Wednesday, July 09, 2014


For a job I love, writing is a bloody thankless task. Everyone's a critic, you can never get things to sound the way you want and some days, inspiration just won't appear. It is horrible when this happens, and I know the pain of writer's block only too well, especially if on a deadline or when writing to a daily or weekly schedule.

When I saw two of my favourite writers both lamenting issues with writing yesterday, I felt compelled to help, because ultimately this is not a problem you need to shoulder alone. There may be no hard and fast way to make writing easier on any given day, but there are ways and means to assist the process. With that in mind, for Kurn and Kristin, here are Five Ways to Beat Writers Block Without Really Trying.

Encouragement is a THING.

1. Identify the Issue

The biggest single challenge when writing won't happen naturally is to work out why. This i09 Article is brilliant at helping attack the key issue for fiction writers: what exactly is the problem? Is it something you're not happy about writing, perhaps a topic has become a chore and not the joy it once was. Part of the key to solving the problem is being able to identify the source of what began the frustration. That might sound initially like trying to catch smoke, but as time goes on and you begin to understand how your writing brain operates, it does become easier. Ultimately for me my reticence to write about certain subjects is my unwillingness to tackle them generally: this was the biggest single issue with preventing me writing about overtly personal issues. What you need is to stop beating yourself up about it and find a way to deal with the first step. If it is something you MUST do, then attempt to find ways to get more pressing issues (that don't involve words) done BEFORE you write, so that the task doesn't seem as important when placed in a wider context.

2. Ask for Advice

Asking for help is ABSOLUTELY a good thing. Find people you can trust to read your work and ask them for feedback, and once they are used to your style, when you get stuck for a way to start they'll have a better idea of what you are about and how you operate and should be able to provide another outlook on your approach to a given topic. There is nothing wrong in asking random strangers either on certain days: I did this only a couple of days ago and BY THE WONDER OF BEARDS I found myself with a topic I could attack in a Blog Post. Inspiration can strike in odd ways sometimes and often it is an idea to write something completely different than the 'thing' you need/want to do and see if that in turn gives you any inspiration. This is why I have five or six long form pieces on the go simultaneously, so if I can't find an inroad with one I can often switch to another and make progress there.

Don't be afraid to aim high.

3. Find an Alternative Route

If you absolutely, positively have no choice on the piece you have to present, try and pick an alternative route to completion if everything else fails you. Do it in the style of Shakespeare, or as a Reality TV Show Script. Get yourself a book of inspiration for a way to mix up your normal style. Go watch TV for an hour with a pencil and paper and write out possible ideas longhand. Go outside with a Laptop, or do as I do and go and exercise for an hour or so and hope the endorphins that generates are sufficient to send your brain in a new direction. The key is to try and relax yourself and not become fixated with how hard the task is, or that you need to have it done in a particular timeframe. Everyone has block at some point, it is a part of the process of your brain learning how to communicate your ideas onto the page. Don't see it as an obstacle. Learn to move around it.

4. Change your Situation.

Any quack doctor will tell you that if something keeps hurting, it is probably a good idea to stop doing it to make your life less painful. However, the dodgy psychiatrist he refers you will then remind you that sometimes pain is as much of the process of understanding as anything else. Half the problem in writing is of your own invention: you have great ideas, all the time. Just look at all that other brilliant stuff you wrote. You didn't instantly lose the ability to do this, something quite simple happened to make you just not capable of it *right now.* If the alternative route stuff won't work, if you just don't have the time to write, if you'd rather sit and just not write... then that's what you need to do. Unless it is your paid employ to present words to people and you have a deadline every week to meet, it is okay if sometimes you just don't do it. What you need, more than anything else, is to be happy, and if writing is making you miserable, then it is time to do something else.

Everyone is NOT the same ^^

5. Learn from Yourself

Personally, this one for me is absolutely crucial. I NEED to write as part of the process of being the person I now am. I don't like not doing it, it makes me unhappy and irritable, because the sequence of taking things from inside my head and onto a page or a screen or into a Podcast is my way of communicating with the world around me. It is like someone telling a pianist they can't practice the piano or a sportsman that they'll have to stop training, it would be a physical and mental impairment for me to not be able to communicate as I do now. If I were stopped, I suspect I'd do my absolute damnedest to find a way regardless, and perhaps this just shows the point that if you really want to do something, there'll be nothing on Earth that can stop you.

When writing is difficult, this is often the opportunity for your best work, but also the most personal. Even the process of explaining to your reader 'I had real trouble writing this piece' might well be enough to help you reveal the true issue behind your writer's block, because at some point, like it or not, for writing to really matter it needs to be imbued with a real part of what you really are. Even if you only spent your life copying other texts into foreign languages, there is the opportunity to imbue words with a personality that is distinctly and recognisably yours. By doing so, you change not simply the way that you write, but the person you are, and that is very important. Whatever the reason you write, there has to be a point where you sit back and are pleased of what you've done, because if you're not, there really isn't much point in beginning the process at all.


I have no idea if any of this advice will help my friends who couldn't write yesterday, but it has been an important exercise for me. Knowing why things happen is, after all, nearly as important as the fact that they occur at all.


Evlyxx said...

An interesting post. I frequently suffer from this issue but my problem is finding something to write about that both interests me and is relevant for a Warcraft blog. There are often things happening in my guild that I'd love to vent at but that isn't always a positive thing and not something that I feel comfortable about doing to my friends anyway.

However, I do often inject inspiriation by reading our guild forums and often I have started to reply to a forum post and ended up writing so much it seemed a waste not to make it a forum post as well.

Kurn said...

Thanks so much for this post! :) I knew why it was so difficult for me to write yesterday and you nailed it in your post: a lot of my guide-related writing is all about my own experiences (good and bad) about a GM, a raider and, in my most recent guide, a raid leader. So I was writing and trying to talk about what were, occasionally, difficult times in my raid leading career. :)

Some valuable advice in this blog post -- I tend to change my situation by playing some Hearthstone (a couple of quick games is a great way to spend just a little time letting things percolate) or watching some TV or even just taking a shower! :)

Again, thanks so much for the post! <3 :)

Matticus said...

My problem is just the fact I need more time. Too many ideas. I put them to outline. And then it takes me forever to actually finish them out.

Maybe I should just outsource the writing to some goblins or something.