Thursday, May 17, 2012

3 ways to bust writer's block

 by Rachel Coker


Writer’s block. I still find it interesting how much fear and terror can be induced into a budding author by those two words. Even just looking at them typed up on my computer gives me the shudders. Because, honestly, writer’s block is every writer’s worst nightmare.

Just picture it: You’re halfway into a new book. Everything was going so smoothly not too long ago. You had a great, action-packed beginning. You introduced half a dozen funny, engaging characters. Your writing just sparkles with wit and humor.

But then—it all stops. Somewhere around page 110, you get stuck. No more words come to mind. No more interesting scenarios, or conflicts, or conversations. You’re trapped somewhere between a great beginning and a promising ending, with no idea how to bridge the gap in between.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times this has happened to me. And, judging by the complaints of fellow authors, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who faces this problem. It’s actually really common for writers to feel stuck and discouraged in the middle of a story, and not know how to overcome that block. However, just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. And nothing feels better than being able to plow through writer’s block and get back to crafting that fabulous story.

So, after being asked time after time about overcoming writer’s block, I finally came up with a list of ways to stay creative. When everything else fails, here are some ideas of how to bust up the blankness in your head and get your creative juices flowing again:


Step away from your computer.

Sometimes, when we’re looking at a story too closely, we lose sight of the overall picture. We get so caught up obsessing over the little details that we forget what the story is about as a whole. It’s crazy when I think about all the times that I have gotten unnecessarily frustrated with myself over little things like scenes, dialogs, or descriptions. If things don’t go one hundred percent smoothly, I want to throw in the towel and give up completely.

But you know what I’ve forgotten? I’ve forgotten what my story is about. I’ve forgotten what I love about it. All that original giddiness and excitement and anticipation that crowded my mind when I started out writing that book has completely vanished, and I feel washed-up and depressed over something as silly as an awkward dialog. And just because I can’t get that dialog to read smoothly, I want to give up all together.

You can probably tell by now that this is a really stupid way to think. And sometimes, the only way to cure myself of thinking that way is to shut my computer and take a step back. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, then just take a break from writing for a little while and think about your story as a whole. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in all the technicalities of writing. Think back to what you loved about the story, and let yourself get caught up all over again in excitement about that. By the time you’ve re-fallen in love with your story, it’ll be much easier to plow through those rough spots so that you can let that story shine. Trust me.


Try something different.

I have something embarrassing to confess. For about three years, I ate the same exact breakfast every morning. A bowl of Quaker instant maple-and-brown-sugar oatmeal, and a glass of cranberry juice. Every single morning. I was obsessive about it. If we were out of cranberry juice, I would freak out. And when Quaker changed their oatmeal recipe, it just about killed me. You can label me a freak or a loser or whatever you want, but that was me. The obsessive oatmeal-eater girl.

Then, one day, I tried something else. It wasn’t by choice. We were out of oatmeal, and my mom still forced me to eat breakfast. So I had scrambled eggs. They were surprisingly good. The next morning I had a bagel. Even better. Anyway, long and obnoxious story short, I stopped eating oatmeal every morning. I expanded my horizons. And you know what? I feel a lot better in the mornings. It’s exciting to have new breakfast foods and try new recipes. It stimulates my brain cells and makes me feel more awake and happy to be anticipating something new.

In a weird, roundabout way, the same can be said for writing. After a while, even the best writers get stuck in a rut of sameness. Their books get so predictable that people lose interest in reading them. Why read yet another book where the parent dies of cancer and the mortal enemies fall in love? Learn to shake it up.

If you always write sentimental, sappy-sweet love stories, try writing something a little more snarky. If medieval quests are your forte, why not try your hand at a contemporary thriller? Switch from third person to first person, past tense to present tense, prose to poetry—anything that will put your out of your comfort zone and make you think creatively.


Look for inspiration in unlikely places.

I once read a quote from author Stephen King talking about where he finds his inspiration. I wish I could find the exact quote to share with you, but it was along the lines of “between aisles three and four at the grocery store.” I just think that is so cool! One of the most successful authors of the twentieth century found his greatest inspiration just watching the everyday interactions between people at his local grocers.

I’ve found that the same is true for me. Things like movies, books, and pictures can be great for drawing inspiration, but so can conversations between friends in the booth next to you at the diner. Or the crazy antics of those adorable kids you babysit on Fridays. Or the way your grandfather holds your grandma’s hand when they cross the street together. Believe it or not, the idea for my second novel was entirely derived from a drawing a boy showed me when I was teaching his Sunday school class one week. Who would’ve thought, right? Sometimes, all you need to get out of a creative rut is a little unexpected inspiration. So keep your eyes open to the people and places around you, and remember that even seemingly mundane things can be interesting if you view them in the right light!

