Beat the snot out of writer’s block
by Andrea Semple
Writing a novel is hard. First off, you’ve got to cope with everyone smiling patronizingly at the idea that you could ever be a published writer.
Then you’ve got all those horrible demon voices in your head saying: ‘YOU’RE CRAP! YOU’LL NEVER BE A NOVELIST! PUT YOUR PEN DOWN AND GET BACK TO THE DAY JOB!’
As a result, it’s not surprising that we all suffer from writer’s block from time to time. Unfortunately, there’s no miracle cure to help you write 80,000 or so words without once wanting to stick your head in the microwave.
All I can do is offer my own personal solutions which may not be one hundred percent effective, but if they stop just one of you from banging your head against the wall then my job has been worthwhile.
OK, let’s get to work — here are my top ten ways to beat writer’s block:
1. Just do it.
Nike’s slogan is not just a way of selling overpriced trainers to
branded teens across the globe. It’s a neat encapsulation of how
to overcome writer’s block. That’s because writer’s block tends
to be another name for writer’s fear. The fear of crap writing.
You can overcome that fear by just doing it anyway, regardless of
whether it’s crap or not. After all, you can edit out the crap
2. Read a book.
Books breed books. Instead of staring at a white wall for
twenty-eight hours stick your head in an old classic and get
inspired. Dickens always works for me.
3. Do some research.
If you are having a case of imagination block, read up on some
relevant facts or general research. Factual information relating
to the place, period, theme or characters of your novel can then
be sprinkled into the story.
4. Don’t stress.
Pressure is the enemy of writing. When you are writing your first
novel that pressure is most likely to come from yourself. Setting
yourself a deadline is a great idea, but don’t let it give you a
5. Don’t worry about your daily word count.
Quality and quantity aren’t always equal. Indeed, James Joyce,
author of one of the greatest and longest novels in the English
language, suffered from intense writers block. He was once
pleased with himself for having managed to squeeze out seven
words in a day. The pressure of setting a daily word count can
lead to no words being produced at all. Instead, set the amount
of hours you want to work each day.
6. Don’t write consecutively.
A lot of people assume they should write a book the way it is
going to be read – i.e. from start to finish. But this approach
can often lead to keyboard constipation. If you are struggling to
start the next chapter write another part of the book which might
come a bit easier, then go back and fill in the gaps.
7. Keep characters to a minimum.
The main cause of my own writer’s block is normally due to a case
of character overload. If you are having to write a chapter which
introduces about five new characters into the plot then it can be
an uphill struggle. Therefore strip any unnecessary characters
out of the plot and concentrate on those that are clear in your
mind. This also makes for a tighter, sharper read.
8. Be a sprinter, not a long-distance runner.
Another cause of writer’s block is exhaustion. If you’ve been
working day and night on your future masterpiece then you are
likely to hit what marathon-runners call ‘the wall’. Instead of
being the literary equivalent of a long-distance runner it is
best to think like a sprinter. That means giving yourself plenty
of rest periods and making sure that when you perform you give it
your best shot over a relatively short period.
9. Keep it secret.
Now, this is hard. If you are writing a novel your first impulse
will probably be to tell everybody about it. Big mistake. Trust
me, no matter how much people love you they are unlikely to be
quite as enthusiastic about your future novel-writing career as
you are. The end result is a cold bucket of water over your
burning ambition – and a never-ending writer’s block.
10. Forget about your readers.
This may seem like strange advice, but it works for severe cases
of writer’s block. After all, writing a novel is not as private as
some people imagine. Knowing that thousands of people could end
up reading it (or even tens of literary agents), can make you
feel like you are on show. Some instances of writer’s block are
actually similar to stage-fright. And once you start thinking
about the different pairs of eyes reading your text it can become
hard to write a good sentence, let alone a chapter. So write in
a way that impresses yourself and don’t think of anyone else’s
opinion. As one of the screenwriters for Friends put it,
‘if I constantly thought about the audience, I’d never write a
single word.’ If you love what you produce, others will probably
love it too. So have faith in yourself and don’t try to second
guess what bookbuyers want to read.
(c) 2004, Andrea Semple. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Bio: Andrea Semple is the author of The Ex-Factor (Strapless) and The Make-Up Girl (Piatkus).
Visit official site: Andrea Semple
About: The Arte Six Writers Bloc series is an ongoing column featuring practical advice for writers. Copyright resides with author of column. Columns may not be re-posted, except with written permission from original author.
The author of the column above, Beat the snot out of writer’s block,
is: Andrea Semple.