Most writers reach that dreadful moment when they have nothing left to say. The computer screen or sheet of paper remains blank. Endless cups of coffee make no difference. Hopefully, the moment doesn’t last for long – a day, maybe two at the most – but occasionally, writer’s block doesn’t shift.

Writer’s block has several causes:

Physical. For instance, the writer’s tired, under stress or drained from the emotional nature of the story
Lack of confidence in the project
Structural problems in the writing

The first is the easiest to solve. Tired? Stressed? Worn out from the writing? Take a break for a day or two. Do something different. On those few occasions when I can’t face writing, I watch television (which I hardly ever do), play computer games or go out.

The second cause is slightly trickier to deal with. A lack of confidence prevents people from doing things, including getting writing done. You could spend the time researching your project or getting feedback from other writers. You could hand your work to a friend whose judgement you trust or study similar pieces of writing to gain a feel for what’s out there. If you’re writing fiction, distance yourself from the main character. Let the character develop in her own distinct ways.

Structural problems in the writing tend to occur when one or more of the basic arguments are faulty. The argument might lack credibility, for example. Or arguments might clash with each other, especially if you’ve introduced new material in a rewrite. I find scene of crime sections and mystery plots the hardest to pull off, often because I fail to take into account the motives of each person involved. Usually, I have to go back over the relevant points, simplifying some and developing others. In my latest draft of a psychological thriller, for instance, I got writer’s draft at the epilogue. Not a good place to get stuck.

When tackling structural problems, go through the manuscript with a pen. I prefer to work with groups of fifty pages, jotting down essential story questions as I read. If a section still doesn’t work after extensive revision, consider ditching it for, but keep a copy in case you wish to reintroduce it again.

Finally, resist the urge to go back to the beginning and rework the story word for word. Adding to what’s already there sometimes lessens the impact of the good.

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10 thoughts on “Writer’s Block

  1. Good tips! It’s also helpful to change your routine by either finding a different place to write, a different mode of writing, or a different time of day to write. Or just get drunk if all else fails. So you want to take the challenge? Do you already have something started? (It sounds like you’ve got quite a bit in queue.)

  2. Yes, these are good ideas to get rid of writer’s block. I’ve found that one of the best things for me is to go listen to music- a lot of music.

    And hey, thanks for your comment to my blog! Writing is great, isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    The writing challenge sounds like a good idea. I’ve completed one novel (trying to get an agent ) and am polishing the manuscript of the second, but I always enjoy a good writing challenge.

  4. Great ideas. I do the same thing…anything but think about the story. TV, video games, reading a fun novel, or even reviewing another author’s work help distance myself for a day or two.

  5. “or even reviewing another author’s work help distance myself for a day or two”

    Yes, I really find this helpful too. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Hi Lawrence!

    Good tips in this post for sure. I’ve recently encountered each of these issues and just overcame the worst of them – lack of confidence – just this past weekend, but not without considerable difficulty.

    You mention that you’re a classical pianist – do you find that writing and/or performing music helps refocus your writing? Music always seems to me much more instant in the satisfaction it brings, thus it often emboldens me to continue with something I’ve been dreading

    Nick

  7. Hi Nick,

    I’ve found that music and writing help each other – except I can’t listen to music while I’m writing. Maybe I should to see what would happen, but I’ve tended to avoid combining them up to now.

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