 

For those of you who are interested in more writing tips and advice, I would encourage you to check out my blog and vlog videos! And don't forget to order your copy of my debut novel Interrupted. :)

33 comments:

  1. I usually get a different sort of writers block right before I start a story. The ideas in my head and everything, but I'm like 'How do I begin this?' But once I get the first chapter or so down, I get really into it and all is fine. I love that quote by S. King! I have a separate notebook dedicated to story ideas and interesting titles. Thanks for the helpful tips Miss Stephanie!

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    1. I have the same question right now. I hope it goes away when I finally overcome my doubt a bit and go type something up.

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  2. Okay, first off, maple brown sugar oatmeal is the best! I wont eat those other kinds, and their recipe change was gross.
    Secondly, great post!
    I get writers block quite often. Usually It's not that I dont know what to do next, it's that I dont know how to get there. So I generallyjust write some random stupid line, just to get me started, and then take off from that line. Then when I edit it, if I feel like it's still stupid and random, I'll cut it out, but it at least got me going.Or, if worst comes to worst, I'll throw the tablet (I never type it on the computer first) on the shelf (or under the bed) for up to a year, and then really start to miss my characters and my then I've got something thought up.

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    1. Ugh, I know. That recipe change seriously altered my life. ;) Also, just writing a random line can be very helpful. I do "free writing" sometimes, where I just write random ramblings, and it helps me feel creative again. It's nice sometimes just to feel like your writing is flowing, even if it seems really silly. :)

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    2. Haha, I quit eating it for a year after that;)
      Yeah, it is. Sometimes it turns out to be not so silly anyway, and actually has some bearing on the story, which is really nice.

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  3. My problem is that I have all these great scenes with all these gaps in between and no idea of how to fix it!

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    1. I agree! I have this problem a lot! How do you find fillers for the gaps? (post Stephanie?) Sierra
      Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Because You Are!)
      Philippians 4:8

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    2. What kind of gaps are we talking about? Can you guys be a little more specific?

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    3. I think I know what you mean by gaps. I get gaps all the time.

      I find that a sheet helps me with my gaps because it shows me where I have them all on one page, rather than me staring at a 300-page document. So I go through and list all of my scenes in order on a page, leaving several spaces where I have gaps. And then I can sit around and brainstorm new scenes to fill in the gaps.

      Here is my blank sheet: http://www.jillwilliamson.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/scene-plotting-chart.pdf

      And here is one where I filled in stuff but still had gaps: http://www.jillwilliamson.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/by-darkness-hid-scene-plotting-example.pdf

      But you can use a regular lined sheet of paper to to this. That what I just did for my latest WIP. And since I have four points of view in this book, I have everything in one long list. For example:

      Kendall: Finds Chord attacked/gets his letters
      Mason: Comes to Messenger meeting/he doesn't trust Ciddah
      Omar: Meets with Levi after meeting and gets yelled at
      Need scene with Jemimah: _______
      Mason: At work maybe?
      Kendall: Delivers Chord's letters
      Omar: Makes Owl costume
      etc.

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    4. Thanks Ms.Jill! Glad to know the "famous" and
      "big" authors still have some of our problems. I'll go check those out! That definitely gave me some ideas. Sierra
      Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Because You Are!)
      Philippians 4:8

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    5. LOL!
      Famous and big? *Jill looks around the room* Nope, just little ol' me here.

      We all have problems--different ones--but we all have them. Never doubt it!

      But I'm glad it gave you some ideas, Sierra. :-)

      And I LOVE Philippians 4:8! "Whatever..."

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    6. To me you are :) Hahaha glad to know that! Yes I love it! It's my life verse :) Thanks again! Sierra
      Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Because You Are!)
      Philippians 4:8

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  4. Thanks for the awesome post, Rachel! I'll be off to pick up your book at the library today :)
    I've had this problem a LOT throughout the years. I start a book, I get angry with it and halfway through Writer's Block kicks in, and I just dump the book. This year, I've been forcing myself to just keep writing. I was just last night thinking that I should dig out a book I wrote and rewrite and edit it - for some reason, I stopped after I finished it because I thought it was so bad (this was a year or two ago, I was 12). I guess I didn't realize it was a ROUGH DRAFT! ha ha ha ;) This post reminded me of how I used to constantly 'give up' on books as soon as the going got tough, so I actually took an entire year off writing in 2011. 2012 started, and I'm writing every day because I missed it so much!
    Thanks again for the post!

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    1. So glad you liked it! I hope you enjoy my book! (It makes me feel giddy every time I found out a library has it ;)

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  5. Great post Rachel! I missed the part that said "by Rachel Coker" I thought you were Stephanie all the way to the ending! So sorry :P But I can see how the breakfast thing works great with you. I can totally see you sitting down with oatmeal and juice :P That was a great analogy too! Writers block is terrible. You had some great tips! Thanks! Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Because You Are!)
    Philippians 4:8

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    1. Ha ha--maybe I should start my posts with "Warning: This post is by Rachel Coker. Continue reading at your own risk" or something? ;) Glad you enjoyed it!

