Writer’s block. Every writer has dealt with it at some point (Stephen King claims he hasn’t but I’m calling bull), and it can be a huge deterrent when it comes to expressing yourself and getting your stories out. I will touch on some of the main issues that cause writer’s block, but the focus of this article is to explain how to push past the block and to go over the strategies I’ve personally found to be beneficial to me.
I’m not going to define writer’s block. If you’re reading this then you know. You probably also know that there are numerous reasons why writer’s experience blocks. Issues in your personal life may come up (examples being loss of a family member, mental health struggles, or financial strain). You could lose your creative focus or be distracted by other events or activities. Or you could just fear the idea of failing. However, there is one reason for writer’s block that I want to go over in more detail, because it pertains to my method of overcoming writer’s block. This is the obsession with perfection.
Perfectionism is a huge block when it comes to writing. Every detail needs to be perfect to have an amazing tale. You need the wording and story to flow and elicit emotion. You want the characters to be realistic and relatable. You go back over the same small piece of writing and nitpick until you’ve grown to hate it, and it gets you nowhere.
The problem with perfectionism is the first draft will always be crap. Always. The first draft’s purpose is only to get the story vomited onto paper. You can’t focus on the wording issues or character struggles, you just have to write and write and write. Yet, too many writer’s continue to be overcome with this obsession for perfection. Even I have succumbed to its paralytic embrace.
In 2011, I began my apocalyptic trilogy. I was hell bent on having it be this amazing thing. All of the ideas in my head were so intriguing and worked so well, and I was excited. I started posting chapters on my blog and eventually gained a small following. But then it began. I became so focused on having it be right and presentable, so it would be loved, that I hit a wall. I was barely into the story-line when the flow haulted. I hated it, and I hated myself. I shelved the book for two years.
It finally started calling to me again in 2014. I revamped it with a new main character, a new setting, and a revised plot. This time I just focused on writing. I fleshed out the characters and the setting better. It worked. But I still found myself struggling to make progress.
It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2014 that I finally began making headway. I knew I needed to reach my goal and I repeatedly told myself to just write and edit later. Over and over. “Edit later.” I forced myself to wait until the end of the night/writing session before I went back through and fixed issues.
It slowly morphed into waiting to do the spell check at the end. Then it turned into making a note in parenthesis when I needed to fix a sentence or change a word. I would make a list at the bottom of anything I needed to research or look up. From there it turned into not leaving the document for any reason until I was done with the chapter or had reached my daily word-count goal.
I won NaNo that year, and the next two years. I’ve won several Camp NaNo’s as well. I wrote that book and started the second in the trilogy. I’m currently rewriting the first book, but I’ve also managed over 200,000 words of other stories and flash pieces in the last four months. All because I use the following steps to ensure I don’t get myself stuck in an endless hate-filled pit of writer’s block.
Don’t Read What You’ve Written.
Don’t do it. To keep yourself from doing this, keep your page scrolled so you can only see the few lines you’ve typed and not the whole document. If you don’t have anything for your eyes to wander onto, you won’t notice the typo or weird wording and feel the urge to fix it.
Don’t Leave the Page. Make Notes.
If you need a different word, highlight it. Put a short thought bubble or note in parentheses. Make a list at the bottom of the page for anything you need to research. If you can’t recall a detail from a previous chapter, it can wait. Make a note to find John Doe’s hair color and come back to it. Keep Facebook closed. Your phone down.
One Mode at a Time
I’m a firm believer that there are three mental modes when it comes to writing: writing mode, editing mode, and reading mode. You need to focus on one mode at a time, in that order. Write first and get the whole story out. Then move into editing mode. Call on friends and beta readers for this step-as it makes the process much less stressful. Do reading mode last. This is when your editing mindset is turned off and you’re reading the story back as a reader, not a writer. This one is hard but necessary.
I know this process doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need to see the whole text in order to keep their place. Sometimes you have to look back up to reference something in the same chapter or document. If you try this method though and really focus on just getting the words out, whilst reminding yourself they will be crap, then you’re going to make progress. My plan for NaNoWriMo 2017 is to use this method and finish my novel. What about you?
Go forth and conquer!