It’s really a terrible feeling. Having a hypothetically great end goal for your writing in mind but having no idea how to get there. There’s a name for this. It’s called writer’s block. But I call it agony because until I can get to my “there,” I can’t really rest, or at least not very comfortably.
Writer’s block happens to all writers, but it’s not every writer that knows that there are ways around it. There are tricks of the trade, or things you can do when the words aren’t coming and you’ve got deadline, lofty goals, or just a desire to be done. Here are five of the things I do when I feel stuck when writing to get unstuck.
Call a friend.
“Does it have to be a writer friend?” you ask. Not at all. Sometimes, as writers, getting “stuck” has to do with our inability to take ourselves out of our brains and think, and, thus, speak clearly, Normal language. No jargon. So when stuck, call a friend, a supportive and thinking friend or family member and talk about what you’re writing. Then allow the conversation about your topic to just happen. You’ll be amazed how easy and effective this small activity is to get going again with your writing.
If you can, of course. I mean, assuming there are no academic or professional deadlines deathly looming over your head, take a break. Yes, of course, in order to get better at writing you should write everyday. But no one said what you have to write every single day. So if your novel is feeling stuck, stop. Do yoga. Go for a walk. Read good writing. Take a vacation. Make that phone call (see number 1). And then, and even if you don’t feel like it, come back. Sit down and start writing, again. Something good will happen. I promise.
I was a really good thinker in grad school but my writing wasn’t that great. I never knew why until I took a professional job as a technical writer and learned that overthinking long, arduous sentences that sound good, rather than make sense, doesn’t really fly…well, anywhere. My writing process would always take a lot of time because I would wed myself to ideas and the way a sentence sounded that I refused to change. I’ve learned since then that my old habits only invited writer’s block. You can’t be a perfect writer. But you can do your best. And if you haven’t gotten to your best, in the draft phase, keep writing crap. Write and don’t judge. Don’t edit (yet). Just write everything that’s in your head and ignore the voice that keeps telling you “this makes no sense!” “Of course,” you must tell that voice, “it doesn’t make sense! It’s not supposed to!” You are your only reader at this point, so, really, “who cares?” Who knows, maybe in saying everything, you’ll find that one thing that you were trying to find six pages ago. Maybe.
Change your goals.
Writing is a process of discovery, right? You don’t usually know where you’ll end up until you start going, right? Right! I believe in authenticity. And I believe when we can be the most authentic versions of ourselves, we can produce our best writings, fiction and non-fiction. So…your goals. If you don’t really know why you’re writing, it’s really hard to keep writing. Making lots of money is an often a goal inherent in many professional writer’s aspirations. But, from experience, that’s not really a goal. Money can’t get you unstuck. But your passion and an authentic desire to say something that you feel is worthwhile can. So when stuck, decide, again, why you’re writing and if necessary change (or fine tune) your goals and, possibly, your topic. It’s really okay.
Writing is a solitary activity, but it’s okay to wave your white flag and ask for help with your sentences, with what your writing is triggering in you psychologically, with editing. It’s okay. You are still a writer. A darn good writer.