You are stuck. Everything has been planned and worked out. You know where the story should be heading, but nothing is happening. Your characters won’t cooperate and you’re not quite getting the scene to ‘set’ properly. So, now you proclaim yourself blocked and you jump on YouTube or scroll through your favourite blog instead of writing. Never fear, here are some tips on getting unstuck that have worked for me.
Understand the Block
Sometimes it helps to understand what’s preventing you from writing. I don’t mean “look for excuses” or jump off the deep end of mindfulness or something. This is about ‘reasons’ over ‘blame’. It is important to realize that ‘blocks’ (or a tendency to procrastinate) comes from a place of fear or insecurity.
This sounds heavy, but it’s almost always true that you can’t type another word because you are feeling these things. Rather than trying to nurse yourself into a better state of being with snacks, social media, video games, or obsessive cleaning, you should figure out what’s making you feel that way.
It may be that you’re worried about some aspect of the work, for example. Writing a novel is a big project that won’t reap rewards for a very long time – this makes it difficult to keep yourself motivated. This is especially true if you spend your time wondering how many times you have to rewrite something or whether or not it will be published.
Your fear could be caused by something more concrete/abstract than my example. But, whatever it is, the important thing to know why you are feeling a certain way. This knowledge won’t make the feelings disappear, but it goes a long way to understand how you feel and why you choose not to write.
Yes, you read that last bit correctly. Not writing is a choice. It’s a painful thing to accept. This is why we look for excuses or something/someone to blame. This is never healthy. Learn what cases your anxiety and try to address it.
The Trouble with Inspiration
How many times have you told yourself this: “I can’t write because I don’t feel inspired“? I’m guilty and I know you are too. The sad thing is: this is another lie we tell ourselves. We love to think that inspiration comes to us in a flash of lights, on a silver platter, written in the sky, or produced with the help of a company of angels.
This simply doesn’t happen.
Now, you’re probably thinking: “Wait, I’ve been inspired before, I remember what it felt like“. Of course you have. That flash of insight is probably what made you want to be a writer in the first place, right? You’ll never forget that spark of fire that made you burn the ink or dent the keyboard – pages and pages filled with inspired creativity.
What you would have forgotten, however, is what you were doing at the time. What triggered that feeling? It wasn’t a sign from above and it certainly wasn’t a muse’s whisper. I bet you were working on something else, reading something else, listening to something epic, or watching something cool.
Is this ringing any bells?
How many times were you working on a short story or novel and you suddenly have an idea for something entirely new? At least once, I wager.
It’s a secret known to professional writers the world over: the act of creativity creates inspiration. That sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Surely, it should be the other way round, right? You feel inspired first and then you write, right?
Sit down and write. Do the work. It can be hell, I know, but if you don’t you simply won’t be inspired.
If you’re hopelessly stuck take a step back, write on a secondary project, or read something else. Sometimes all you need is a good book or a good movie. Heck, a badly written story can also be inspirational – especially if you think that you can do it better.
Other Ways to get Unstuck
Here are some tricks that I’ve employed to get unstuck:
- Read your work out loud to yourself (sometimes ‘hearing’ the prose triggers something).
- Write down what doesn’t happen next (this one works all the time).
- Read an old favourite (perhaps there’s a text that inspired you to pick up the quill – revisit it).
- Set yourself a word limit – then, when you reach it, stop, even if you have more to write (you’ll be eager to get back to it the next day).
- Set a writing time (this can be tricky if you have a busy life, but you need to adapt – make the time sacred and consistent).
I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for getting unstuck. Please add them to the comments below. Moreover, if anything I’ve said here helps you out, please let me know.
The Last Word
Sometimes listening to the experiences of other writers and artists can go a long way to allay your fears and get you unstuck. I’ve listened to countless interviews and talks by successful writers. I wanted to know what ‘makes a writer’ so to speak. There’s some great stuff out there, so I recommend scouring the internet for interviews with writers you like (or even those you don’t).
There are also some useful books on the craft of writing (I will list them below). I’ve found some guidance in those.
Be that as it may, there is no substitute for the best teachers of all: actual books. This is what you’re trying to make. Novels. No matter the genre, the best way to learn how to write (other than actually sitting down and doing it) it to read. See how others have done it. Sometimes even just sitting in a bookstore or library is enough to get the creative juices flowing.
Bookstores and libraries might be slightly difficult to get to during these troubled times. Luckily, Audible has you covered with two free audiobooks for new members. Audiobooks can be a great way to get to grips with the voice of a story. Reading to each other (friends or family) is also a beautiful thing – trust me.
Alternatively, you can come back here. I post reviews, writing advice, and other nerdy things on a weekly basis. Please consider subscribing and sharing with others. If you really like it, consider becoming a Patron – this really helps me out and ensures that I keep doing this.
Hope you get unstuck!