By Colleen M. Story
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block!”
No doubt you’ve heard this myth before.
Worse, you may have believed it.
And that’s rarely a good thing, as it tends to keep you where you are—in that stuck place you dare not call writer’s block.
Myth: There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” says writer Leigh Shulman. “It’s an excuse. Your way of telling yourself you have a reason for not writing.”
You’ll find a wide variety of writers echoing this same sentiment. Whenever I heard it, I worried. I didn’t want to be one of “those” writers.
“The secret about writer’s block is that it’s an indulgence,” writes Amy Alkon for Psychology Today. “…The way you end so-called ‘writer’s block’ is simply by sitting down to write—’blackening pages,’ as Leonard Cohen called it.”
Lazy! Undisciplined! We hear it again and again. Stop coddling yourself. Sit down and write!
I vowed to do just that. I wouldn’t be weak. I would be a strong, productive writer.
No writer’s block here.
Then along came my third novel, The Beached Ones. And it humbled me in a hurry.
My Novel Taught Me All About Writer’s Block
Draft after draft, I came up against a wall. No matter how hard I tried or how many hours I put in, I could not figure out how to get past the midpoint of that novel.
Now understand: I was no newbie to the mid-novel struggle. I had gone through it with my other two published novels, but never to this extent.
I bought books. I went to conferences. I talked to award-winning writers. I sketched out the plot. I outlined the chapters. I examined each of the character’s inner and outer motivations.
I did everything you should do when experiencing writer’s block—things that before had led to a breakthrough—and nothing helped.
It was frustrating, to say the least.
I looked writer’s block squarely in the eye and withered. So much for strength and discipline. They weren’t helping me at all.
My Cure for Writer’s Block
I finally had to admit that I was suffering a bad case of writer’s block.
Oh, the shame!
I’ve since learned that other writers—much as they may lecture about there being no such thing as writer’s block—just have a slightly different definition of it.
Says Schulman: “Here’s the thing: Every writer who has ever existed feels stuck at some point. That’s why I say there’s no such thing as writer’s block because it’s part of the writing process.”
Oh. So it is writer’s block. You’re just calling it something else.
And that something else is comforting, isn’t it? Shulman is assuring us that everyone experiences being stuck now and then. Relax. It’s normal.
But I couldn’t relax. The story sat in the back of my mind bugging me day in and day out.
So I kept trying. And now, looking back, I can say that is my solution to writer’s block that I want to share with you: keep trying.
It is the key to finally breaking through.
The Key to Ending Writer’s Block
What does it mean to keep trying?
Don’t Give Up
First of all, don’t give up on your story. I thought about it many times, but looking back, I’m really glad I didn’t. (The book is releasing soon, after all!)
Keep the Story In Mind
Second, keep the story in mind.
Personally, I didn’t have any choice. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It may be the same for you. But it also helps to find other ways to keep it at the forefront of your thoughts.
Everything I did along the way—starting over, reading books, attending workshops, outlining, researching, sketching, etc.—helped keep the story in my brain. My brain, in turn, continued to work on a creative solution to my writer’s block.
You don’t want to forget what was happening in your story. Even if you’re not writing new scenes and chapters, it’s important to keep the characters alive in your head in some way that you continue to “live” with them in their world.
Find a Way to Think Outside the Box
This is what finally led to a breakthrough for me.
It was as simple as going to a movie.
I went to see Girl on a Train starring Emily Blunt. (Love her!) I was fascinated by how the story was told.
For much of the movie, the main character didn’t know what had happened to put her into her current situation.
It was something I had never explored before: what if my hero was in the dark as to what had happened?
That single idea was enough to send me back to the keyboard. And telling the story from that point of view solved my problem.
No more writer’s block. I sailed through to the end, put the book through several more rewrites, submitted it, and landed a publisher on—get this—April Fool’s Day, 2020.
For you, it’s likely to be something else (besides a movie) that allows you to break through your writer’s block. Maybe it’s an image you see, something you hear, or something someone says.
Here’s a tip: Usually, breakthroughs happen when we step away from our usual routines. Do something different, put yourself in a new environment, and allow your creative brain to play. That’s the best way to inspire it to come up with a solution.
See Writer’s Block as a Gift
Looking back, I can see that writer’s block gave me a gift—it forced me to come up with a more creative way to tell the story. It also taught me that you can be seriously blocked and still succeed in telling a good story if you’re willing to stick with it.
Shulman agrees that sometimes, being blocked can be a blessing:
“When you’re stuck, it’s often because you’re doing something you’ve never done before. That means you’re stretching yourself as a writer. You’re improving, and soon enough you will breakthrough to a new level. You’ll be a stronger, more agile, better writer.”
Writer’s block? It’s no myth, but if it’s plaguing you, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Instead, celebrate. Welcome your confusion. Allow your frustration. Bang your head against the wall and keep going.
If the story matters, you’ll find a way.
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