Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Overcoming Writer's Block

By Linda Adams
©2002, Linda Adams


If you've ever had writer's block, you know how frustrating it can be.  You look at a blank computer screen and simply can't come up with anything.  It can even be like a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger.  "I can't come up with a good idea" becomes "I'll never come up with a good idea again."  What can you do to overcome it?

Basic Techniques

The first thing to remember is not to become discouraged.  It's not going to last forever, and in fact, it may be easy to resolve.  Here are a few techniques you can experiment with to get the creative juices flowing again.

1. Try setting the scene or chapter aside for a few days and let your mind work on it.  Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective.

2. Try writing something different.  If you're working on a novel, try writing a nonfiction article or a short story.  Often you can learn something new from different kinds of writing.

3. Write freehand.  Just get a blank piece of paper and write whatever comes to mind.  Don't worry about how it sounds--just follow the direction your mind takes.

4.  Read books, magazines, and newspapers.  Sometimes the mind needs to be fed with outside sources for inspiration.  Pick a page in the newspaper and read the article in the upper left corner.  Write down what feelings you experience and why.  Now imagine what it would be like to feel the opposite way.

These are but a few ideas, and there are probably many more you can find.  But what if none of them work?  Then you'll need to take the next step and try to figure out what further steps will help free your creativity.  Knowing the cause of the block can often help in finding a solution.

Getting Ideas

We'll start with something many writers find elusive--getting ideas.  Everything you come up with sounds too clichéd, been done before, or just isn't any good.  Or is it?

Some writers place a lot of value on the idea, as if discovering the right one will transform the story into a best seller.  They come up with one, then discard it because it isn't good enough.  Then they try another one, but it's been done before.  How could you not become frustrated if you're doing this?

The idea isn't valuable.  It's just a seed from which your novel will grow; anyone can come up with one.  Just tell someone you're a writer, and they'll immediately say, "Hey, I have this great idea..."

Nor is an idea original.  Everything's been done before.  After all, people have been writing stories since man could write and telling stories for even longer.  Trying to find an idea that hasn't been done before is a very difficult goal to attain.

Instead, what makes the story unique is what you bring to it.  Each of us has a myriad of experiences and skills, all different.  Two writers could take exactly the same idea and come up with two entirely different stories--and you'd probably never guess they were based on the same idea.

Don't frustrate yourself into writer's block by trying to come up with the perfect idea.  It's not the most important part of the story--it's only the beginning of it.

Getting Stuck

The crumpled paper in your trashcan is threatening to overflow.  The pages contain fragments of rejected passages, scenes, or chapters.  No matter what you do, you can't seem to make it work.  What's wrong?

You'll need to do some troubleshooting to determine what's going on.  Sometimes we can be our worst enemy, and sometimes we can be our best ally--and both can cause writer's block!

Worst Enemies:  Your worst enemies are bad habits.  Things like continuously rewriting the same passages over and over or being overly critical of your work.  With these kinds of habits, you can set yourself up for frustration that can cause writer's block.

If you're doing these kinds of things, set a single goal--finish the draft.  Ignore the voices telling you that you should go back and rewrite this because it's not quite right; turn your back on the ones telling you that the story is terrible.  Remind yourself that it's only a first draft and that you can change things later on, after you've reached the end.  You may even find, upon review, that the story really wasn't as bad as those voices thought they were.

Best Allies: One of your best allies is your subconscious because it tells you something is wrong when you become stuck.  It may be preventing you from going any further because it knows you're going in the wrong direction.  You might try something as simple as using a different point of view or as drastic as abandoning the entire book.  You do, however, have to be willing to throw out a scene, chapter, or even the book if it really isn't working.  Yes, you've spent a lot of time on it, and it's a temptation to want to use everything.  But if it's keeping you stuck at page 100, it's not doing you any good.

Think about how you can do the section differently.  Come up with ten diverse solutions.  Try some from another point of view, with different characters -- whatever you can think of.  Even if you never use it, each effort gets you one step closer to a successful book.

Writer's block is something we impose on ourselves by striving for the impossible, being over critical, and even just trying to solve a problem.  Be aware of what can cause it so you can use that knowledge to overcome it.