THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Scaling Writer’s Block Mountain and How to Get Back to Basecamp

I’m talking this week about the mountainous challenge that is writer’s block.

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Most writers I know have experienced this at some point in their lives, some far more often than others (yours truly included) and some perhaps on specific projects where the finish line seemed to move farther and farther away each time they looked. Of course, there are some writers who don’t believe writer’s block is even a thing, but let’s not discuss those wily wizards here, because they clearly have magical powers and we should avoid them at all costs for fear of feeling even more useless than we already do (I’m joking of course, because they might just have a point, but we’ll leave that for another post).

I’ve experienced writer’s block (the curse, the plague, or whatever fancy name you wish to call it) throughout practically all of my writing life. I’m not sure there’s one project where this hasn’t been an issue, apart from maybe some naff short stories I wrote way back in the day. All the full-length works I’ve produced on Wattpad have been affected by writer’s block at some time or the other, sometimes for fairly short periods that I’ve managed to get over with a bit of perseverance, and sometimes for lengthy periods of time when I was left panicking that I was never going to write again and that I should probably just give up.

Now, this has always been partly due to my writing schedule, or lack of it, because sometimes when life just gets a bit huge and horrible and hectic, finding the time to write and focusing my mind on it, becomes something I can only dream about in some Disney-inspired fantasy where small tweeting birds and cute woodland animals clean my house, run all my errands, look after my family and do my day-job for me, leaving me time and peace to be able to write. Once life gets in the way, I can find it difficult to find my flow again and get back on track. I’m sure this is the same for other people, or maybe you do have time to write, but the words just won’t come. Maybe you write full-time (you lucky bastards) or maybe you have a set routine every day where you allocate time for writing, but no matter how hard you stare at your laptop screen, you come away with nothing but frustration and a desire to fire the afore-mentioned laptop out of a cannon (don’t do that, it won’t help you).

So, what do we do when writer’s block hits? How do we climb the mountain?

There’s many different ways to overcome it, and as with everything, one size definitely does NOT fit all. Often it takes trial and error, what works for one, will not work for another, and also, what works once for you, might not work again, but here’s a few methods that seem to be the most popular when I asked fellow writers on Twitter last week.

