There hasn’t been an author in history that hasn’t fallen victim to IT at one point or another. Sometimes it only lasts for a few hours, sometimes it’s months. I’m talking about the dreaded…
We’ve all been there, most likely more times that we’d care to admit. “The Block” can come in many forms. Words that just won’t come. A brain that won’t relinquish the great ideas you *just know* are in there. Headaches. Exhaustion. Tantrums.
Whatever form your block takes, it can be crippling–and downright depressing.
My worst case of the block came about two years ago. I had decided (like a crazy person) to undertake two multi-chapter Star Trek AOS fanfics at once. It started well, and I was able to switch back and forth between each seamlessly. I made regular updates on each story, much to the delight of my readers. But then the beast appeared.
I had completed the first of the two, having neglected the latter piece because I could feel the block creeping up on me. When it came time to work in earnest on the second fic, the block ate me alive. I think it was a mixture of being burnt out from undertaking two stories at once and juggling stay-at-home-mom life. I would stare at my screen, cursing James T. Kirk and the goddamn Enterprise with every fiber of my being.
I knew something had to change.
So I stepped back, something I had been telling my beta clients to do for years. For six months, yes SIX MONTHS, I let the piece in question sit. I didn’t look at it. I didn’t think about it. It was dead to me.
Now, I’m a woman of my word. I promised my readers–and myself–that I would finish it. And I intended to. But, if it were to be quality work, I knew I needed to give it some space. And you know what? One day, I opened the current chapter back up and finished the story without another hiccup.
Then, last month, the beast crept up on me again. I had completed my first novel, and was waiting for edits to start coming back. I decided that it was a great time to start on the second book of my trilogy, since the characters and plot were still very fresh in my mind. My outline had been completed for months, and I thought I’d just fall right into it with ease. Boy, was I wrong.
The tone of my second book is decidedly very different, and the characters are in much stranger places in their lives than ever before. I completed about a quarter of the first chapter, and then…NOTHING. I stared at that puny little blurb of a chapter for a good week. I began to hate it. It made me angry. The frustration gave me headaches.
So, I took my own advice yet again and walked away. I wrote super angsty, brooding, gory fanfic. I played video games. I went to a few baseball games. I watched SO MUCH TWIN PEAKS. And you know what? After two weeks, I opened up the outline, added a few things and was back in business. Just like that. No ease-in…it just happened.
People often ask me, “What’s the best cure for writer’s block?” So, here are my tips for surviving that-which-terrifies-authors. (Not as much as query letter writing terrifies us, but pretty damn close. *shudders*)
- STEP AWAY. This is the absolute most important piece of advice I can give. The more you force yourself to look at and/or work on your piece, the worse the block is going to become. When you’ve been staring at the same thing for days…or weeks…with nothing flowing, your brain becomes bogged down. You exhaust your creativity. Your mind becomes jumbled with both doubt and frustration. The words you might end up creating while forcing it will more than likely turn out to be garbage. I’ve been there…and seen it happen to fellow authors. The block can consume you, and turn you into a self-doubting zombie. Take a few hours, a couple days…hell, even months. Remember, I took a SIX MONTH hiatus from a fanfiction piece. Whatever you do, don’t go back to your work-in-progress until you’ve taken some time away from it. You’ll be glad you did…and regret it if you don’t.
- WRITE SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. I find that when I’m blocked, I naturally fall back into fanfiction. (When I was writing fic, I would blog when I was stuck.) A change of literary scenery can sometimes be all you need to get the creative juices flowing again. If you have a blog, write some new posts. Make your subject matter about something completely different than what’s blocking you at the moment. Write a poem. Write fanfic. (If you’ve never written fic before, give it a try! Find a movie/TV show/video game that you love and give the characters a new story to play around in!) My last bout of the block came when Final Fantasy XV had taken over pretty much everything in our house. The stories came easy–and so very, VERY angsty–and it was just the distraction I needed to let my mind recover a bit to be able to get back into my novel mindset. (Poor Ignis…)
- LET A TRUSTED PERSON SEE WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN SO FAR. Sometimes, all you need is a second set of eyes to give you a new perspective. Now, I know that letting someone else see your work isn’t always an option. Some people are protective of their pieces, whether it be for plot reasons or nerve reasons. But if you have someone you trust and value their opinion, let them look. Which brings me to my last point…
- BRAINSTORM WITH SAID TRUSTED PERSON. Like I said above, sometimes a new pair of eyes looking will give you just the motivation you need to light a fire under your ass. When you’ve been staring at the same content for so long, writing about the same subjects for what seems like forever, everything starts to meld together. You may have an issue with a plot point that just won’t come together, a character that refuses to cooperate. Continuity errors and flow issues might not be easy to spot. If there is someone you trust to give valued critique/suggestions, go to them. Yes, you might not always like or agree with their ideas, but it gets your mojo working again. Your gears start to turn once more, and you may find yourself cranking out chapters like wildfire again before you know it.
Writer’s block sneaks up on us all. It’s a bitch. It’s relentless. It’s mean-spirited and rude. But it doesn’t have to be the end of you or your work. Hopefully, some of what I’ve offered can help someone, somewhere. At the end of the day, no matter how long it takes and no matter what means you employ to make it happen–I promise the block WILL go away.
And when it does, you’ll be back to your old awesome self once more.