It happens to every writer. You get to a point somewhere in the middle of the book and the plot that has been rolling merrily along simply evaporates. Where do we go from here? It’s an intensely discouraging moment for all of us. In some cases, it can even convince people to put their writing down for good.
But it isn’t always as hopeless as it seems. There are three questions you can ask yourself that might help beat the block.
1. Is it Physical?
Our brains and bodies are not separate. Writers are notorious for immersing themselves in a project and ignoring the body’s demands. Sooner or later, though, the body says no more! The first thing you should do when you’re blocked is a quick physical assessment. Are you hungry? Dehydrated? Sleepy? Sore from sitting in one position too long? Does your head hurt from staring at a screen? Do you have to pee? Are you coming down with a cold?
Give yourself a break to address your body’s needs. Eat something sustaining (protein, fiber, fat). Drink some water. Take a stretch break. Put on an upbeat song and dance like only your cat is judging you. Go for a walk. Go to bed early and try again tomorrow.
2. Is it Pressure?
This is especially a problem for people with very little time to write. When you can only squeeze in half an hour of writing time between work, classes, and kids, anything that interferes with it has an outsized impact. We’re also under pressure to produce. How many words today? How many chapters edited? How many queries sent? This keeps us motivated, but the stress can also actively interfere with the creative process.
Writing is a long game, and a sustainable pace is more important than a high word count. If you only have a half hour to write, it’s better to get twenty good minutes in than thirty bad ones. Take ten minutes and do something completely different to clear your mind. Take a walk. Take a shower. Meditate. Don’t get on social media or read…let your mind actually relax from the effort of creating. Don’t think about your writing at all, if you can help it. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi teaches us in “Creativity and Flow,” our brain sometimes does its best work when we’re not trying to make it work.
Make sure your goals and expectations are sustainable. If you are continuously blocked and frustrated trying to produce 400 words a day, try shooting for 200. If you do more than that, great! But a reachable goal removes a lot of pressure, and a relaxed mind is a creative one.
3. Is it Plotting?
This is a particular problem for pantsers, but plotters are not immune. You reach the end of a scene in your book, and suddenly have no idea how to get the characters where you want them to go next! Everything you try seems awkward or forced. It’s chapter three, and the book seems to want to end right here.
This is a plotting problem. It usually means you’ve wrapped up a conflict too early in the story, and need to delay its resolution for a while longer. You could also go back and introduce a new conflict before this point to carry the story forward. Always ask if your characters are miserable enough! Yes, we love them. But in the immortal words of Urgl, “It has to hurt if it’s to heal.” When you resolve a conflict, you remove tension. When you add or prolong a conflict, you add tension. Don’t drop your tension too soon, and it will prevent these “early ending” moments.
What other suggestions have you heard to beat writer’s block?