SYMPTOMS: The words won’t come. The clock ticks, the shadows shrink and stretch again, and somewhere, a spider scuttles across the ceiling. But still, the words won’t come. I lift my fingers to the keyboard, pause, then let them drop to my lap. A scream builds inside my chest. Words, they are only words – type something, type anything! Dmkvnekfnienomknjsaono12i34cn8. UGH! In frustration, I throw back my head and cry out to the muses, Kalliope, where are you?!?
DIAGNOSIS: Writer’s Block
- Take slow, deep, calming breaths. Resist the urge to throw your laptop across the room. This is counterproductive.
- Go for a run. Ride a bike. Exercise gets the blood flowing, possibly even to your empty brain.
- Write something else. Sometimes, taking a break from the novel to write something from a different genre may stimulate creativity and give you a fresh sense of perspective. Try a poem, a persuasive essay, or a shallow, humorous blog post.
- Step away from the computer screen and get out into the world. Observe and talk to people. Yes, real, live people. Other people can be interesting and inspiring. Thought: In order to create art that imitates life, one must actually live and observe life.
- Get some sleep. Yes, we writers tend to think that the muse only comes to whisper in our ears during the wee hours of the night. But the truth is, inspiration can come at any time, and we are better prepared to receive it when well-rested.
- Read books. Most good writers were inspired by reading the works of other good writers. Read for pleasure. Read to learn new techniques. Read something outside of your genre comfort zone. Fill your brain with great words, and maybe then, your own words will begin to flow.
- Revel in the Shitty First Draft. Your first draft does not need to be perfect. I repeat – your first draft does not need to be perfect. Aim for perfection, and you will go nowhere fast. So what if your character is unlikeable? So what if the dialogue is crap? So what if you have written 5,000 worthless words that no one would want to read? This is a first draft, for goodness’ sake! Write the whole novel, even if it sucks. It is during the editing process that your real story will arise.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life