We’ve all had it. Or have we? I know authors who claim they’ve never once been plagued by this ubiquitous ailment, but they are few and far between. For the rest of us, we are all but guaranteed to experience a block during our careers and usually at the most inopportune moments. But writer’s block doesn’t have to become a chronic condition. In fact, there are numerous tried and true fixes. At the end of this blog, I’ll share the most important tip of all: how to prevent catching the bug in the first place.
Let’s start with my favorite trick. It’s not necessarily the most effective, but it often works and is quite simple to implement: Take a nap. No. I’m not shining you on. Turning off your conscious brain can unblock your creativity. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a genius idea? Sure you have. I often wake up with pieces of dialogue going in my head. When I start writing down the dialogue, boom, that writer’s block is history!
Next up, is the phone-a-friend method. A fellow writer can provide moral support—writer’s block is often the result of a crisis of confidence. And as a bonus, you can brainstorm around any particular plot points that are causing you trouble.
But watch out for this potential pothole. Sometimes you can get even more stuck if you try to fix everything. Even the most compulsive “plotter”, and I consider myself among that group, needs to fly by the seat of her pants, at times, to get unstuck.
My least favorite, and yet highly effective, tip is to set a timer, turn off your “internal editor”, and spew out words. Although it’s practically guaranteed to work, I don’t love it. Once I unblock, instead of tossing most of those words I feel compelled to clean them up. Did I mention I’m compulsive? So for me, the cure can become worse than the disease, if I keep trying to fix junk. As long as you’re willing to hit the delete key on large bits of your work, you’ll be good to go.
And this brings me to the crux of unblocking yourself. Sit down and write. It works. This is slightly different than the timer method. You can go easy and take your time, but just keep writing—even if you have no idea where the story is going. Even if you don’t have a title (me!) or don’t know your character’s names or you haven’t picked your MacGuffin.
Sidetrack: A MacGuffin is not something you order at a fast-food joint. It’s a plot device used to shore up the story. It’s the reason all the action takes place. And the crazy thing is, it doesn’t really matter what it is. You can, at least in theory, write the entire story and figure out the content of that secret message that was written in invisible ink on the dead man’s forehead at the end.
My personal pitfalls are obsessing over the MacGuffin and spending months on storyboards that I never consult again, once I begin to write. Now, that doesn’t mean the brainstorming, plotting and storyboarding were a waste of my time. It seems to be part of my process, so I don’t beat myself up about it.
But what I’ve finally learned is this. You can prevent writer’s block simply by writing every day. If you do, you will not block. I promise. Writing is a muscle that we have to exercise. Using it daily prevents atrophy. Getting writer’s block when you’re writing every day would be like forgetting how to walk mid-stride.
So write every day. And when all else fails…take a nap!
Carey Baldwin is a mild-mannered doctor by day and an award-winning author of edgy suspense by night. She holds two doctoral degrees, one in medicine and one in psychology. She loves reading and writing stories that keep you off balance and on the edge of your seat. Carey lives in the southwestern United States with her amazing family. In her spare time she enjoys hiking and chasing wildflowers.
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