Struggling with writer’s block? Me too, let’s work it out together.
If you’re anything like me, writer’s block tends to play out like this. You’re writing away, immersed in the world you’re creating, happy as a chicken in a flying machine, when you hit a moment in your story that you hadn’t fully thought through.
Maybe it’s an argument between a couple who’ve just bought that first place.
Your notes say ‘Bill and Bob argue about whether Bob’s mum can live in the attic’.
You already know that Bob has a co-dependent relationship with his mum and Bill loves Bob but can’t stand what his mother turns him into. Seems pretty simple, right?
But then you start writing and you quickly realise there’s a million things you hadn’t thought about. What tactics do they use to argue their case? What are they doing while they argue? Where’s the mum in all of this? Who’s Bob?
You sit for a few minutes contemplating this new dilemma, before getting up to make a tea, hoping the 3 minutes it’ll take will be enough time for some inspired solution to percolate down into your fingers.
You give up and do something else, but the next time you sit down to write, you’re at the same moment in the story and now the problem is like a plug in your brain, stopping any and all creativity from flowing. From then on, every time you try to write, you feel a wash of lethargy come over you and your motivation drains away like bi-carb down the sink.
Well, I’ve been there, obviously. I’m there quite often, in fact. So often, that I’ve had more than enough time to figure out a few solutions that work for me.
So, without further algorithm-hacking ado, here’s 5 ways to break your writer’s block:
Disclaimer: These work for me. You’re not me. Shocker.
1. Write about the problem.
Enough stalling, I’m coming in hot with my most effective method. This works for me 90% of the time, so try this first and, if you’re still stuck, come back and look at the rest.
The idea is very simple. Get a pen and pad (I find this slows my thoughts down which gives my brain time to come up with ideas), and start describing the problem. Actually, I usually start by writing a nonsense sentence. “Hello my invertebrated pencil-pushers. It’s find to get wrote at”.
Lovely. Now write about the problem. This is stream-of-consciousness writing, so literally write the words that come into your head, even if half of it is just curse words. Describe what you’re struggling with and why it’s hard to overcome.
If you’re anything like me, you’re maybe half a paragraph in and you’ve come up with a really stupid solution that you hate.
NO! Don’t stop. You’ve thought it, so you have to write it.
Write out your stupid solution and then write why it doesn’t work. Then write another solution. Or maybe write about a new reason as to why you’re struggling that you’ve just thought of. The key is to not stop writing.
In my experience, by the time you’ve reached two-thirds of the way down the page, you’ve got a solution in mind and you’re planning it out. Keep writing, including as much detail as you possibly can. Once you’re happy with your solution, write a neat version of your new plan, expletives excluded, and dive back into your script.
2. Skip that scene
You’re still reading so the previous solution hasn’t worked. That’s a shame, that was my best idea…
Not to worry, four less-good-but-still-great ideas to go.
My next tactic is simply to skip this scene and keep writing. Provided you weren’t hoping to figure out key details that you’ll need to know for the rest of the story (if that’s the case, that’s why you’re stuck, dummy), then you should be able to just push ahead with the story you have planned.
Once you get to know your characters better, and have a better sense of where everything is going, you may well find it’s much easier to write the scene you’re stuck on because you have so much more character information to work with.
This can, however, be a double-edged sword. If this is a scene that you truly don’t know what to do with, you don’t want to find you’re still stuck on it once everything else is finished. That can be very demoralising and stories, let’s be honest, are written as much on the back of morale as they are inspiration.
Best keep reading and see if any of the other ideas appeal to you more.
3. Write a standalone scene with those characters
This works similarly to the previous idea, but without the risk of the last thing you have to write being the thing you’ve been dreading writing for the last 90 pages.
Plonk your characters in a random location with random wants, and make them interact. It can be something that makes sense for the story and characters if you want, but I would actually warn against that. You’re not trying to write anything you’re actually going to use and, by placing it close to the story you’re telling, you may feel an urge to actually use it, which adds pressure, which removes inspiration. Best to make Bill an assassin sent to kill Bob’s mum and let Bob try to convince Bill to show mercy.
It doesn’t need to be funny. It doesn’t need to be good. No one ever needs to see it and you don’t even need to spell-check it at the end, so have fun! Once you’re done, you’ll have a better idea of how your characters deal with problems, what matters to them, what they struggle with. Flesh out your characters so you have more character to mine.
4. Go back to the plan
Honestly, this can be difficult to hear, but if you’re struggling to write a scene, you probably didn’t plan it in enough detail. I have only ever in my life written a half-baked plan and glided the whole way through the writing process. Admittedly, it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, but that’s “inspiration” for you – amazing when it’s there, crushing when it’s not. If you only ever write when you’re inspired, you’ll barely write.
You want to make writing as easy as possible for yourself, and that means planning. If you take the time to come up with every beat of a story before you even write the first word, you never have to sit and think about what happens next, you just read the next line on the plan and keep writing.
Of course, you’ve already started writing. Sucks to be you. But don’t despair, because you can still go back to the planning stage.
The first thing you have to do, however, is delete the scene you’re struggling with. Don’t worry, you remember all the good bits, and you need the freedom to come up with a brand new approach. Maybe Bob’s mum is waiting outside their new home and says she’s been evicted. She asks if she can stay with them and Bob says yes before Bill can say anything. Now Bill has to have this conversation with Bob, conscious he might be overhead and aware they’re already in too deep.
The point is, you can start from scratch and find a brand new way to approach the problem. Without a half-written scene hanging over you and a new, detailed plan in-hand, you can get bash that scene out in no time.
5. Work on another script
You’re STILL stuck? (So needy)
I have one more solution, but it comes with risks. Give up.
If you’ve managed to get tied up in so many mental knots that nothing seems to help you make sense of this story, you probably need some space from it. Go do something fun, or some housework, or your job. When you get back to writing, don’t sit and dwell on your shameful writing failure of a scene that nothing in the world seems to make any better. Instead, work on that other idea you’ve been having. You know, the one you’ve been avoiding working on because you just want to see one project through to the end, dammit! I’ve got 4 stories on the go, all at different stages, all very different from each other in style and content. If you were writing a depressing drama about loss and heartbreak, try writing an overtly homo-erotic action or cheesy romance or anything that puts you into a different mental space.
Get inspired about something else, and you might just find one day, when you’ve not thought about the story that started all for weeks, that a solution pops into your head when you’re doing your calisthenics to WAP.
Now, truth be told, you might find that this kills your ability to ever finish this story. If in 6 months’ time you still feel that sinking feeling every time you open the writing software and look at your stuck scene, then you might need to think about radical solutions. I had a 3-minute short that I turned into a 90-minute feature and then into a 20-minute short, and I’m still not happy with it. It’s a great concept though that I’m not willing to give up on thought, so I’m going to keep coming back to it every couple of months to see if I can reformat it into something that works.
Writing is tough, and mental blocks can feel debilitating. If you’re trying to make a career out of writing, it can feel like a death knell. It’s not, you just need to keep looking for novel solutions.
6. Talk it out
There’s 6 tips, I lied. Hahahaha, on this page, I am GOD.
Sometimes it helps to just talk the problem out. It’s like writing it out, but the page can talk back. Maybe you have writer friends you can turn to, maybe your dad is a supportive hero that will patiently sit and pretend he cares. Verbalising things can help you organise your thoughts and other people can bring ideas that you, with your narrow slice of experience in this complex world, never would have thought of.
Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can bring a new perspective.
Bob’s mum is dead. She’s a poltergeist. It was obvious all along.