Writer’s Block: Tips and Tricks

“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”
-Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I haven’t had writer’s block for a while now.

I really, really hope that I didn’t just jinx things by writing that. Looks nervously over her shoulder to make sure the muse is still occupied playing bubble shooter. Types faster.

writers_blockNote: I define writer’s block as a state of mind where I really want to write, but I look at the blank screen and the words aren’t there in my mind. I stare at the screen and can’t think of anything to write. I may not end up writing as many words as I want on a day like that, but it doesn’t stop me writing. In order, these are the things I try.

First thing: I back away from the keyboard and pick up the pen. I like love my fine-nib Lamy fountain pen. I used to suffer from tendinitis and played around with different pens to see if that helped. With a good fountain pen, the ink flows easily, without having to press down or use any force, and I love using them. But more than that, my brain is old enough to remember life before computers. Heck, when I was growing up, not only did we walk to school up hill both ways, a typewriter was something you didn’t tackle until you were in middle school. So I learned to write with a pen in my hand, and somehow going back to that can make it easier to write when I’m staring at a blank screen and the blinking cursor taunts me with my futility.

Second thing: If I’m still having problems, I look at the scene immediately before the one I’m stuck on. (I’m assuming you’re not having writer’s block in the opening scene. If you are, either a)try writing a later scene or b) try writing a different story. Don’t bang your head against that particular wall.)

Most of the time, if I have problems with the current scene, it’s because of how I ended the one before it. I usually get back into writing the current scene if I change how the previous one ends. Or I add a transition sentence to get me into the new scene. Usually, I change how it ends. If you get off course a little bit, it’s easy to correct. But if you don’t correct your course, the story can veer off into a direction that leads nowhere.

Did I mention all of this is advice that applies to me? Your mileage may vary. Try it. If it doesn’t work, aim an opprobrious epithet in my direction and try something else.

Third thing: If revising the previous scene doesn’t work, then I pick up my toys and go home. Or, if I’m at home, I go to the library. Or the park. Somewhere that’s not where I was when I was stuck. Sometimes, I’ve written great scenes in a busy sports bar with twelve different televisions blasting out different games. Sometimes, I need to write in the quietest corner of the quiet room at my local library. Changing my location can shake something loose if I’m stuck.

Fourth thing: Change the POV. Instead of writing the scene from the heroine’s point of view, try writing it from the hero’s. Or the antagonist’s. Often writer’s block can strike when the middle of the story starts to sag. Hilari Bell wrote a great blog post about villains, and how their arc affects the middle of the story.

Fifth thing: I write one sentence. Hemingway’s advice when stuck was to “write the truest sentence you know.” I often find that what I’m blocked about is not the next sentence I have to write, it’s something that happens farther on in the scene and I’m proactively stressing about it. I usually can write one single dratted sentence. And then I can write another one. They add up.

TL;DR, all of the above boils down to this: if you’re stuck, change something. If that doesn’t work, change something else. Lather, rinse, repeat. If something sparks the writing to flow again, you’re set. If not, then at least you made some use of your time by learning what tricks don’t work for you, so you can avoid trying them next time. It beats looking at a blank screen.

2 thoughts on “Writer’s Block: Tips and Tricks

  1. Mun Haerin says:

    I haven’t encountered writers’ block yet, as I haven’t started working on my first draft. At the moment, I’m so keen to stop outlining and start drafting that I find it difficult to believe anyone could feel discouraged from writing. I’ll probably experience it at some point, though, since everyone else does!

    • Evelyn Hill says:

      I remember some authors claiming that they never suffered from writer’s block and don’t believe it really exists. (I’m trying to remember who said this. It’s bothering me that I can’t quite recall.) Maybe you’ll be one of that group!

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