 of 3 separate obstacles that prevent us from writing.
In this article, I’ll explain the difference between these obstacles…
And how to solve them.
1. Perfectionist’s Block – The “Enemy of the Done” Disorder
I get it.
You get it.
Even world-renowned Authors get it.
You have Perfectionist’s Block when you feel any of these:
- Not as good as you should be.
- Lost, like you can’t move forward.
- “The right words just won’t come.”
- You have too many problems to fix.
- Afraid your story isn’t good enough.
- The story doesn’t meet your vision or standards.
- Your story took a wrong turn and it’s too late to fix it.
- Afraid what others will think about your style or story.
- Too many choices, and none of them are the “right” choice.
To some degree, I’ve fallen ill with every last one of these.
Fortunately, there are plenty of cures.
Cure Your “Perfectionist Writer’s Block”
I had a writing teacher once – a poet. Any time I read his work, I was always fascinated by his word choice. He always seemed to get it right.
So I asked him:
“Sometimes, I get stuck. I can’t figure out the right way to write a sentence. Sometimes, I can’t even get the right verb.”
“Use the wrong word. Fix it later.”
This is the kind of advice that’s so obvious, it’s almost invisible. Especially to new writers.
You do not have to write as well as your favorite author. All you need to do is write the best that you can.
With enough time, effort, and will-to-improve… one day, you will be someone else’s favorite author. (And then they’ll try to write like you, and get writer’s block, and the cycle will continue…)
What’s worse than a poorly written story?
An incomplete one. (I should know. I’ve failed to finish dozens of them here).
The next time you get stuck with “Perfectionist Writer’s Block,” open a new document, or tear off a new page.
At the top, label it in big, bold letters:
- Trash Writing
- or something as blunt as “Nobody is ever going to read this.”
Give yourself permission to write a hot, steaming, asphalt-melting pile of trash… and good things will come.
2. Procrastinator’s Block – The “Always a Writer, Never Writing” Syndrome
Ah, procrastination. My old enemy.
Also, my current enemy.
Procrastinator’s block is the most insidious of all Writer’s afflictions. It is also the hardest one to overcome.
Advice like: “just write” is great in theory. But how do you force yourself to sit down and write?
How to Cure the Procrastinating Writer’s Block
“Before bed, fill up a glass of water. Hold it up and speak an intention into the water. Drink half the water and then set the half-full glass on your nightstand. Go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, drink the rest of the water immediately.”
I don’t point this out to mock it.
Instead, I want you to see how desperate for any solution even professional authors become.
Set Goals to Prevent Writer’s Block.
Set both long term writing goals, and a short term word count or time limit goal.
For me… I’ve found that the first 20 minutes of writing are the hardest.
So everytime I sit down to write, I promise myself –
“I’m not leaving this desk until I’ve typed for 25 minutes at least.”
I set a stopwatch, not a timer, because once I get past that 20 minute mark, the words are flowing. I don’t want to interrupt that with anything.
Carve Out Your Writing Time
Be ruthless. Don’t let anyone or anything steal your writing time from you.
When you get on a regular schedule, the choice to write becomes easy. This will help you stop procrastinating.
Then, all that’s left is to just write.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – Stephen King, On Writing
3. Boredom Block – Your Own “Passion Parasite”
Like any parasite, most writers don’t even know when they have this Writer’s Block…
…even when it affects every word of their writing. Instead, they just feel it.
Here’s what the Boredom Block looks like:
- “I’m burned out on this story.”
- “I don’t care about my characters.”
- “I feel like I lost the major thread of my project.”
- “I just wrote all these pages, but it doesn’t feel like I got anywhere.”
Maybe you notice you’re spending too much time on character descriptions. Or maybe you just lose steam on the plot.
Fortunately, this form of Writer’s Block is the easiest one – and most enjoyable – to cure…
How to Cure Boredom Block
When you’re sick of your story…
And it’s no longer interesting to you…
Your readers will hate it too. If it ain’t interesting to you – the writer – it ain’t gonna be interesting to your readers.
Want to make it interesting?
Ruin someone’s day:
- Kill your Villain’s only friend
- Disfigure one of your main characters
- Throw a huge, immovable boulder into your adventurers’ path
Twist your story until you can say, “Wow, that sounds amazing/awful.” Do whatever it takes to keep yourself engaged.
The more powerful the conflict, the more your readers will react.
A Lovely Example…
What’s a better love story?
- Jason and Yasmin meet.
- Fall in love.
- Get married and live happily ever after.
- Jason and Yasmin meet.
- Fall in love.
- Yasmin finds out that Jason is actually a 2000-year-old Djinni who escaped from his bottle, and is being hunted by the Prince – the man to whom she was once betrothed.
- Abbas tells her he will stop hunting Jason the Djinni… if Yasmin finally marries Abbas.
- Yasmin must decide between Jason’s freedom, and her own.
See how much better it is when you make it harder for your characters to get what they want?
One Last Tip to Get Unstuck When Writing
Today, the words aren’t flowing.
You’ve tried everything.
Some people – even professional authors – recommend you leave your writing project alone for one or two days.
Oh, don’t you dare.
One or two days turns into four or five… weeks… months…
Giving it a “few days rest” is great advice when you’ve already finished the project. I would only step away when you’re about to enter the editing phase. NOT BEFORE.
Instead, listen to Hemingway’s advice on this – “Always stop for the day while you still know what happens next.”
I like to interpret this as – never stop when you don’t know what happens next.
Do anything you can to overcome your writer’s block before you stop writing for the day. Otherwise, you’ll dig the rut deeper.
Go on a walk.
Listen to nothing, or listen to music.
Do not listen to podcasts or audiobooks or talk radio… because you’ll focus on their words instead of yours.
This is something I do all the time, especially when I need a break in between my hours of writing. It’s good for your body, it’s good for your mind.
And it’s good for your writing.
A Writing Prompt to Kill Your Writer’s Block
We’re in ancient history.
You have an important duty, because you are the first writer in the known world.
But… as the first writer, you are also the first person to ever have Writer’s Block.
Where did the words go? Have the muses abandoned you?
What is the reason – natural, or other – for your Writer’s Block, and how will you overcome it?
Set a timer for 25 minutes, and start writing!
Feel free to comment below with snippets of your story.