I have never experienced writer’s block. I’ve never just stalled out, not knowing what to write, not knowing what comes next. I’ve never looked at the last words I’ve written and wondered where they would lead.
But a lot of writers do. A lot of writers fear not only the blank page, but the full one as well.
I think that part of my lack of blockage comes from how I approach writing. I don’t necessarily see it as my art. I don’t wait for inspiration to strike me (though I embrace it when it does). I don’t write the good ideas out and leave the bad ones for later.
I treat writing like the job I want it to be, pounding out words regardless of quality until I get in my groove. I can always go back and fix the subpar sections during revision, but my way of avoiding writer’s block is to never give it an opportunity to set in.
That’s not the only way to beat it, though.
I’m pretty bad at outlining. I’ve tried, but I invariably get stuck in the process because there’s no real characterization going on, and to me, the characters drive the plot more than the plot drives the plot.
JA Konrath says quite the opposite. He says that outlining is imperative and that all the hard work that goes into figuring out the outline is saved when you actually start writing the novel.
Once the story is down on paper (in outline form) all you need to do is add the bells and whistles; the action, dscription, and dialog. You don’t need to worry about what happens next because you already know. That frees up your mind to create characters and settings and scenes without having to wonder if the book is working, or if there’s enough conflict.
I am currently working on an outline for my embryonic project Chance Happenings, and it’s hard. I find myself enjoying the fact that I’ve planned even a little ahead, but I find it frustrating because the outline itself doesn’t allow my characters’ nuances to come out and have any “Aha! Moments.” So far it’s lead to some frustrations on my part of the well-that-doesn’t-make-sense variety, but I can definitely see it’s use.
Outlining is probably the best way to avoid writer’s block. By the time you have a whole novel plotted scene-by-scene, you’ve conquered any blockage you might have. All that’s left is the writing itself, and that’s the easy part. You’re just expanding ideas you’ve already written down.
Plowing Through to the End
I make notes when I need to, but the experience of writing my first novel was simple: I sat down and wrote the book from beginning to end, scene by scene, 2000 words at a time. I went back after I wrote the ending and added in a few key scenes I recognized I had omitted, but for the most part, it was an easy way to avoid writer’s block.
If characters went somewhere I didn’t want them to, I could fix it later, during revision. I never allowed myself to sit and wonder what happened next because I forced myself to write.
By doing so, I eliminated what I consider a main cause of writer’s block: overthinking.
The more I think about what is going to happen, the less sure I am of it. So when I had no idea, I forced myself to stay at my computer, not look at blogs, not check Facebook, not play a video game, and write whatever I could get down. Sometimes, it was crap that I deleted and rewrote. Othertimes, it was something pretty good that would turn into gold during revision.
But if I gave into my insecurity about not being sure about what came next, that wouldn’t have happened, and I would not have been able to finish my novel in just 35 days of writing. I know I have a lot to be revised, but I expected that, planned for it. If I had stopped and not forced myself to write every day, I might have less revision to do, but I can’t guarantee I’d even be finished.
I overthink everything, and by not allowing myself that privilege, I kept writer’s block at bay. By never giving it a place to get foothold, I never had to worry about what I was going to write next.
Have a Stopping Point in Mind
There’s one way to avoid the fear of the blank page: after you start writing, never leave yourself a blank page to come back to. You can’t do anything but start with a blank page when you first begin a manuscript, but after that, there’s no excuse for it.
What I mean is that starting a new scene, a new chapter, a new anything is hard. Finding the words to make the white space disappear can be gut wrenching.
But if you make sure that you stop writing mid-scene—mid-conversation is fun, too—then you don’t have to worry about it. You won’t ever start from scratch. You will always have the momentum you built up from the previous session driving along your writing from the moment you sit down.
If you always stop writing at a scene break, a chapter break, a PoV switch, then you’re always starting from the beginning, always completing the cycle every session. And that may work for you, but I know from my experience that starting up a scene from it’s midpoint is a lot easier to fall into than starting a whole new scene. Because you already know where it’s going, you remove the fear of the unknown that instigates much writer’s block.
During the course of writing my novel, I did it both ways. Sometimes, I couldn’t make myself stop and went on to the end of the chapter. And almost every time, the next day’s writing was hard. Heaven help me if I did that on a Friday and had to start a fresh chapter on Monday. That’s as close to writer’s block as I ever got.
So if you’re one of the writers who regularly gets writer’s block, or if the fear of the blank page is what keeps you from writing, don’t feel bad.
Don’t think that writing isn’t for you. And for goodness sakes, don’t give up.
At some point, every writer gets blocked. If none of the above workarounds fix your case, then try working on something else, another project. But don’t give up. It happens to the best of us—which is why it hasn’t happened to me yet, ba dum ching.