For me, writer’s block is the inability to continue with my current project. I’m actually writing this because I couldn’t nut out the post I originally had planned for today. Creatively speaking, a block usually forms if I’ve written myself into a corner, or I’ve tried to stick to my ‘plan’ and thus forced the characters to do something unnatural for them instead of allowing the story to flow where it will. In a nonfiction sense, it can mean I have a topic to write about but cannot fathom how to make it interesting and original, or perhaps that I have been at it for hours and literally fall asleep at the keyboard.
I have a couple of ways I handle this, and they generally work regardless of the situation. My first and most preferred option is, if time permits, to leave the writing alone and do something else for a while. This might sound counterproductive at first, but my subconcious is quite a powerful thing. I set my intention by visualising the final product – NOT the problem. If I want my characters to get from the train station to the swimming pool, I simply envision that. I don’t focus on the impromptu disco party they went to, and I try not to think about why Serena is only wearing one shoe. Those details are irrelevant – all I need to visualise is the final product. Then I forget about it and let my subconcious go to work. In the past I’ve had a lot of ‘just get on with it, no excuses,’ type advice, but I’ve tried that and the end result is always the same: a lot of bad writing that I end up deleting.
Eventually my subconcious comes to the party. It might be a dream overnight (I get a lot of ideas and solutions that way) or whilst I’m eating lunch. The revelation might happen in a few hours or a few months but the lightning WILL strike. It always does. And I go back, and I sit down, and I delete whatever of the old writing was inappropriate and I move on. No, I don’t keep a discard file or folder. I delete. I love the delete key and I am not afraid to employ it as often as necessary. I have no need to keep writing that I am unhappy with, and by deleting the evidence I resist the temptation to fawn over ‘that line that I love’ and lose the whole train of thought again. So it goes.
If I’m on a time limit, things are a bit different. I can’t afford to wait for my subconcious so I look at things differently. One option is to simply read back over my work, establish the point at which I think things turn for the worst, and delete everything that follows on from there. Then, as above, start afresh.
It’s not always that easy though. If the problem is that I can’t start, or am struggling to manipulate an idea, then I need to get creative with my approach. My favourite way to do this is to look at the topic in question from a different angle. It is amazing what ideas you can come up with when you consider different perspectives. For example, let’s say a company that makes teddy bears has asked me to write a piece for them, but the information they’ve sent is about knitting needles. My first thought would probably be “what?” but don’t panic! Consider things from different angles and it’s actually not hard to make the idea relevant. Here goes:
What size needles are best for knitting bear accessories?
What about knitting an actual bear?
Are there any historical links between knitting and bearmaking?
Are there a specific size and type of needle recommended for use with bears and why?
What sort of knitted accessories are most common for teddy bears, and which needles would be preferred?
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. By applying a bit of imagination I’ve not only got enough ideas for one piece, but I could easily write a series. I actually try and take this approach to a lot of my nonfiction pieces, whether I’m having trouble or not. Unless there is a specific reason to reproduce exactly the information given, then thinking outside of the intial topic concept helps prevent the finished product having a dry and overly informative tone. Let’s face it, if I fell asleep trying to write the piece, what hope does a reader have? It’s important to make sure your writing is relevant to the topic, but that still allows a great deal of play in the vast majority of situations.
I could go on, but I won’t. This post is already enormous! Do you suffer from writer’s block? Do you use any of these methods, or is there something else that works for you?