Oh Writer’s Block. What a horrid, foul beast you are. According to some writers, you don’t actually exist. But I know better.
In my experience, writer’s block isn’t as simple as “I can’t write.” It’s not just the blank page staring back at you, though that is a component. For me, writer’s block is when my inner voice goes silent. I can still write—but I’m not at all excited about what I’ve written. I can immediately tell that it lacks substance, fire. It’s just not right.
When I first started writing seriously, these periods of writer’s block were crippling. I had no idea how to get past them. The inner voice was silent, the silence was violent, and it was killing my ability to write. (Thanks, Beatrice Eli, though I have a feeling your song isn’t about writer’s block.) I felt like I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Because if I was, then why was it so hard to actually write?
During those times, I’d find myself going back to sections of my writing that did have that fire, and rereading them longingly, trying to rediscover that elusive inner voice. It was during this seemingly maudlin and pointless exercise that I discovered why my inner voice went quiet.
It was almost always because I was trying to write something that wasn’t true to my story or my characters. My head didn’t realize it, but my heart did— and it rebelled. Boom: writer’s block.
This was a revelation to me. There was a rhyme and reason to my writer’s block and it was wholly in my control.
After this, when I struggled to write, I’d first take a look at what I was trying to accomplish. Was I working on the wrong scene? Developing a character in the wrong way? Forcing dialogue where there didn’t need to be any?
The answer to these and other related questions was usually “Yes.”
Freedom. Suddenly, I wasn’t crippled anymore. I had a system to solve my writer’s block, which I will share now:
- I get writer’s block. Am miserable.
- Look at what I’m working on. Is it true to the story? To my characters? Am I forcing myself to work on something that doesn’t serve the interests of my overall plot? Am I going down the wrong path because it seems easier or more interesting?
- Depending on the answers, figure out the solution: Adjusting my thinking, working on a different scene, developing a character in a different way, taking the plot in a different direction, etc.
Now clearly, this isn’t going to work for everyone. There’s a million reasons why people get writer’s block and inner voice isn’t always the main one. But if you’re struggling, try it. Maybe it will work for you.