  1. Music – this proved to be a real tried and tested method of combatting writer’s block and it’s definitely one I use myself. Making a playlist inspired by your story is a great way to find your way back to your WIP. Whether you have chosen songs that are specific to your characters, or whether you prefer to listen to mood music that sums up the ‘feel’ of your story, making a playlist can really help give you a sense of what you’re writing about. I play my lists on the commute to work and when I’m doing mundane shit, like the household chores or walking around the supermarket. Listening to music while you write can also help kick-start the inspiration. I listened to classical (Eric Whitacre’s Deep Field) when I was writing the final scenes of Hedoschism, because it made me feel like I was watching a movie adaptation of my story, something I find always works for me when writing action scenes in particular (I need to see it, hear it, smell it). Whether it’s Little Mix, Nirvana, or Cliff Richard (okay, maybe not Cliff), music can definitely fuel the writing fire.
  2. Read – okay, now this one intrigues me, because quite often in the past, when I’ve really been struggling to write, reading something else – particularly when it was a good book – only served to make me more miserable and compound this idea that I lacked any talent whatsoever and should probably fire the laptop out of the cannon again. It took me a long time to get over this fear that reading somebody else’s work when writing would lead to nothing but certain doom. These days if I’m not reading when I’m working on a story, it’s usually because I’m crazy busy and want to remain focused, however I do know writers who won’t read the same genre as the story they’re writing because it encourages the same feeling of inferiority and leads ultimately to pointless comparisons where they only come off the loser. Reading figured highly on the list of things to help beat writer’s block when I put the question out there to others. Some said the emotions other books inspired in them, helped in turn to inspire them to write. Reading something completely different to what you’re writing can also help, or even reading through your entire WIP from the start can help pull you back into the story and work out where to go next.
  3. Write something – anything! – Okay, now this I LOVE. Love love love. It seems a weird idea, doesn’t it? Writing when you can’t write? However, often writer’s block doesn’t stop you from writing altogether, it just prevents you from writing the story you’re currently working on. Switching to something else can help you find your way over the mountain because it brings back that sense of self-belief and motivation that you were missing. Quite often I combat writer’s block by starting a completely new project or messing around with a new idea (weirdly enough, Playing Dead came about because I was stuck while writing the last of the Dark Sanctuary series and Hedoschism came about because I was stuck writing the last of The Whitechapel Chronicles). Write just three words. Or ten. Or fifty. Write poetry. Write a blog post. Write that YA paranormal romance you’ve secretly been harbouring a desire to write. Quite a few writers I spoke to mentioned flicking back and forth between multiple existing projects to help inspire them (and to those people I’m in awe, as it’s rare that I have more than two on the go and the second will be barely anything substantial at all). If you are one of those magicians able to have multiple projects on the go, it’s great to be able to move to another one every time one becomes particularly difficult. It keeps your words flowing and your mind moving. Others have said just write something, no matter how irrelevant it seems, or indeed, no matter how bloody hard it seems – sometimes a dogged perseverance is the only way to get through the wall.
  4. Research – now this was an interesting one that never occurred to me as a way to combat writer’s block, but was something that I did without even realising it was helping me find my way back to writing again. Researching can take you on all sorts of weird and wonderful journeys. One minute you’re reading about Archangels, the next, you’re writing copious notes about the Library of Alexandria or drug abuse (yes, I did this). I’ve got notebooks full of research notes and it has, at times, inspired me to write again, whether that be for a new story idea or using the research to write a new chapter of an existing story.
  5. Plotting – I’ve never been one to plot out an entire story before writing, instead choosing to plot maybe 4-5 chapters at a time, write them, plot again, and so on. If you’re not a pre-plotter and you are experiencing difficulties with how to take your WIP forward, taking some time to plan out the next block of chapters, or indeed the rest of your story, can be a great way to help you keep the words flowing. Not knowing where your next chapters are heading can fuel writer’s block and sometimes, just writing a few plot notes (it doesn’t even have to be extensive planning) can help you visualise the next steps for your characters.
  6. Watch a movie/TV – surely this is just pure procrastination, I hear you cry! And yes, you’re probably right if it only serves to take you farther away from your WIP, but one of my Twiter contributors mentioned this was something she does – watching a cheesy romcom, while writing at the same time. Now, I have a tendency to believe she might just be one of those wily wizards I spoke about earlier, because I do usually get more distracted when the TV is on, but, like I said, one size does not fit all and if it works, it works. Personally, I would use the procrastination time watching TV, to help give me a bit of a break from the pressure of stressing over my writing, in the hope that it will take my mind off it and give me a chance to breathe a little before I come back to my WIP, so however you do it, I happen to think there could be something in this suggestion that works.
  7. Brainstorm with friends! – because what’s a writer without their writing community? This is one I get behind whole-heartedly and I use this often to get over writer’s block, particularly if I’m struggling to see a way forward or untangle a plot thread that seems destined only for the deepest, darkest oubliette. Bouncing ideas off your friends (whether writers or readers) is a fantastic way of shining a light on the path ahead. When writing Hedoschism, I often called upon my nearest and dearest writers and betas to help me unravel the mess I’d made of things, to suggest alternatives, kick me in the shins when I came up with something stupid, or to just bolster the better ideas and tell me I’d done good. Writing can be a solitary and lonely artform when hibernating in your writing caves and internalising all your stresses and anxieties about your story – but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a wealth of help and support out there that can give you the kick up the butt you need to climb the mountainous hurdle of writer’s block and I know I couldn’t have finished most of my stories without my invaluable friends.

What do you think about the above suggestions? Do you have any tips and hints I haven’t covered above? How do you overcome writer’s block mountain?

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I’ll leave you with this little precious nugget of gold sent to me by Gerard Smith:

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Huge thanks to my amazing contributors on Twitter for all their tips and advice on how they combat writer’s block: 

Morgana D. James @MorganaDJames www.morganas-bookbox.com

Rodney V. Smith @RodneyVSmith www.wattpad.com/user/RodneyVSmith

Zeena Gosrani @zeenagos www.wattpad.com/user/NeverTrustADuck

Gerard Smith @francisxyzk www.wattpad.com/user/francisxyzk

Alison Archer @AlisonJArcher

Vee Lozada @BecauseItsVee www.wattpad.com/user/LittleVee

Thord D. Hedengren @tdh www.tdh.se

Madhurima Sappati @MSappatti www.thatbroketraveller.com

Shaun Allan @singularityspnt www.wattpad.com/user/shaunallan

Rebecca Robertson @rebeccajade_ www.rebeccarobertsonbooks.com

Jenny G. Rankin, PHD @JennyGRankin www.jennyrankin.com

Gary Jarvis @garyjarvis1976 www.wattpad.com/user/garyjarvis1976

Kate Y @kateBYac www.wattpad.com/user/MissKatey

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