Whatever you write, there will be times when the words don’t come easily. ‘Writer’s block’ sounds suspiciously like another name for procrastination, and it can be. But it can also be a very real thing. It means long minutes or hours staring at a flashing cursor and a blank page, feeling unable to do anything about it.
As someone who writes for a living, as well as for pleasure, I’ve had to learn how to write even when it’s the last thing I feel like doing. I don’t have to work on my novel if the words aren’t flowing. But I do have to meet client deadlines. ‘Writer’s block’ is about a good of an excuse for missing deadlines as ‘the dog ate my laptop’ would be.
I will admit to occasionally using the writer’s block excuse to myself. Usually when writing my novel feels like typing through treacle, and the alternative of good friends and a cosy pub is on offer. But as long as I find the novel word count creeping up more often than I don’t, I can live with that.
But what about all the times when not writing just isn’t an option?
How to beat writer’s block then?
1) Just f***ing write
It doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not. Having bad words on the page is far, far better than having no words. Bad words can be edited into good ones, no words can’t. And I’ve never heard of editor’s block, have you?
2) Set an easy goal
If writing is hard, make it easier. Don’t feel you have to write for three hours straight. Break down your writing goals into chunks. If I’m working on something for a client and struggling to find the inspiration I need to do it well, I might decide I’ll just write the first paragraph. As often as not, that’s enough to give me inspiration for the rest. If it’s not, I’ll do something else and go back to it later.
If I’m working on fiction, I’ll often give myself a 10 or 20 minute period to write as much as I can, a technique I learned at Brighton Writers Retreat. I’ll take a break, and then go back in. And I often find I write more this way than I would in twice the time if I were writing without a time goal.
3) Don’t write up against a deadline
Deadlines can be great motivators. But don’t leave yourself to write everything at the last minute, just because you know you can. You’ll get something written that way, but it’ll be stressful, and it won’t be your best work. I learned the hard way how panic-inducing doing that can be. You don’t know if you’ll be ill, or your computer will melt down, in those crucial pre-deadline hours. And that in itself can give you a bad case of writer’s block – you won’t be able to see the words through the fear.
I always plan on getting client work done ahead of time. That way I’ve got some disaster contingency time built in if I need it. If I don’t, I get the work done early.
As for fiction, I found myself on stage, reading a story I’d speed written the night before it was due, to a room full of people at Rattle Tales. As I was reading, I realised that while it was good, it wasn’t as good as I could have made it. That’s not a great place to be – and I’ve avoided last minute story writing ever since.
I reckon I’m pretty good at avoiding and managing writer’s block…but I’m always up for learning more. Let me know if you’ve any favourite ways to beat the block: email email@example.com, or tweet them to @alicecuninghame.