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Distraction exists. Fear of writing something stupid exists. Trouble narrowing one’s focus exists. Plot problems exist. Fear of success exists. Fear of the unknown exists. Mental exhaustion exists.
But writer’s block does NOT exist.
If you find yourself sitting down to write and staring at a blank screen or notebook, something specific is hindering you. The trick is to search yourself and figure out what.
It’s too easy to blame writer’s block, this great big smotherer that has blanketed your thoughts and frozen your fingers so that you cannot write. You’re paralyzed and it’s not your fault! You have writer’s block. You can’t help it.
It’s easy to find excuses. It’s hard to get to the root of the problem and find a solution. So, we hide behind “writer’s block” and don’t write.
Or take a break. Whichever.
…Um, so which is it? Push or pull? The answer lies with you.
If it’s fear, you’ll probably be better off if you push through. Quiet your inner editor and just write. What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll have written something that’s not worth showing anyone. But is that so bad? You write to get better at writing. So, even if what you’re about to write ends up being garbage, you’ll have gotten some writing practice in. You’ll know for next time what does or doesn’t work. And you can legitimately call yourself a writer because you actually WROTE something, instead of just THINKING about writing something.
Writers write. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer, no matter how many good ideas you have.
Back to “writer’s block.” If fear of something isn’t what’s troubling you, what do you do? Say you’re distracted. Perhaps taking about 30 minutes to write down everything that comes to mind will help. Things like: I need to return my library books before I go home. Oh, and Susie needs to borrow my notes for the test next week. Did I tell Mom about that meeting after school tomorrow? I better check with her later. And I need to make sure my green shirt gets in the laundry so it’s clean for picture day. …except that I let my sister borrow it, right. Guess I’ll have to get that back from her first.
And so on.
After half an hour or so of getting all of the random bits floating around in your brain down on to paper where you know you won’t lose it, your brain will quiet enough to create. You’ll be free from distraction. And if while you’re writing you think, “Shoot, I need to call my classmate about that one project,” just add it to the piece of paper and keep going. You can deal with everything on the paper after you’re done writing for the day.
What if you’re exhausted? Your brain is so full, or you feel stretched thin, or you’re juggling so many projects you can’t think straight. Or you’re just plain tired and need a nap.
Then do so. Sleep. Or get outside and take a walk. Get a cup of coffee or tea and mindfully drink it, thinking of nothing else but the smell of it in your nose, the taste of it on your tongue, and the feel of it going down your throat.
Then after your break—where you’ve intentionally not thought about writing, grammar, characters, plot points, deadlines, and so on—take a deep breath, and push on, as described above.
If you’re not tired, not distracted, love your story, but still find yourself procrastinating? (Most common form: “I want to write it but I just don’t have time!” but you have time to check your Snapchat and Tumblr.) That’s an obvious sign that something is not working in your story. Take the time to figure out what’s not working and how to fix it (even if that means scrapping something you’ve already written) so that you can’t help but write again. Words only stop flowing when you’ve got a problem—you don’t know what happens next, you’ve got a plot hole, you need to go back and change the protagonist’s point of view, etc.
Obviously these suggestions aren’t “one size fits all.” What you need depends on what’s stumbling you.
But one thing is clear:
Writer’s block, the hopeless condition in which you are unable to write and nothing can be done about it, does not exist.
You are in control. You must decide. Then you will be free to write again and won’t be able to stop.
What tends to trip you up? When you have trouble writing, what’s bugging you? For me, it’s usually a pretty even split between plot problems I haven’t noticed yet or fear of success. What if this gets published and, though I’m proud of it now, later I regret it? Sometimes I have to hogtie and gag my inner critic to get my words on the page. Anyone else struggle with this too?