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Do you believe in writer’s block and how do you tackle it?

‘Writer's block’ is such a broad term. It covers ‘can't write at all’, ‘stuck on this one scene', 'want to write but struggling to get going', 'have a good idea but can't make it work', and many more iterations which generally all equate to deep feelings of frustration and unproductivity. This week, the Write Yorkshire scribble talk to us about their views on writer’s block and offer some practical advice on how to tackle it.


Writer’s Block is something that has affected every writer I know at some time or another. I’m having a bit of it right now, writing this! I find it’s made worse by self-inflicted pressure. If I overthink a piece, or I feel there’s a lot riding on getting something right, I completely hobble myself. When that happens, the only way round it is to go and do something else creative instead. I might go and tinker in my garden, torture some chords out of my guitar or do a bit of sketching. These are all creative pursuits that I enjoy, but am not that good at, so I don’t have any great expectations. This loosens up the creative cogs in a non-stressful way, and I often find on returning to my desk, that whatever niggly writing problem that was blocking me has worked itself out while I was busy elsewhere. So if the dreaded block strikes, my advice is to go and be creative, and let whatever was blocking you sort itself out.


On the other hand, if my Writer’s Block is caused by a gnarly piece of writing that is just hard to get down, then the best way I’ve found is to just write through it. Dig down, find your grit and just grind the words out. It really doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish - not every word will be, and you’ll find if you keep going, you’ll pick up the thread of what you want to say eventually, and then you can follow it to the end of the piece.


Finally, it’s important to remember that whatever your pursuit, whether it’s writing, running, sculpting, frog-breeding or anything at all, we ALL have bad days. They happen for no good reason, and then they pass. It’s best not to mythologise Writer’s Block too much. If it happens, try to put it down as a bad day at the office, and remember that tomorrow will be a better one.


We need to train ourselves out of this mindset that there's a scary block monster lurking in the wardrobe, and that if it gets you, it prevents you from writing. Of course there is such a thing as being a bit blocked, but let's not use that as an all-encompassing excuse to dramatically throw up our hands and give in. As with any pursuit, sometimes things don't go smoothly; that's when you use your craft, experience and skill to work around the problem.


Ninety-five per cent of the time, overcoming writer’s block is about just getting words down. Recently, a friend of mine talked about his 'writing muscles being atrophied'. We all know that one; you don't write for a little while, and then it's hard to get going again. My attitude to writer's block is similar - sometimes you need to warm up the writing muscles before you can find your rhythm. I'm a firm believer that writing often and regularly helps those muscles stay supple, strong and resilient.


I know a few writers that will advise you to sit down and force yourself to work on the thing that's giving you problems but I find that rarely helps me. Switch projects and work on something else or, if you really need to move progress forward on a specific thing, write something else for ten minutes until your brain finds the right gear and then switch back. Try writing with a pen instead of a keyboard; change rooms; do bullet points; freewrite; journal; find a random writing prompt; write a conversation with your character in pure dialogue form. Just get the writing muscles moving.


The other five per cent is knowing when you need a break, to let your batteries recharge. Try to be mindful, and learn to recognise the difference between giving in prematurely and genuinely needing some time out. And if you do need a break? Don't give yourself a hard time over it.


Writer's block is not terminal and it's not outside of your control.


I absolutely believe in writer's block! It's so bizarrely painful to be a writer that can't write and I honestly can't think of a single writer, that I know personally, who hasn't dealt with it.


It comes in waves for me, I've had particular periods where I've had a block for months and I just can't seem to get anything out. Other times I feel like I'm super productive and have endless ideas and write loads. Writers block takes no prisoners and it definitely doesn't care about schedules or deadlines, when it arrives it tends to be at the most inconvenient of times.


The best advice I can give, when it comes to handling the dreaded block is to just get anything on the page. Sometimes I just set myself a ten minute timer and write stream of consciousness waffle. I don't edit, I just write absolute rubbish for ten minutes straight. There's something about just forcing yourself to get something out of your head and onto a page that can really kick your creativity back into gear.


My other tips include trying a new writing exercise, maybe try re-writing a page from your favourite book, or going to a new location to write in. You'd be surprised at the difference that something as simple as going to a new coffee shop can make!


Ultimately, sometimes all you can do is ride it out. And you know what? That's really okay too. You're not a machine and so you can't always run perfectly. Just don't give up, keep coming back to it and trying and I promise you, even if it seems like the block has decided to take up permanent residence, everything will start flowing again.


Yes, of course. Writer’s block is real, believe me.


I don’t think that writer’s block is some mythical force that operates beyond our understanding, jamming up our creative juices and stifling our productivity like some malevolent spirit. But I do believe in it. Writer’s block, for me, is more like a cold – or stiff joints. We can take measures to prevent it, but sometimes it just happens – and when it does, it can be debilitating.


We know our brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised to help it keep working to the best of its ability. Writing is a part of that and just the same, the more we use our writing skills, the better they work. That’s one way you can tackle writer’s block (or more prevent it, I guess). Even when you aren’t working on something in particular or your idea well seems a bit dry, take it out for a run anyway, it can’t hurt. Free writing exercises, keeping a journal, writing a letter – these all help to keep your scribbling skills nimble.


But these are more like preventative measures, rather than cures. If it’s too late for that and the dreaded writer’s block has already struck. If you have an idea (or not) but for some reason the words won’t come out, the best thing you can do is just - give up for a while. I’m serious. Be it five minutes or five days, take some time off. Sometimes I seize up just because I’ve been working too much. You can overwork a muscle, remember. So, take a walk or watch a film. Have a brew or take a week away somewhere. You can even just write something else – sometimes it’s not writing altogether that’s the issue – just the project you’re focusing on, so take a break and come back to it.


Sometimes the best thing to do is simply – something else.


 

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