In this post I’m going to talk about some of the things that have helped me and continue to help me push forward and continue writing when I feel blocked, apathetic or distracted. These are things that in my personal experience have helped me when I have been stuck and unable to write. Not every solution will work for every person, not every solution works 100% of the time and some may even have the opposite effect for you. That said my first piece of advice is to find strategies that do work for you. For everyone it will be different. Find a few things that help (so you have a backup if plan A fails) and don’t be afraid to try something different. So anyway here are a few things that have helped me.
- Writing Garbage
Now by this I don’t mean itemising the contents of your bin. I mean spewing forth any words to create poorly formed sentences and crummy paragraphs in order to continue writing and driving the story forward. The best thing I can do is to just keep writing, push through the block, ignore the distraction and just keep putting words on the page. It doesn’t matter that the sentences are terrible, that there is a complete lack grammar and that the punctuation is awful. I’m moving the story forward, I’m making progress. I can come back and edit it latter. The important thing is I keep putting words down. I would happily trade the two best lines I have written for the two worst pages I’ve written. Especially when I’m writing a draft. Quantity is much preferred to quality. When I slow down and consider if a certain line was the best way to phrase something or reflect on grammar and structure I often stagnate the story. Hindsight is also a kicker. Ever written down that line that you thought was absolutely fantastic, you polish it and primp it and then when you come back and read it a few days later and you can’t help thinking what idiot wrote this? Well that works in the opposite direction too. You might be on a role and the prose and lyricism just start to flow suddenly your garbage is gold. So my first piece of advice for pushing through those block is don’t slow down just keep writing even if it is garbage. Write first polish later
This one is really a double edged sword. For me a drink or two makes the above suggestion easier, the garbage just flows. This one doesn’t work for everyone. A drink or two might make you feel sleepy if so it’s probably not a good idea. The problem with this is two drinks, becomes three, three becomes four and suddenly the bottle of scotch is empty and I’m still typing but it’s not in English anymore.
- Taking a break
Taking a break from whatever your writing can also help. Focusing on something else can allow you to reset and come back and look at it with fresh eyes. I personally find that the best thing to do is something that is mindless. That way I can still think about my writing without actually having the pressure of actually having to write. Mowing the lawn works well for me, I’ve had some of my best ideas while meandering up and down my backyard.
- Secondary Projects
If I’m really stuck on a story and no matter what I try it doesn’t work sometimes I just try writing something else. I like to have a few minor projects on the go that I can switch to. That way I’m still writing, still honing my craft and being productive. I tend to stick to short stories, as a second novel might unnecessarily divide my focus. A piece of flash fiction can be hammered out in an hour or two (without editing) and then you can get back to the main piece of work. This of course can go badly. I have what was a minor project which is edging toward a novella and still not close to the ending I envisaged.
- Deadlines And Goals
The other thing which has given me the power to plough through blocks, ignore distractions and helped motivate me to write are deadlines. If I know that something has to be finished at a certain time I generally pull my finger out and get it done. That said for me it has to be an enforceable deadline. Meaning that if I don’t have the piece done I’m going to miss out on something, like entering a competition or a submissions window. The deadline also has to be a hard deadline. This piece needs to be finished by a particular date at a particular time. I tried a vague deadline for my novel (One chapter every month) and I’m a little ambivalent with it. I know that if I fail to meet it I’m not missing anything, I reach the end of the month and think to myself well there’s not that much more to go, a week won’t make much of a difference, before I know it a chapter has stretched over three months, I’m still not finished and I’m now two chapters behind were I thought I would be. I’m about to give my novel plan a revision and reset hard deadlines for when I want everything done. Hopefully this will mean I’m a lot more productive. To assist with this I’m going to give myself a daily word count goal and track my progress. (I will provide an update on how I go)
- Scheduling Time
Another thing which has helped me immensely is scheduling a time for writing. Everyone is busy, balancing work, a social life and family can be a tricky, adding writing in on top of that can make things seem overwhelming. Finding a time when you free and preferably alone can make things seem much more manageable. Now I’m not telling you to lock yourself in a room and shut out all distractions, but to find a certain time during your day when you might be able to do some writing. For myself this means instead of getting up from my desk at lunch time, I eat at my desk and work on my novel. I get an hour ever week day where I can do some work on my story. On the days I take public transport I also try and do some work on the bus ride. Smart phones have made the mobile writing idea so much easier I can type without hauling a laptop around with me.
- The Last Thing
The last one is the most important one for me. I mentioned in my previous post that I was blocked for a long time. I couldn’t seem to write and I wasn’t productive. When I tried I’d end up with a half-finished paragraph and another addition to the failure folder. The thing that changed between now and then is a simple but huge thing. I got happy. I went from being someone who thought they were happy to being someone who was actually happy and the words and ideas just came back. I started working a job I enjoy and I met a beautiful girl who is now my wife. For me this made everything better. I’m not telling you to quit your job or start dating the first girl you come across, those things might not make you happy. What I am saying is that if you find yourself completely blocked, with no desire to write it might be time to examine the things in your life that may be stopping you.