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    2. That would be funny! It's like the ones were it's like don't read this post, you might learn something :P Because your posts are good for me Rachel! Sierra
      Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Because You Are!)
      Philippians 4:8

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  6. Great Post!!!
    I admit: I am the same way with breakfast. I kind of go in phases. One month its breakfast bars, the next it's eggs, the next English muffins. See a pattern. :)

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  7. Oh my word. I read a post about writer's block on some blog over a year ago, and it had that exact photo. o.0

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  8. I think I've mentioned this before...but I don't get writers block... I get writers EXPLOSION! and sometimes it's just as wicked as the block >.< Basically I have too MANY ideas and I write write write and then right before I get to the end... I tire out and then loose motivation to finish with a bang. -sigh- Any tips on pacing yourself?

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  9. This is EXACTLY what I need right now. Confirmation that writing another story at the same time is ABSOLUTELY OK. I feel like it helps when I write one fairy tale in third person (which is a very serious story) and then switch over to my different, first person fairy tale that is more on the snarky side. I've been beating myself up over this for a while, but now...I'm going to go head on into these stories. Thanks so much for your encouragement!! :D

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    1. Sierra, I'm so glad that it was helpful! Definitely don't beat yourself up about it. It is 100% okay to work on something else for a while. Fun, even! ;)

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  10. Writer's block is always a problem for me since I don't seem to write fast enough. I write a sentence or two, then stare at it for a while before I continue. I wish I could write faster and when I don't, I tend to lose interest quickly. Any suggestions?

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    1. Great question, thanks for asking! If you are constantly focused on writing "fast enough" then you're never going to be satisfied. Because you will lull at times, or things will slow down, and everything's not going to be moving quickly. I'm sure you've experienced that before. ;)
      My advice to you would be to think more about your story as a whole, and why you're excited about writing it. It can be discouraging sometimes when it doesn't feel like things are moving quickly enough for you, but you just have to remember that it's worth trudging along. If you have a great story idea and characters that you're really excited about, then it will all be worth it in the end. In life, the greatest friendships are the ones that are formed slowly, over long periods of time. It's the same way with writing. Don't be afraid to take your time, just remember to keep moving forward! It'll be worth it in the end. :)
      Hope that helps!

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    2. Great advice Rachel! I have one thing to add: If you are slowing down because you are constantly trying to go back and reread/edit your work, you might try *not* writing on a computer for a while. I am attempting to write a novel on a typewriter (sounds crazy, right?) but it has really helped silence my inner editor. Even when I think what I'm writing sucks I keep going because I'm no longer tempted to reread and revise. It's just, impossible. Until you get the hang of it, writing on a typewriter does slow you down a bit, but it's totally worth it because it forces you to only think about your story and characters and you can't really do much about the "quality" of the writing until it's time to revise. Anyway, hope that helps! Take it for what it's worth. Ultimately you get to decide what works for you. :)

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  11. I have problems with thinking I should just give up when Im stuck on a paragraph or scene. I was relieved you said you had that, Rachel and then you say "isn't that a stupid way to think?" and so I've been thinking about it and it is stupid. I hope I remember that tomorrow when those feelings come again.

    Oatmeal for breakfast? Lol. For years, I only ate cheerios. Somehow along the way when pouring them I'd toss 1 or 2 to my dog. Last summer, my dr told me I should try protien shakes for breakfast. I didn't bother me but my dog...oh my! She freaked out. She followed me everywhere & had to get right in front of me & lay down & make herself shake ntil I gave her cheerios. Next day, same thing. And so on. Months later I still give her cheerios

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    1. I know right?! You said what I was going to say before I got a chance to say it! That whole paragraph about "And just because I can’t get that dialog to read smoothly, I want to give up all together." Totally me. Too many of my stories have not been finished because of exactly this reason.

      And HAHA about your dog! Gotta love them and their routines :D

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    2. I'm so glad it was an encouragement, Tonya! I hope that you have an easier time sticking with your story! :)

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  12. Thank you for this post, Rachel. The WIP I just hit the 20K mark in isn't flowing as easily or quickly as I had hoped...so different with my last project which I never experienced block with!

    Anyway, this was an encouragement to me today that I'm doing the right thing by taking a few hours or days off. :)

    Oh, and I used totally be a cereal eater...for almost my entire high school athletic career. Now I've been introduced to the wonderful world of bad carbs for breakfast. It's awesome!

    Blessings,
    Rachelle

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  13. I have writers block all the time! and it usually just makes me quit my story altogether. Thanks for the awesome advise!

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  14. Nice Post!
    Just wanted to say that Interrupted surpassed (by far) my expectations (I know what you think about people who judge you on your age . . .)
    --Giana

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  15. Wow, Rachel, FABULOUS post! I love your tips, especially "try something different". (Interesting oatmeal story, by the way; I was kind of beginner-OCD as a little kid, so I can sort of see where you're coming from with it, haha. ;)

    And I agree with you and Stephen King - I love how you can get inspiration from literally anywhere! My current WIP actually grew from a conversation I overheard at the beach last summer. Crazy-awesome, isn't it?

    Thanks so much!

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  16. Super helpful! Thanks for posting. :)

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