Today a writer friend of mine asked how I deal with writer’s block, and I didn’t have a good answer. My original flippant response was, “watch tv, read books.” Which doesn’t sound terribly helpful and is probably not what she wanted to hear. Truth is – that is exactly what I do when I get stuck. Or, at least, it’s one of many things I do.
Writer’s block isn’t one beast that I get to kill over and over again, the same way each time. It’s a hydra – and each head requires a different tactic. The trick for me is knowing what tactic to use, and since I don’t know how to do that, I generally just throw everything at it until something works.
So at the risk of sounding like a complete cockmitten, here’s a post about how *I* deal with writer’s block, and what sometimes works. It may not work for you, but hey, it’s good to know what’s in the other guy’s arsenal, right? Right.
First of all, sometimes writer’s block is not actually a problem, but a sign I need to do what I call “refilling the well” (Someone else came up with that, and I like it, so I stole it.). I have learned to make peace with those periods and refill the well by reading more, going out more, watching tv and movies and learning new hobbies. One day, normally when I least expect it, the well overflows and all the things I have been doing or seeing or reading come spouting out in a happy mix. And: words.
Sometimes it’s fear. “I can’t do this. Everything I write is crap. I’m a failure.” I get this a lot, and it’s probably the hardest thing for me to deal with. It’s normally at these exact moments I’ll read a review that says something about how I shouldn’t be allowed to quit my day job, or that this was the worst book they had ever read. Self-doubt works hand in hand with some nefarious force out there to make sure artists stop what they’re doing. Pretty sure. Anyway. These are the times I have to be kind to myself:
First, I give myself permission to write – “This story is for you, it has to please no one but you, and no one else ever has to read it. Be joyful in your own place.”
Second, I give myself permission to be crap – “It’s a first draft, you simian. Chill out and let it be crap. Revisions are for making pretty, not first drafts.”
Third, I set myself goals that will not make me feel like a failure – “50 words. That’s all. 50 words, every day. You can do that.” (And I can, and setting the jump so low – that little pole on the ground that I can simply walk over – allows me to Exceed Expectations. That’s a pretty good feeling when you’re used to beating yourself up.)
Sometimes it’s laziness. Mid-book slump, the boring bits, the ugh this novel, it’s so dumb, I should start something else. Because you know what, for me, starting stuff is pretty easy – it’s following through with it and doing all the hard-work of getting to The End and then hacking and grafting and rewriting that’s not so much fun. Usually it’s a matter of pushing myself, and again, setting goals low until I feel more confident again, and less overwhelmed. Or rewarding myself with Sherlock gifs for hitting wordcount goals 😛 Sometimes it’s as simple as skipping the boring bits and writing the scenes I really want to write.
All these things get me through writing a book. And sure, show me your arsenal – I need all the help I can get.