I love when people ask me questions about writing. I don’t know everything about everything, but I’ve written a few books (here here here here and here) and I’ve written on this blog for eight and a half years (literally here), and I LOVE LOVE LOVE writing and learning about writing, so I’m game anytime someone wants to talk shop.
Last week, a high school student posed this exact question. “How do I get over writer’s block? How do I beat it?” And I realized that may be a question a lot of you have.
A few years ago, I asked the same question to one of my favorite writers, Seth Godin. “But what do I do when I get stuck, Seth? When I can’t think of what to write next?”
He asked me a question in return. “How often do you get talker’s block?” … to which we both immediately laughed, as I’m sure you did, because HELLO I NEVER RUN OUT OF TALKING WORDS.
“Exactly,” he said, “you don’t run out of conversation- you shouldn’t run out of writing words either.”
It changed everything for me.
Writer’s block attacks me when I’m looking at the blank screen like a page I need to fill instead of a vehicle for conversation. So when I feel the moments (and yes, I do feel them), I change my perspective.
While I am writing a book, I picture a handful of people I am writing for- it’s the same people throughout the book, but I picture them, and I think about what I would want to tell them about the chapter/story/topic at hand. And then I type it like I am talking to them. I stop looking at it like LITERATURE (said in an English accent) and start treating it like CONVERSATION.
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— If you are writing fiction and you have writer’s block, the problem is in the outline. If you can’t tell the next part of the story, your outline needs to be fleshed out more. Outlining your writing, no matter the length or genre, is a great way to protect from feeling blocked.
— Give your first draft permission to be terrible. I wish you could see the difference between what authors turn in to editors and what editors turn into the books you hold. VERY VERY DIFFERENT, PEOPLE. So if you are feeling blocked because you want just the right word or phrase, skip it, come back to it, or write what comes to mind and fix it later.
So quit spending so much time self-editing and write the thing!!
— You may need to step away. Not forever, but for 30 minutes or 10 minutes or a few hours. When I literally cannot squeeze another word out, I will:
— Audio-record yourself telling the story you are trying to type. It can be way easier to pace around your house talking into your iPhone than sitting at a desk clacking out the words. Tell yourself the story, then transcribe the recording.
— Set a word count for your daily writing goal, versus a time goal. For example, when I am writing a book, I try to do 1500-2000 words a day. If that takes me 3 hours, HUZZAH! If that takes me 9 hours, HELP ME RHONDA. If I tell myself to sit there for 5 hours, I will have a blinking cursor for most of the time because I’m bored let the timer ding and let me outta this cage I have built for myself!. But if I tell myself to get through a certain amount of words, they may not all be good, but they count. So I write them, and then delete the terrible ones the next day. (See above- your first draft can be terrible.)
— Do not run to the internet for inspiration because you will end up sucked into the vortex that is Pinterest and within a few hours you will realize you are at the bottom of the internet, your writing time is gone, and you still feel blocked. Woof.
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So those are my thoughts on writer’s block.
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PS- quick reminder. Part 1 of the That Sounds Fun podcast with Dave Barnes released last week and thousands of y’all have downloaded it, which is ridiculously fun. Part 2 comes out on Tuesday, so just wanted to give you a heads up to listen to Part 1 so you’re ready for tomorrow! 🙂
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