When I first started writing, I didn't believe that writer's block was real. Since then, I've had many years to learn otherwise! I now believe in a writer's block model where there are four different causes. Today, I'd like to talk about those causes and what the solutions are for each of them. So let's dig into writer's block, y'all!
Problem: Lack of motivation
This is probably the most common cause of writer's block. People tend to believe that writing is something that happens when you're in the "mood," when you feel "the Muse" speaking to you. They believe you should only do it if you're enjoying it 100%. But what if that "mood" just isn't coming around?
Solution: Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard
The reality is, if you want to actually finish your project (and especially if you want to have a writing career), you need to write even when you're not feeling like it. It's okay just to write for fun, but if you want more out of your work, you need to buckle down. Writing can be hard. Periods where you lack motivation can last for a long time. Oftentimes, the motivation doesn't hit until you're in the middle of writing. As such, the refrain many authors repeat is "butt in chair, fingers on keyboard." Sit down and start writing anyway. It may take a while, but if lack of motivation truly is the cause of your writer's block, writing on a regular basis will almost certainly help--eventually.
I've known about this particular problem/solution for a long time, but I didn't truly understand it until I ran into trouble writing and editing CUCUY. With CUCUY came my biggest case of writer's block ever, which I talk about here. This block actually came from a combination of causes, but lack of motivation ended up being the ultimate one. I finally fixed the issue by making writing a daily habit!
Problem: Writer's doubt
Another common cause of writer's block is what my writing friends and I call "writer's doubt." This is where your lack of confidence and your anxiety about your writing get the better of you. Writer's doubt makes it impossible for you to work on your writing without having a wave of a million worries bowl you over.
Solution: Pep talk
If this is the problem you're running into, give yourself a pep talk! The point of writing isn't to be immediately fantastic at it. The point is to enjoy it, and part of that enjoyment (at least for me) is challenging yourself to improve your craft over time. And "over time" is a key phrase. It's okay to do a bad job at first. It's okay to do a bad job on every new piece you write! (That's what editing is for.) So talk it over with yourself, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and your life will be much easier. If you really need it, ask your loved ones to give you pep talks, too. Then, go back to solution #1, and put your butt in that chair. Try to push those worries away.
Problem: Something in your life is wrong
If you're suffering from writer's doubt, but solution #2 isn't working, your problem might actually be this third one: you might have a mental illness that needs taking care of. When there's something important that's wrong in your personal life, it can really affect your ability to write. This "something important" might be a mental or physical illness, a broken relationship, too much stress, troubles at work, or something else of the like..
Solution: Take care of yourself
Consider what the issues are in your life that could be throwing off your creative flow. Then figure out how to address them. Whether it's seeing a counselor or a doctor, making a lifestyle change, or asking others in your life for more support, you need to prioritize yourself: emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually. Once you're in a healthier place, you should find it much easier to write.
This has been the case for me many times, with my OCD, my chronic illnesses, and romantic disappointments. But don't forget, writing can also be a great outlet that helps improve your mental health. It was for me with CUCUY! So once you've taken steps to resolve the issues in your life, go back to solution #1 and.... put your butt in the chair.
Problem: You're not listening to your characters
If you've tried all the solutions above and your story still just isn't working, you've messed up, friend. There may be multiple ways to do this, I don't know, but for me, the problem has always been with listening to my characters. Once I create a character, they develop a sort of "soul" of their own that I can feel inside of me. This "soul" directs the character's actions, and sometimes, they'll behave in ways I don't expect. Their behavior, of course, directs at least half of the story, so the vague plans I may have had for the book can go off track. If I ignore what the character's saying and push my plans forward anyway, if I write them doing an action that doesn't match with what their "soul" is telling me, I will eventually get to a point where I can't go any further. The story just stops working.
Solution: Backtrack and listen this time
Reread your writing to figure out where the character starts behaving out of line, where it all starts to feel wrong. Then take a moment, listen to that "soul," and write the character acting the way they really would. This means you'll have to erase the work that comes after, but when you rewrite it with the new character actions, it should flow much better, and you should be able to make it to the end..
Remember, always, that you as the author only control initial character creation and then the circumstances they're in. You can throw trials in their path, but how they respond will ultimately be up to them. If you ignore their "free will," so to speak, you'll end up nowhere. This can get complicated, because there are multiple characters in a story interacting with each other, and they each have to act and react in authentic ways. But that's why real life is so complex, right?
I hope this helps out any writers out there! What are your thoughts on writer's block? Let me know, and I'll be back next week with my top to-reads coming out in the next few months.
Images via maxpixel.net, pxhere.com, Kendl123 on commons.wikimedia.org, and highersights on Flickr.
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