Writer's Block: Do I abandon this project?
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Writer’s block afflicts us all. At any stage of the writing process, we can end up staring at the page and nothing comes. There are many causes. The fear of a blank page. Writing yourself into a dead-end. Losing momentum. Growing bored of your project. Whatever the cause, there is a solution. And that solution isn’t giving up!
Push through it
Many writers in forums carry this mantra of “just keep writing”. Sometimes this is just what you need. You stop writing to make a coffee. You come back. There’s a cursor blinking at you. But no inclination to finish that sentence. The thoughts have run dry. Panic sets in. Instead of running away from your WIP and never looking at it again (with would be a bit dramatic), give that blinking cursor a run for its money. Even if what comes out is utter rubbish, you’ve written something, and you are building that momentum again. Another method is accountability. Finding someone to do even a 20-minute writing sprint can reignite your momentum.
Pro tip: Write this section with track changes on or in a bright font colour so that you can come back and edit it when you’re feeling more confident in your writing practice.
Write around it
Okay. Pushing through isn’t helping. You’re stuck. You don’t know what to write or where to go. Now is it time to run for the hills? Probably not. Common writing advice is to put in square brackets [and then this happened] and jump to the next scene. This scene is fresh, new, exciting, and perhaps not bound by the rules and setting created in the previous scene. You can get in the flow again. You can explore new avenues. Alternatively, jump back through your novel and recraft an old scene to respark the direction you were headed.
Pro tip: if you’re making a habit of this, make sure you use a search function for square brackets at the end of each section/chapter/draft to make sure you’re not leaving in unwritten placeholders.
But what if it isn’t a matter of losing momentum or getting a little stuck wading in a scene. What if your sense of plot is lost, you’ve written yourself into a corner, lost in a maze, and you don’t know what to do? We’ve all been there. Your lifeline out of this is the supportive help of the writing community at large. Alpha readers can help you with these macro issues. I have a blog post on using Beta readers here. These guidelines will be similar for Alpha readers, so be sure to check them out. Similarly, if you’re in a writing circle you can find someone to talk through your plot and unravel the story to the point where you can continue on again.
Pro tip: noticing a case of writing yourself into a dead-end is actually an amazing skill. You’ve stopped yourself in your tracks and prevented reliance on Deus ex Machina which can be incredibly unsatisfying for the reader. Don't be disheartened!
Write something different
Your project is fine. It’s plodding along with your carefully curated plot. Or perhaps it’s being made up as you go along at a steady rate without running into any issues. But you’re bored. Now what? Abandon it for the next shiny thing? Don’t do that! If you make a habit of it, then nothing will get done and you could end up being a sad puddle. There’s no need to write yourself into a sad puddle. Instead, take a break from this project. I suggest this isn’t an indefinite break. Give yourself a deadline for this break to be over, otherwise, you may run into the aforementioned puddle issue. Instead, dig out your favourite prompt generator and bash out a few short pieces. Even a page will do. Return to your project with a fresh mind and maybe even some fun new ideas.
Pro tip: Writing prompts are especially great if your writer’s block creeps up right at the beginning of your writing journey. Don’t try to sprint before you can walk. It’s okay that the document created for your big debut novel is empty. Exercise your writing by trying it out on smaller projects first.
Consider writer’s block as a form of burnout
Have you considered that maybe you’re tired and stressed? We get so emotionally wrapped
up in our stories. Sometimes writer’s block is a sign that you need to take a break from it all.
There are questions you can ask to figure out if needing rest is the reason for your writer’s block. Are you expecting too much of yourself? Have you enforced a goal that saps the fun from your craft? Have your motivations for writing changed?
Pro tip: try to find a non-writing hobby. Taking a break from writing is great. Having something to do in the meantime will allay any feelings of guilt that may crop up. You’re writing is allowed to be on the back burner.
These are my thoughts! Everyone is writing and living in their own unique circumstances and may use different tools to overcome it. The answer to the fairly jokey title of this blog post is "probably no". No matter what tool you use to overcome writer's block, you will overcome it. Don't give up! What do you use to overcome writer’s block?