For many writers, the term ‘writer’s block’ is a familiar merciless nemesis that stalks them while they sit grim-faced at their computers or staring blank-eyed at their notepads, whilst seeking inspiration for their next literary masterpiece. Whether you are a master writer or a newbie writer, you will experience ‘writer’s block’ at some point during the creative process. So What is ‘writer’s block’ and can it be cured?
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘writer’s block’ as “The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing”. Now there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dealing with ‘writer’s block’, but I believe it can be cured, and James Patterson, the crime thriller extraordinaire, is also a strong believer in a cure for this writer’s malaise.
Here are four tips that I believe can help you to cure ‘writer’s block’ or at least keep it at bay.
No. 1 – Have multiple stories on the go.
This cure for ‘writers’ block’ comes from James Patterson, and anyone who has done his recent master-class on Facebook will heartily concur.
Patterson states that he does not “do writers’ block” (Patterson in Jardine 2006) as he is a big believer in versatility and having multiple stories on the go. So If you feel that you have stalled with your story and your creative muse has left the building, then follow in Patterson’s literary footsteps, and begin afresh with another story.
Sometimes we writers bite off more than we can chew and then find ourselves struggling to churn out a completed story in one sitting. But research shows that the brain functions better when we are relaxed. Relaxation breeds creativity.
If you feel like you are lost in the narrative maze, then never fear – put your original story aside and start another. And when you return to your original story, you may be pleasantly surprised by the fresh ideas that pour forth onto the screen or page.
No. 2 – Be committed to a story plan.
Every writer has their own formula for creating a story, but this is mine and it works for me. When I was first started out as a writer, I would just grab a pen and write whatever came into my head. In the beginning, I would be energized and enthused and my story will happily flow along for about a chapter or so, but then suddenly everything would go wrong. It was like my creative inspiration had just rapidly evaporated. So during my university degree, I learned a valuable tip – having a story plan really helps.
The Story Plan.
This is how the story plan works. Once I have my main premise/idea for my story, I start to write out the setting, and organize my characters. Then I will start drafting a rough outline of my chapters, if it is a novel. If it is a short story, I write a brief summary. Now in saying this, I am not ruling out that bizarre occurrence where the characters seem to develop a mind of their own and their characterization changes, or they seem to want to dictate the plot. But having a story plan is like having a map that you can refer to your characters change.
Sometimes I will be drafting a scene and it does not seem to quite fit in with the rest of the story. So I must be brave and cut the scene out! Being a writer demands that we have a ruthless streak, so do not be afraid to cut a character or a scene from your story. And if you find that your characters are undergoing a perplexing metamorphosis, this can be seen as a good thing, because it shows that the story world is developing and your characters are becoming well-rounded.
But back to ‘writer’s block’. Having a master game plan will guide you out of the narrative maze and get you back on track.
No. 3 – Step away from the computer or notepad.
This is simple advice, but effective. The literary saying that writing is ‘One percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’, is 100 per cent true! And there is nothing more intimidating than a blank screen or a blank page. We writers can sit for hours staring at the computer screen or notepad desperately hoping that inspiration will arrive, but sometimes you just have to walk away and breath some fresh air. Take the dog for a walk. Cloud gazing can also help kick-start those creative neural pathways.
No. 4 – Brainstorm creative ideas.
If you ever find yourself at a loss for creative ideas, then brainstorming is a must for any writer. But how do you come up with unique and fresh ideas for a story, especially considering that we live in a ‘information age’ and are surrounded by countless media texts and images, story and character archetypes. And especially when it seems that the Hollywood dream machine has the monopoly on creative ideas.
But each creative brain is unique. As writers we all have different cultural backgrounds, world perspectives, and varied life experiences. Your own life is a good place to start brainstorming for story ideas. Everyone has their own story to tell. So what is yours and how can you craft it into a story that will inspire, entertain or challenge your reader?
John Marsden, the author of novels such as Tomorrow When the War Began and Everything I Know About Writing, provides great advice for finding sources for stories. Human stories are all around us, just waiting for a writer to pounce on them, and craft them into a literary masterpiece. You can source great ideas from newspaper articles, the nightly news and from listening to other people’s tales. (1993, pp. 55-58) Dreams are another good place to draw inspiration from. Brainstorming allows you to discover story gold.
So do not despair! ‘Writer’s block’ is not classed as a terminal condition and it can be cured by being proactive, learning from other literary masters, and hopefully by putting these tips into practice.
Jardine, C 2006, ‘James Patterson ‘I don’t do writers’ block’, 28 April,The Telegraph, viewed 15 November, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3651894/I-dont-do-writers-block.html
Marsden, J 1993, Everything I Know About Writing, Pan Macmillan, Australia.