First, read this post on Writer’s Block and How to Defeat It. It outlines how writer’s block is generally a result of either fear or confusion, and how to address those issues.
This post does NOT address those deeper issues. These tips and tricks work best for me when I’m only “sorta stuck”… I have some ideas, but the words aren’t flowing. These are ways to jog your creativity and exercise your mind. If you’re dealing with writer’s block, please look at the root causes first before relying on the tips and tricks below.
Exercise and Think About Your Story
Go running or go on a long walk. If you’re fit and healthy and your doctor gives the ok, go on a long, sweaty run. Bring a water bottle or choose a route with a water fountain. Don’t bring an mp3 player. Be alone with your thoughts and think about your story while you sweat.
This works best for me if I can go on a long, tiring run on a Saturday morning, come back and take a shower, and immediately sit down to write. The physical exertion helps get my thoughts flowing, and it’s easier to focus on my story because I want to be distracted from the effort of running. Physical exertion apparently puts my inner editor into an exhaustion coma and I can get lots of good thoughts out before she wakes up. Your definition of long and tiring may vary… do what works for you.
Or Exercise and Don’t Think About Your Story
Try something far outside your comfort zone: martial arts, a Zumba class, rock-climbing, kayaking, etc. Don’t hurt yourself, but try something that is genuinely challenging. Don’t think about your story at all, but be observant. Were there other participants? Listen to them talking. How did they react to challenges? How did you react? What feelings did you have as you faced something new and possibly scary?
Give yourself some time to process your thoughts, and then see if any of those feelings or experiences are applicable to your story.
Have a Brainstorming Session
Find a friend willing to participate in a brainstorming session with you. Talk about your story with them, and ask what they think would work or not work. What do they expect from your characters? Use that as a starting point, not the deciding factor. Encourage them to be bold in their suggestions… they might come up with ideas that really spark your imagination. This is a brainstorming session, not a write-it-out session. Take notes, but only hit the high points… the goal is to get you thinking about the story in new ways, not to plot out everything.
Do Something Else Creative
Try painting, knitting, making jewelry, photography, or making a collage. I make jewelry, and I tend to alternate between writing phases and jewelry-making phases. Having another creative outlet is a wonderful way to exercise the creative parts of your brain while sidestepping the frustration of feeling like you’re not getting anywhere on that one frustrating project. I find that problematic scenes or storylines are sometimes resolved while I’m doing something else… in the back of my mind, ideas are percolating through, and I just need to give myself time to let that happen. Putting stories on the “back burner” doesn’t have to mean that you leave that burner off!
Change Your Scenery
Do you always write at your desk? Go to a coffee shop. Sit on your deck with a cup of coffee or tea. Do you always write on your computer? Take a notebook and write longhand. Wear a hat (if you normally don’t). Sit in your basement on the floor. Go to a park. Do you always listen to music? Put on noise-canceling headphones and write in silence. Get up really early and write in the pre-dawn hours when you’d normally be asleep. Stay up really late and write hours past your bedtime (best done on weekends!).
Do something different. Get out of your routine, and see where it takes you.
Take a Nap
Yes, seriously. As adults, we’re generally pretty sleep-deprived. Between jobs, children, spouses, other hobbies, yard work, pets, and possibly even a social life, we’re pulled in 9 different directions every day. It’s hard to write when you’re mentally exhausted. Sometimes physical exhaustion is helpful (at least for me), but mental exhaustion is different. Write some notes to yourself about what you want to write when you get up. It doesn’t have to be a detailed outline, but a general direction for the next scene.
Then go to bed earlier, sleep a little later, take a nap… find some way to grab an extra hour or two of sleep. When you get up, hopefully feeling fresh and rested, begin writing immediately. You might have to do this on a weekend, and you might have to do a little prep work to make it feasible… plan for a crockpot dinner so you don’t have to cook that night, etc.
Clean Your Writing Space
This is not an excuse to procrastinate! But I’ve found that I write more and better with minimal clutter around. A messy desk stresses me out. Clean your writing space. Keep it clean for a week. See if a neater space makes you more productive. If so, take 5-10 minutes before each writing session to clean up. It’s better to spend 10 minutes cleaning and 30 minutes writing than it is to spend 40 minutes staring at the screen or notepad because you can’t focus.
Give yourself a word goal, or a time goal, or a scene goal. Write 300 words in the next ten minutes (writeordie.com is a fun, easy way to prod yourself on word/time goals). Write for an hour without being distracted. Finish that scene.
Get silly! Write a scene while standing on one foot. Write 500 words before you’re allowed to drink your morning coffee. It doesn’t matter much if they’re good… they got you going. If the first 250 are garbage and the next 250 are only mediocre, then you get your coffee and BAM! The next 500 will be perfectly adequate for a first draft. Editing is for later… just get the words out now.
Have a Goal
Set goals for yourself. Try a daily or weekly word count goal. Monthly goals don’t work for me because I need shorter term goals, but they may work for you. Daily goals often don’t work because life gets in the way. Don’t get too hung on up on word count goals, and don’t make your word count goal so high it’s unattainable. Be flexible and realize that real life takes time too. But you do need goals, or you won’t get anywhere.
Try having a “complete this story” goal instead of a word count goal. Or a “write this scene” goal. Or a “work for one hour” goal. Try different types of goals to see which motivates you best. Be sure to break huge goals into smaller, achievable goals.
Find a buddy who will expect a report on how many words you’ve written either daily or weekly. Report to them every day or every week. A quick text, or an email, or whatever, it doesn’t matter. But know that they expect a report from you. This buddy does not have to be a writer… they just have to be someone you can rely on to be consistent and remind you if you don’t send in your daily report.
Track Your Progress
Track your progress by word count, time of day, day of the week, and location. Pay attention to patterns. Are you always more productive in the mornings, even if you think of yourself as a night owl? Are you always more productive on Mondays because the big office meeting is over and no longer stressing you out? Figure out what factors affect your productivity, and change your routine to maximize your own productivity.
Don’t use tracking your progress as a procrastination technique. There are lots of tools you can use to do this, but you can also do it by hand in a spreadsheet or even a notebook. I use RescueTime.
Don’t Get Distracted
Are you addicted to Facebook/Twitter/Google+/Pinterest? Are you addicted to researching your story rather than writing it? Ban yourself from the internet. Don’t have the self-control? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I just found SelfControl (Mac only) and am trying it out. Sometimes, writer’s block isn’t writer’s block, it’s just “easily distracted and can’t focus ooooh, shiny!” Use your time wisely. You don’t have to block out 10 hours a day to make progress… even one hour a day of solid writing can add up to a first draft pretty quickly.
What works for you?
Did any of these tips work for you? Please tell me! Do you have other suggestions? Please let me know in the comments.