What is your purpose when you write? Is it just to share your thoughts, to express your dreams and desires or to entertain? We all write for many reasons but a lot of us write so our voice can be heard. We want others to be moved by the characters we lovingly gave life to. We want our readers to get caught up in the story. As writers we aim for our readers to disappear in the imaginary world we create (if fiction is your thing). Or we want our non fiction pieces to resonate with the public and to connect us. There are characters that need to be found and introduced. But what happens when the well runs dry so to speak? When we as writers hit the wall and find ourselves facing the dreaded writer’s block? How can we dig ourselves out?
When I have an idea for a story or anything I wish I write, it seems to sneak into my head. It begins to runs around like a flashing marquee until I find a moment to jot it down. From there it either stays an idea or I use it to begin the writing process. This usually consists of making coffee, a snack, and lastly a prayer that this will fill up a great deal of pages. Sometimes it stops as quickly as it came, other times I can’t stop writing until my fingers no longer straighten. Like you, I have found myself staring at the imaginary roadblock in my head. I can’t figure out how to continue and my character’s are of no help. They seem to sit back in the corners of my mind and wait to be summoned. Sometimes they stay back there for a few hours and other times they remain there for a decade. Our lives take different turns everyday and unfortunately we have to say goodbye temporarily to our literary babies and trudge on with life. I go through bursts at times. I sit down for days and spill my guts (figuratively of course) and other times I stare at the blinking cursor on my computer, it also just waiting for me to begin again. I have had a block on some manuscripts for years. Others get written in a fury and I am done in a few days. The point is, when we reach the end before it is due, how can we try to get out of it?
Not everything works for everyone. However, in my case I find these to work the best for me when I am encountering trouble finding my muse. I hope that if you also find yourself staring at that intimidating wall these can help lift you up and over it.
Walking: Walking clears your mind but can also give you a visual on your surroundings. Now is the time to observe and describe what is around you. Take a notebook or use your phone and snap some pictures. I am always taking pictures of houses that intrigue me for a story scene, street names, nature etc. Once while staying in a small town in England, I chased a bumble bee around a garden just to get the perfect shot. That consumed my time for about 2 hours . Sure I looked like a nutcase, but I got a great picture and a story to tell with it . And it was a damn good shot! It is a good mental exercise to write down things you have seen to help improve your vocabulary by describing everything in great detail.
Reading a book: Whether it is a chapter or an entire novel, sometimes reading someone else’s words can help shape your own (note:this does NOT mean to plagiarize someone’s work. Think more of their style of writing not their story. Plagiarism is one of the most despicable ways to rip someone off. DO NOT DO IT). I always get inspired when reading my favorite authors. We all have influences in our writing. Sometimes it is good to just take the break from our own worlds we create to dive into another.
Work on an old manuscript: You know you have one lurking in a drawer, decorated with coffee rings. I have a shelf of the newest victims; the ones I wrote and then like a balloon lost air and pffffttt. But when I am staring at my computer trying to write, these are the darlings that I come back to. Reading one of my manuscripts from 2002 can sometimes be cringe worthy, but it shows me how far I have come. I have new and often better insight than I did back in college. I rearrange some paragraphs or get rid of them completely. Sometimes I dig out the computer and edit it, giving me a chance to take a break from my current work.
My tip: I always hand write notes or an outline. My computer has murdered more novels than I care to talk about. Sometimes writing by hand give you a different feel. I write shorter works such as poems or micro-fiction with a quill and ink well (yes I am serious). If you don’t like this method, you can get an old typewriter or word processor from your mom’s basement (or your own🙋♀️)! You can also scour flea markets, garage sales, and the good-old fashioned interwebs.
Write differently than your usual genre: Step away from your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. If you write fantasy try your hand at historical fiction. Are you used to long pieces such as novels? Try micro or flash fiction. See if you can tell a story in 50 words or less. Do you usually write fiction? Try your hand at journalism. Newspapers and magazines have their own rules to follow. Find a political issue or environmental situation you want to discuss. Throw yourself into some research. You may discover something within the truth that helps to create a world of the fantastic.
Make It Mini: Mini books, notebooks, index cards, and pens…what could be greater than that?!
Journal: You can write down your ideas or use it for a collection of your feelings. I love using different colored pens and highlighters to organize my thoughts. I use these books to not just contain my feelings but I have ones I use to organize my novels I am writing. I summarize these manuscripts in them (my own personal Cliffs notes). There is something fun at least for me when picking out the perfect journal. A great home for your imagination and the story that takes you and others far away.
Nothing says “fun” like notebooks that light up and a billion pens all different colors!
Writing prompts: These are a fun way to exercise your brain to write something generated by other writers. You can look around the magical interwebs and choose one online or one you can write directly in such as “642 Tiny Things To Write About” by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto pictured here. Also pictured a great book I have had since my college days, “Micro Fiction” an anthology of super short stories by various authors.
Writing is one of my most beloved passions. Whether you have written a million pieces or just dabble, having the infamous block can be daunting. I hope that you will find a way to bust through your own wall or find inspiration in some of these. Good luck and keep creating.