Overcoming Writer’s Block

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The Terminator, 1984, Hemdale Film

A lot of times, I read about getting stuck during writing, or writer’s block. To be honest, this is something I rarely experience, because once I start writing a story or a script, I am pretty well prepared to rush through the act of writing. There are some things I usually do, which make the writing the most fun part of a project. Like playing around with your characters and immersing in the world you are creating. In this blog post, I will share with you some of the things I do that (as a nice side effect) prevent that writer’s block could happen in the first place. Maybe some of these could be helpful for you too. πŸ™‚

  1. Do your homework first

There is a great discussion about whether you should line out your plot before you start writing. I have heard, that Stephen King hates knowing where his story will lead him before he starts writing. This is surely a matter of character and taste, I prefer nailing the structure of the story down (playing around with different story paths) and then start writing. It was not something I started doing intentionally, it just happened – or happens. As I wrote my first scripts with a scriptwriting software called celtx, I used its built in index card feature. It would allow you to write a note or a short sentence onto a virtual index card, which would become a scene once you flesh your script out. One index card, one scene. So when I start writing a story or a script, I know beforehand how many scenes I have to write in order to get the first draft done. This is a very straightforward method of writing, I think. That way, when you sit down at your desk in the morning (or at night), you do not have to waste energy on thoughts like:

Ok, what do I have to do now? Where did I leave off? Shall I write Thomas getting into the cave, or the Celvon brothers getting eaten my cannibals?

You just check the sentence of the first index card that is due today and have fun with it.

celtx index cards for a children's book fairytale by John E. Brito

And the best thing is: It still allows you to put in new scenes or delete those the story does not need.

I believe that by working that way, you avoid getting stuck in the first place, because you get into some kind of autopilot mode.

  1. Take off the pressure

I already hinted it above. Most of the time we can get anxious because we believe that the things we do have to be perfect. On the first shot. This is wrong.

Of course you should work as efficently as possible and try not to waste any time. But your aim should be to get your first draft done. It is ok if it is not perfect yet. No re-reading of the chapters you wrote the day before, no correcting. You keep on writing, finish your first draft, leave it on the table for one week and then make a better version out of what you have. I do not want to lie to you. Rewriting can be a pain, but that is something you will deal with later.

Taking off the pressure frees you and allows you to be creative – in my opinion, the opposite of writer’s block. It is like allowing yourself to make some mistakes. You can fix them later. Really.

  1. Take a walk, and take your notebook with you

If the beforementioned things do not help, if you are stuck in the middle of a scene and you cannot make it work, and you have been stuck for two hours straight, then get out. Take an umbrella if it is raining (rain is no excuse) and take a walk. Walking helps when you want to solve a problem. Just the act of walking makes you feel like you are moving forward. And sooner or later some new ideas will find their way to you.

horror short film web series backstory

Just don’t forget to take your notebook with you to write down some notes of the story-related (!) things that come to your mind. Try not to talk to anybody, do not go to the cafΓ© where your friends usually meet as you can get distracted (too much). It’s just you, your world, your characters. It could be that the new ideas will not be the perfect solutions for your story problems, but there is a great chance that they will lead you to the answers you are looking for.

  1. If a scene is boring to write, it will be boring to read

Sometimes there are scenes which feel like they just do not want be written. Like they have a mind of their own and just do not want you to create them, no matter what you do. Or you are bored just by thinking about writing this scene. That is a warning sign. Listen to it. In most cases it means that the scene does not work (because the characters would not behave the way you envisioned the scene) or that the scene is boring.

If it is boring, you have two options:

  • If it can be left out – do not write the scene at all.
  • If the scene is necessary, because it gives a bit of information that pushes the story forward, combine it with another scene, or find a more interesting way to get the information across. Just to show you how this can be done in an interesting way, check out the following clip from Terminator, written by James Cameron:

This scene takes place after the first attack of the Terminator on Sarah Connor. There is a lot to be explained: the world’s future, what a cyborg is (remember, this film was released in the 80s) and what the cyborg’s mission is. But instead of just showing us talking heads, the information is passed through during an action scene, while they are being chased. How cool is that?

  1. Sleep a lot, and well

Making decisions takes a lot of will power. When you write, you make a lot of decisions.

Will Rick enter a house in an abandoned village immediately through the main entrance, or will he knock at the backdoor before he enters to see if there are any undead lurking inside? Will he have an axe in his hand, or a knife?

A lot of decisions.

And when you are tired your will power usually goes down. Which means that writing will get harder for you. So always try to get enough sleep. I know that most of us, with our obligations and duties, have a hard time to do the things we love. Most of us will work on their projects in their spare time, which usually means sleeping less. Getting enough sleep is not as easy as it sounds. Still, try!

  1. Swith off all distractions

I already mentioned this in my blog post about my creative saboteurs. Firing up facebook, checking your email, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the like is a no-go if you want to get things done. Surfing and skipping through dozens of extremely important, useful and life changing bits of information (note that this is what your creative saboteur wants you to believe) will make you tired, because you will make a lot of decisions while you are doing so.

Shall I follow this link? Shall I read this article? I could send this to a friend via email, and share that through twitter. Should I open this link from my friend’s facebook page which leads me to this singing cat? Oh, oh, there is a video with a singing cat sitting on a singing dog. And on the cat there is a dancing squirrel…

πŸ™‚

When I have to get a task done the first thing I do (after getting myself a cup of coffee) is work on the task. The other things can wait until I am tired (or I set aside a certain amount of time on a certain day to check my accounts). But if you do it the other way around, if you surf the social media wave you will be tired even before you have started doing the things you really have to do.

  1. Promise yourself a reward

As mentioned in this blog post, giving yourself a little reward (here and then) can help you get through a hard task. Hey, I forgot that I wanted to reward myself with a tiny steel golem, or I ment, Hulk Buster, today. πŸ™‚

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Infinity Hulk Buster Β© Marvel and Disney

What is your experience with writer’s block? And what are your methods to overcome it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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12 responses to “Overcoming Writer’s Block

  1. I get over writer’s block by looking at notes I take, or by doodling and scribbling ideas down. It gives me a reference to pick up from in whatever I’m writing. Most of the time, it comes down to plain old fashioned sitting down and just writing.

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  2. Great advice there for writers block. Yeah, having a break can often do the world of good, and then you go back to it with a fresh perspective on thing’s. Also promising yourself a reward can be a great incentive as well.

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      • Oh gosh, this is a very late response, but thank you for this comment! You really inspire me to continue working on my projects and get more into writing!! Thank you for all the advice and all those interesting posts!

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      • No problem, my friend. I know, life is crazy and most of the days do not have enough hours to do all the things we have to do. I appreciate, that you take the time and stop by this blog. And I appreciate your comments, whenever you have time. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey John,

    Excellent post; I especially liked your index card idea – it’s a nice way to stay on track with your progress as well as making sure you have a general idea of what to write next! πŸ™‚

    I think the best way to combat writer’s block is just to force yourself to write as much as you can by setting mini-goals and try to beat your previous goal, so that it doesn’t become stale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello angrybookworm!
      Yes, I think you are right. In my case, it also helps me to know how many cards I have to write untill I am done for the day, and wenn I am really stuck I always tell myself: “Hey, that is just the first draft, I can rewrite it later.” :)))

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