Writer’s block can strike in many different forms, and there’s no one straightforward solution that’s going to get you through it every time. Recognising which type of writer’s block you’re experiencing will help you find the right tools to break through it. Here we list five common types of writer’s block, and our favourite tried-and-tested answers to overcoming them.
“I want to write, but don’t know what about”
Every writer needs an idea to fall in love with. Often, it’s the theme of the story that gets us fired up and excited. Think about what you love to read – what are those books really about, what do they say about the world? Find a theme that appeals to you, then try a ‘word bomb’. Write your thematic word in the centre of the page, circle it, and then set yourself a ten-minute timer, during which you write constantly: whatever comes to mind around that central theme, no matter how ordinary, outrageous, dull, crazy, predictable, odd or irrelevant – write it all down. You’ll be surprised at the thoughts your brain throws at you in ten minutes. When the time is up, see what you can do with the words on the page. Is there a concept or an idea that calls out to you? Can you draw connections between them to come up with something new? Is there a word there that you want to try a new ‘word bomb’ with to explore further ideas?
“I don’t know where to start” (also known as ‘fear of the blank page’)
Start in the middle. Start at that point in the story that you can most clearly picture in your imagination. That will be the scene that will inspire you to get working on the rest of the story. This is the first draft you’re writing – not the final version – and you don’t need to write it in logical order, or even to know what happens in each part of the plot. Sometimes, you’ll find you’re only able to write the beginning after you’ve written the ending.
“My writing is awful – no-one will want to read it!”
This may seem like a daunting and paradoxical solution, but take your writing to a writing group. The constructive critique you will receive from fellow writers will do two things: it will highlight what others like about your writing (something you couldn’t possibly second-guess), and help identify how you can improve your writing in ways that you are unlikely to think of when reading your work alone. Genuinely, the effect of a good writing group is refreshing, motivational and inspiring.
“Writing this is such a daunting, never-ending task that it paralyses me”
There’s no getting away from the fact that writing is a long-term task. It takes time, and yes, it’s daunting. Breaking your project down into milestones and setting yourself some shorter-term goals makes it feel more manageable. Think about how much time you are able to and want to spend writing, every day, week or month, and set yourself achievable goals. If you can combine this technique with regularly giving yourself the space and time to write, you’re well on the way.
“I don’t like my story”
It’s impossible to work on a story that doesn’t fire you up. But if it’s a story that you used to be excited about – go back to the big questions: Why did I want to write this story? What do I want to say with it? Why is it important to me? Talking through these questions with other writers, while daunting, is hugely helpful in reminding yourself why you fell in love with your story idea in the first place – and, like we said right at the beginning, you need to be working on a story that you love.