Help, My Writing Is Broken! (Or, How to Deal with Writer’s Block)

WritersdontcryBlankpageEvery once and a while, when a writer sits down to write, nothing comes out. Like—nothing. All right, the writer will tell themselves, I’m a grown-up, I can make this happen. So the writer swallows down the fear starting to build in their throat and slaps words onto the page with a fearlessness that dares the writing to just try and suck. And if it doesn’t suck? Congratulations! You wrote your way out of writer’s block! That is both awesome and awe-inspiring.

But if it does suck? Like, badly? Don’t hyperventilate just yet; writer’s block isn’t permanent (usually, anyway). It’s a totally normal phenomenon many professional writers experience at least once per novel (and twice during outlines). And even though almost everyone has at least a tiny part of them that is afraid the writing will never, ever come back—it always does, in the end. Even if it takes its own sweet time.

Of course, that’s just dandy when you need to be brilliant on a deadline. Dandy and completely impractical. So, for those of you on deadlines and at your wit’s end, here is a three-step solution attempt, geared at helping you find the source of your discontent and getting you back into writing mode pronto.

Step 1: Did You Leave Your Critical Side On?

Here are some signs that you may have left your critical side on:

  1. You have a hard time reading books you normally enjoy. You’re either restless or it just doesn’t grab you the way it normally does.
  2. Every word you write feels mechanical and forced, and when you read them? You have to restrain your fingers from instinctively deleting them.
  3. You’re not so sure your idea is a good one anymore. In fact, you can’t believe anyone ever said they liked your idea.
  4. The writing you did earlier you either hate and can’t believe you ever thought it was good, or love, and are worried sick you’re going to mess it up.
  5. You just can’t seem to visualize the scene you’re about to write. Your brain keeps missing the idea and catching on the words.

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Comments (9)

You know what I've always found works? Writing. It sounds stupidly simple, but it really works. The best way to overcome writer's block is to write your way through it. Write garbage. Write the worst tripe you've ever written in your life. Write what you see out the window. Write something that starts with, "It was a dark and stormy night." Just write, and don't worry about the outcome. You can always delete it later. Before you realize it, though, you will be flowing again.

Posted by: Jason Vey | Monday November 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM

In my experience, you become blocked when you've made a mistake somewhere and don't yet realize it. Just go back to the beginning of your piece, re-read it critically, and look out for something that doesn't ring true, usually forced by what you suppose to be the requirements of the plot. If doing away with that "something" makes the whole project impossible, be glad that you found it before wasting any more time. More here:

Posted by: Richard Herley | Tuesday November 6, 2012 at 12:30 AM

I tried that "put on lipstick" one. All it did was make things awkward when my wife came home.

Posted by: Karl | Tuesday November 6, 2012 at 3:52 AM

Thanks so much for this entry, esp the "Critical Side" bullet points. I cannot tell you how much I needed to hear this particular advice right now. Been stuck in a writing hole for a couple weeks. All due (now I can clearly see) to leaving my critical faculty in charge of the ship.

Need to get my creative side to mutiny and get back to the pages!

Posted by: Dina | Tuesday November 6, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Jason Vey: Yes, when writing works, it's the best!
Richard Herley: Yes, that's always my experience as well.
Karl: Did you feel foxy?
Dina: I'm so glad it helped! Good luck with the mutiny!

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Monday November 12, 2012 at 7:07 AM

Hey tur! Vai jūs zināt, ja viņi dara kādi spraudņi, lai aizsargātu pret hakeriem? Es esmu kinda paranojas par zaudēt visu, ko esmu strādājis smagi. Jebkurš padomus? Hey tur! Vai jūs zināt, ja viņi dara kādi spraudņi, lai aizsargātu pret hakeriem? Es esmu kinda paranojas par zaudēt visu, ko esmu strādājis smagi. Jebkurš padomus?

Posted by: chaussures de foot mercurial | Tuesday November 13, 2012 at 12:07 AM

Susan: Haha, thank you for this post! Your writing is very fun to read and it makes me laugh rather than contemplate those times I feel like taking that writer's block out into the back fields and putting it out of my misery forcibly (I'm told this doesn't help). :) I like your list of checkpoints for when the critical side has been left on. It's really great to keep those in mind, especially since the critical side has so many ways of trying to justify/hide its presence and make you believe it's just there to help you!

Step three is crucial, in my experience. I wouldn't have finished many books without that step, and especially without the extra one of talking it out. Great point.

Richard Herley: I find this to be true too, many times. Great advice.

Posted by: Megan Peterson | Tuesday November 13, 2012 at 7:39 PM

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