Here are six few tips I have either picked up over the years, or have discovered myself to help combat the all-pervasive Writer’s Block.
1) First of all, Writer’s Block doesn’t exist. No … strike that; it shouldn’t exist. If you have written before, you can write now, and you will continue to be able to write in the future. And not only that, everything that you have written in the past can be seen as part of a process to deliver you to where you are right now. Unless, of course, you possess genius. So take that thought and run with it, or … think about it, to transport your writing to somewhere even better in the future. This is known as Dissonance Reduction, and referring back to something that you have written in the past – something that you feel really good about – will help generate the confidence you need to put pen to paper. That all-important self-efficacy is achieved through mastery experiences, so it is good to have a bank of these to refer to in times of difficulty (I’ll elaborate on this shortly).
2) Have a very clear picture of what it is you want to write. This sounds simple, but it’s not, because writing is a fluid, organic process. However, here are a few tips; try to answer these questions:
a. What are you writing?
b. Is it a novel? If not, what is it?
c. What is the genre?
d. Who is the target market?
e. Which authors do you see your masterpiece sitting next to in a bookshop?
f. Is it character or narrative driven? On this point you may require further clarity: for example Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language is largely a character driven novel. However, it has a hook, an inciting moment that draws the reader in, and therefore this defines its genre.
g. And the biggest question of all – and you will need to have an answer to this if you want to interest an agent – why is your book important? What makes it different from every other bloody book that’s ever been written?
h. Once you have done this homework and know you what you are writing, the rest will fall into place. Trust me.
3) “Writers don’t like writing — they like having written.” This is a saying attributed to George R. R. Martin, whose books are the basis for “Game of Thrones.” Try to imagine what it will feel like to have achieved your daily, or maybe weekly, writing goal. How will you celebrate it? For me, I go to my favourite bar, buy a beer, open my laptop and review what I’ve written. If it flows and captivates me – particularly after two or maybe three beers – then I’m happy. If it doesn’t … if I find I’m constantly restructuring as I sip my beer … if a skip through whole paragraphs, or find my dialogue wooden, then the reader will to. But try to visualise that frisson of enjoyment that reading something you can stand by will give you. And sometimes it even helps to imagine yourself as the eyes of a friend or colleague who enjoys your voice. Remember: you are a good writer; you believe in yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.
4) Set yourself goals.
a. Long term goals: if you are writing a novel, how long is it going to be? You will know this by referring to works of fiction within your genre. Rule of thumb: for suspense fiction, crime fiction, detective fiction, thriller, mystery fiction, legal thriller or medical thriller, you should be aiming at around eighty to eighty-five thousand words.
b. How long is this going to take you?
c. How much research will be required and how difficult will it be to conduct this research? Tip: write about what you know about. If you can use your own life experiences to weave into the tapestry of your fiction, it will not only be easier to write, but will also be much more natural and therefore more believable.
d. How much available time do you have to devote to your project?
e. Do you have a deadline? Unlikely, unless you have been previously published and have an agent breathing down your neck.
f. So, for example, I am currently writing a darkly comedic novel about a paranoid schizophrenic sex addict. I am some fifteen thousand words into the project, and past experience (from my previous novel, Losing The Plot) suggest that I will write the bulk of it between June and the end of September, and so it should be ready for publication around next February.
g. Medium term goals: these are harder to set. Remember, the key points (SMART etc.) about goals are that they must be achievable and measureable. The latter is surprisingly difficult to assess when it comes to writing, because we’re not just talking about a word count here; what you have written has got to have driven the project forward, so we need to assess this qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
h. Short term goals: set yourself targets – the usual suspects are either “I will write for four hours today,” or “I will write one thousand words today.” I prefer the latter, simply because (unless you are Jack (Nicholson) Torrance in The Shining) it is impossible to cheat. Convert this goal into a weekly target and, hey presto, you have a mini medium term goal.
5) Avoid distractions. We all know about this. Sometimes I will even do housework in order to spare myself the pain of writing. Don’t kid yourself that you must have the perfect writing environment. Okay, perhaps Ian Fleming’s writing was at its best in his Caribbean paradise sipping a Vodka Martini, surrounded by beautiful women, but for mere mortals is that really necessary? Or even desirable? Write where you find yourself. If you have a choice of inspirational venues, then by all means use them, but don’t use their absence as an excuse.
6) And finally, I referred to this earlier, think again about how you will achieve self-efficacy through mastery experiences. Write. Anything. I suggest writing a blog. As you may well know (you will if you’re reading this) I write a blog. But it’s not a very good blog, and it doesn’t have many followers for the reasons that I don’t write it regularly and I do nothing to publicise it (other than sticking a link on Twitbook). When I’m engaged in a fiction project that is going really well, I rarely blog. But when I’m struggling, I find that it helps to step aside from the troublesome project and create a piece of prose which will achieve a modicum of Dissonance Reduction, and this often has the effect of putting me back on track.
So there you have it, six tips which, over the years, I have found to be helpful in overcoming Writer’s Block. Of course, some of these are highly subjective, and there are others that I also use; but my main advice would be this: when or wherever you settle down to write … write something … write anything.