I think we’ve all been there: You sit down at your desk, open a fresh document, and…nothing. You stare at that blank piece of paper and will the odd thoughts and musings swirling around your head to magically transform into a polished, eloquent paragraph, but to no avail. The blinking cursor seems to mock you, and you’re surprised by how the absence of something can leave you feeling so full of dread.
Writer’s block has afflicted us all at one point or another. And, as an aspiring author, it’s certainly no stranger to me. Writing a ten-page essay for school could be challenging enough. But when there’s no prompt, no instructions, no anything except for you and your imagination, that blank piece of paper can be even more intimidating.
If my writing has taught me anything, though, it’s that writer’s block can be vanquished. It may take some experimentation, but discovering a process that works for you is, in my opinion, one of the most important steps when it comes to being a writer. Here are a few tips and tricks that might help you to go about filling that page and sticking it to that blinking cursor:
- UNPACK YOUR FEELINGS
Sometimes, the first step to ridding yourself of writer’s block is trying to determine what might be giving you pause. Is it just that you’re having trouble coming up with dialogue…or is it something deeper? Occasionally, we are unable to put things down on the page because we’re afraid that what we write might just suck. Sometimes we worry that we’re just a few sentences away from realizing that this whole writing thing isn’t for us; we’re afraid to fail. If that’s the case, it is important to acknowledge those feelings of doubt and anxiety and remind ourselves that we are the ones writing our stories; words can be written and reconsidered and written again. Characters can be created and changed and ultimately removed. We have the pen (or the keypad) and we have the power. We also have control over who reads our work. So, worst case, if what you produce doesn’t feel like the next To Kill A Mockingbird, that’s okay – just view it as a chance to stretch your creative muscle and come one step closer to a Harper Lee level of mastery.
- NIKE GETS IT: JUST DO IT
Once you’ve mentally prepared yourself to get to work…well, it’s time to get to work. Just as it’s easy to feel intimidated by the weight of your role as a writer, it is similarly easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead, become lethargic and apathetic, and put your project on the back-burner. While taking occasional breaks from your work is completely acceptable and sometimes even beneficial, especially when you’re just starting out, it’s important to push forward. One tip I’ve heard several professional writers share – and one that has worked for me in the past – is to set a timer for one hour and spend that period of time at work each day. Some days, that might mean generating page after page of revolutionary prose all within 60 minutes. Other days, that might mean composing a single sentence. As long as you are putting in the time, you’re making headway as well as establishing a valuable routine.
- TO OUTLINE, OR NOT TO OUTLINE
Some authors swear by it. Others scoff at it. But how you factor outlining into your writing depends entirely on you. I have found that a basic outline of main plot points can be helpful – it ensures that you have direction (which can proactively combat writer’s block) and prevents you from forgetting that killer plot twist that you came up with in the shower last night. Still, spontaneity and letting your characters tell you how their stories should go can be valuable as well. Experimenting with outlining – because there are many ways to do it (e.g., basic plot points, a full overview, a quick summary of the beginning, middle, and end but nothing in between, scribbling down random thoughts that come to mind, etc.) might help you craft not only a stronger story, but a more meaningful and personalized writing process (although, of course, this can change over time).
- WORD DUMP
Now that you’ve talked yourself off the ledge, set aside time to work (no phones!), and outlined (or not), it’s time to get started. To begin, I recommend simply taking everything you’ve brainstormed and dumping it messily onto the page. Your first draft is just that – a first draft. So now is the time to get words down, not to sculpt sentences to perfection. Regardless of how inarticulate you have to be, just start writing and have fun!
- EDIT, EDIT, AND EDIT SOME MORE
Once you’ve finally made your way through that first draft, now it’s time to marvel at your work…and come at it with a wrecking ball. Reread what you have for continuity and content – Does your story make sense? Are there any plot holes? Could this scene use a bit more dialogue? Is that character really necessary? – and don’t be afraid to add, change, delete, modify, morph, or even to start all over again. The editing process might require you to remove your favorite parts from your piece – and that’s okay. It might cause you to completely reconsider your idea – and that’s okay too. Again, this is your story, and you won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings if where you end up is vastly different from where you started.
- SHARING IS CARING
So, you’ve completed your third round of edits and are exhausted. Perfect – it is now time to share your work, whether with a coworker, a friend, a family member, or otherwise. This can be scary, but remember: no matter how much of yourself you’ve poured into it, your work isn’t you. If someone hates your book, that doesn’t mean they feel the same way about you or doubt your potential as a writer; it just means that another round of edits might be necessary. Getting constructive feedback is essential for every author – after all, how can you sell your book to readers across the globe if you don’t know what your audience is looking for? And, who knows, maybe someone will find a way to close that plot hole or come up with a great catch phrase for your favorite character. So be open, be humble, and be excited to hear what others have to say.
- MASTERPIECES TAKE TIME – AND REJECTION
Finally, it is important to recognize that part of the process, as frustrating as it can be, is long nights and rejection. While there are exceptions (and I hope that you are one of them!), you’ll probably spend months toiling over a book only to find that there isn’t an interest in it. You’ll probably get a bunch of rejection letters. You’ll probably feel like a failure. But – and here’s the important part – you’re NOT! Every “no, thank you” and unhappy letter is a reminder that you have done something! You’ve created a work and sent it out into the universe, and, accepted or not, that is a HUGE accomplishment. Plenty of famous writers have spent years working on a book only to cast it aside and try again with another idea, and that has helped them to grow and develop as a writer. So, give yourself permission to fail and celebrate your rejections – they will make your eventual success even more rewarding.
I wish all of you writers out there the best of luck, and I look forward to someday reading your work.