I used to think that writer’s block was an excuse that new writers used to procrastinate. I thought that if they had bills to pay and a tight deadline schedule, they would be more motivated. However, after thirty years of writing, I’ve found that writer’s block is a very real obstacle. Sometimes plowing through it is as difficult as slamming your body through a brick wall. Because I’ve written more than seventy books back-to-back over thirty years, I’ve had to develop ways to break through this mental wall. Maybe some of these will help you.
1) Get rid of distractions. I know that sounds like a no-brainer. We don’t often invite distractions into our lives; they just have a way of dropping in like viruses. But for me, one distraction can ruin my whole writing day. There are a few things you can do to clear your day of them. First of all, tell your friends and family not to call or text you during the hours you’re writing. Unplug the landlines and silence your cell phone during that time. Schedule any appointments or errands for the time after your writing hours. If you have small children and you have a couple of free hours to write, then don’t use that time for anything else. Let the laundry and dishes wait—take your shower later—and don’t run errands during that time even though it seems like the logical thing to do. Use it exclusively for writing, then run your errands with your children when they are with you. It may be more stressful, but I find that I’m most calm when I’ve had a good writing day.
2) Try dictating. There are times when the blank screen on my computer seems like my worst enemy. If I can find another way to write the book my creativity returns. I hate first drafts, and my writers block almost always emerges during the writing of one. Dictating often helps. I can go out to my car and sit in the sunlight or drive down the road with the voice recorder in my hand, or people-watch in a parking lot (in a non-creepy sort of way). I use a voice recorder that’s compatible with Mac Speech Scribe (for PC users, Dragon Dictate does the same thing), and when I’ve dictated a scene, I plug the recorder into my USB port and let the app transcribe it. It’s usually a mess without punctuation, but I still have the voice file to refer to as I clean it up. Then I have my scene down. I will rewrite in another draft, but just getting it down on paper is like knocking a small hole into that brick wall.
3) Read a great book in the genre you’re writing. It needs to be a book that inspires you, is beautifully written, and is written in the voice or tense that you’re using. When I do this it almost always returns my voice to me. If I immerse myself in a great book, afterward I find myself writing in my head even when I’m not thinking about doing it.
4) Change your writing location. Sometimes when I’m sitting in my office I get writer’s block because of all the distractions around me. There are piles of papers that need attention, bills to pay, dust bunnies that need vacuuming, the telephone’s ringing. I’ve learned that if I can change my location it sometimes shakes the bricks free. If I go into the living room and curl up by the fireplace, or sit in my car outside with the windows down, or go sit in a noisy café, or even drive across town to a park with a nice view, it helps my creativity and focus.
5) Write something else. An email, an essay, a letter to that person who made you angry. Just get out whatever it is that’s hovering in your mind, whatever it is that’s clogging up your access to your story, and write it in a stream-of-consciousness way without any judgment. Often, once you’ve finished, you’ll be back in the rhythm of writing and you can jump back into your book. (By the way, you might not want to send that letter you just wrote!)
6) Change the sounds in your environment. If you normally like the TV off, turn it on. If you usually prefer writing to music, turn it off. Sometimes background noise helps to silence the distracting thoughts in your head, but often the noise you usually like is becoming a distraction. Whatever you normally do, try doing the opposite until you get through your block.
7) Take a few days off. If everything I’ve suggested above doesn’t work, it may be time to just shut it off and quit demanding it of yourself for a day or two (or maybe a week). Do anything except write. Let your brain rest. Then when you’re rested, pick it up again and see if the wall is still there.
These are all things that have worked for me. If your writers block is a temporary affliction that rises up now and then, one that you can bulldoze through because your passion for writing is greater than whatever obstacle stands in your way, then you’ll be fine. During first drafts, I hate writing. It’s not magical or mystical or muse-inspired. Writing is hard work, and sometimes I just don’t want to do it. But the reward of a good writing day is so much greater than the frustration of getting those words on paper. Sometimes I just have to take my thoughts captive and remind myself that I’ve knocked down that wall before. I can do this. Louis L’Amour said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
Terri Blackstock is a New York Times best-seller, with over seven million copies sold worldwide. She is the winner of two Carol Awards, a Christian Retailers Choice Award, and a Romantic Times Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, among others. Her most recent suspense novel is If I Run, about a young female fugitive whose being accused of a heinous murder. Other books include Truth Stained Lies (the Moonlighters Series), Intervention (the Intervention Series), and Last Light (the Restoration Series). See the complete list of Terri’s books at www.terriblackstock.com/books. Join her at Facebook (www.facebook.com/tblackstock) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/TerriBlackstock).