Top 10 tips on overcoming writer’s block

writers block

The existence of writer’s block is something that divides writers. Some say there is no such thing, others that they have suffered from it and often. Regardless of whether you believe or not, I don’t know of a single writer that hasn’t struggled at some point to get words on the page. I know I have. So here are my top 10 tips on overcoming this hurdle so you can get back writing again.

1 Sit down and be ready to write

If you are the type of writer who has to ‘wait for their muse’, then I can’t help you. You can’t write if you don’t want to write. We are often at our most creative when finding excuses not to do something. As Dorothy Parker once said, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” If you can’t do this, nothing else will help you.

2 Set up a routine

Before I write I make a cup of tea. This ritual allows me to switch from whatever I’ve been doing or thinking about to focussing on the task at hand. I also like to eat biscuits, though I’m not sure if that helps or is just an indulgence. As people we like routine and are conditioned to do certain things in a certain way. Most of us have a morning routine to get us ready for the day. If it is altered our whole day feels out of synch. It’s the same for writing. Get yourself into the practice of doing the same things before you write and you will find writing comes naturally.

3 Allow yourself to write badly

I’ve never been in a situation where I found myself staring at a blank screen. Maybe I’m lucky. However, I have often spent the day writing a sentence then deleting it. Writing another then deleting it. And again. And again. And again. It was only when I allowed myself to write badly that this practice stopped. Any writer will tell you that a book is created during the edit, not during the first draft. You can correct anything during the edit, except a blank page, so even if it feels like you’re writing the worst scene in the world, let it out. You can always go back and change it afterwards.

4 Music

I know a number of writers that like to use music to get them in the mood, whether before writing a scene, or while writing a scene. I have to write in silence as I find myself distracted by what I’m listening to, often ending up with a song’s lyrics in my manuscript. I do, however, have certain songs for certain characters in my books, almost like their theme tune, and I often listen to one of the songs before writing a scene, to help me get into that character’s mindset.

5 Visualise the scene

For me, the biggest reason for struggling with a scene is because I can’t picture the location. I may have an idea of where it is but I can’t visualise it. It’s at this point I’ll do a google image search on the type of location I’m thinking about, just to get some visual clues. It doesn’t take a lot but once I have the location clear in my head I can go ahead and write the rest without a problem – well, almost without a problem.

6 Change the point of view

Another good way to overcome writer’s block is to write it from a different character’s perspective. Even if you are writing a book set purely from a single character’s point of view, writing the scene from another’s perspective can help identify what happens and how. You can then always change it back, using the first scene as the framework for your edit.

7 Just write dialogue

Most scenes are driven forward by dialogue. If I’m really, really stuck on a scene I just write dialogue. I may put in some attributions, a couple of beats if they come easily to hand, but I keep going until the scene reaches its conclusion. Afterwards, I’ll go back and add in description, action and whatever else is required.

8 Work on a different scene

There is no right or wrong order in which to write your book but most of us start at the beginning and follow some form of chronological order until we get to the end. While this works most of the time, sometimes this can cause us to struggle, especially with scenes that are either difficult to convey or not clear in our minds. If that’s so, write something else. If I get stuck I’ll choose to write a scene containing a character I enjoy writing about (we all have our favourites, don’t we), or one I’m looking forward to writing. It doesn’t matter when it appears, if it gets you writing again it’s a good thing.

9 Stop writing at a point you want to finish

I learnt this tip quite late but it’s a really good one. We’re often told to strike when the iron’s hot but stopping when you’re getting to a crucial and exciting part is a good way to get you raring to go the next day, and as we know, once you start writing it’s much easier to keep going.

10 Prepare your next scene the day before

I always like to have sketched out a rough order of play for any scene I’m about to write. It doesn’t mean I’ll always stick to it but it at least gives me a start point. I find the best time to do this is the day before you plan to write because I then have the rest of the day, and night, for my subconscious to chew it over and come up with ideas I’d never otherwise have thought of.

So, these are my top 10 tips to overcome writer’s block but what works for you? When the words fail to appear, what do you do to get things moving? I’d love to hear from you.

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Stop, start, stutter, repeat: My attempts at starting book two

When creating goes wrong (picture source: http://pajamadiaries.com)

When creating goes wrong (picture source: http://pajamadiaries.com)

I had an idea for a new book. This was back in September while I was in the final phase of editing book one. It was a great idea (in my own humble opinion), one that I’d never seen before and one that I was sure would resonate with a large audience. It was a very different idea from the book I was about to complete but that didn’t matter. The concept was excellent. I’d even written an opening chapter which was guaranteed to draw people in. I needed to research a number of areas but that was fine. All I needed to do was finish book one and I would get right onto it.

By November I’d finished book one and sent queries to a number of agents in the hope of representation. I was too late to take part in NaNoWriMo with my new idea as I hadn’t started my research, but I wasn’t worried. There was under no time pressure. Because it was a contemporary novel I wanted to get the detail right, and as a thriller I felt that it was better to make sure the key plot points were clear before starting. To help my research I’d arranged to interview people who were involved in the area I wanted to write about, and I researched my key locations online with a plan to visit them in person before Christmas. All was going well. The concept still excited me.

By the beginning of January I had decided I’d been procrastinating for too long. I hadn’t had a chance to run any interviews, or visit the locations as planned, but I wanted, no needed to start. Over the Christmas period I had received two rejections of my first book and  silence from the other agents. I knew that this was part of writing, but I was feeling fed up, so my plan to kick myself out of a rut was to start something new. The problem was, my enthusiasm for the project had died. It was still a great concept, it was still something that was current, important, and with a large potential audience. It’s just that I had lost something on the way. The initial spark that is so important when starting a new project had gone. I struggled for a few days, writing a few hundred words here and there, but I struggled to get into the heads of the characters. It was a miserable feeling. I was a failure.

Then the other night, while I was lying in bed worrying about my writing, worrying about why nobody was interested in my book and generally feeling like giving up, I had the idea for a character. It was a vague outline but I immediately picked up the notebook I keep beside my bed and scribbled furiously. I hadn’t any idea of what the story might be, but I knew how the character thought, what their conflict was and why it made them so compelling. It was the first time I’d felt this enthused about writing for months. So I took the  decision to park my initial idea for book 2, put to one side the research I had completed, and write about this character instead. It wasn’t that I’d  given up with the original idea, it’s just that I decided to wait until the enthusiasm returns so I can do the story justice.

Today I sat at my computer and wrote for four hours straight. I wrote around two thousand words, all about this new character. Sadly they were two hundred words at a time, as I repeatedly started writing the story, stopped, decided it wasn’t good enough, deleted everything and started again. And again. And again. By the end of today I have exactly no words written but a lot of excitement. Well, you can’t have everything. I’ll try again tomorrow.