Writing Through Writer’s Block

As my twitter followers will know, this July I was convinced to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo (perhaps against my better judgment). An offshoot of the original National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Camp NaNoWriMo aims to keep people writing through the summer by having two “sessions” (one in April, one in July) where “campers” can set word count goals they want to complete by the end of the month (unlike the 50,000 word goal of NaNoWriMo, campers can set goals anywhere from a few hundred words to over 100,000 for the month of April or July).

Having hit a snag on the third book of a trilogy I’ve been writing, I was convinced to join Camp this year–after all, that’s what NaNoWriMo is about, giving a hard deadline as motivation to actually get some writing done. Figuring I could at least do 1,000 words a day, I set my word count goal at 31,000 for the month and started away.

As always, the month started out well. Freshly motivated, I had a number of productive days that put me a good week ahead of schedule. Newly confident, I even upped my goal to the standard 50,000. I churned out a few more scenes, full steam ahead…and then hit a writer’s block. Hard. I had some vague idea of where I wanted the story to go from where I was, but how to keep going came up at a blank. A couple of days staring at a blinking cursor, and all of a sudden I was dropping behind rather drastically. Either I’d have to write or drop out all together.

And so I set out to vanquish what my twitter follower and fellow Camper, Leigh (@spionchen), cleverly referred to as the Block-ness monster–which, as any writer will probably know, is easier said than done.

As with everything in writing, different things work for different people when it comes to how we get words down on the page. Some people even find it better to wait out a writer’s block until they’re inspired again. For those looking to blast their way through, however, here are a few tips:

1. Set a hard deadline. Some people thrive under pressure, some people don’t. If you’re the type who was never able to get a paper done in school until that due date was looming up ahead, think about setting a hard deadline. The lucky out there might have a publisher breathing down their necks for a manuscript (“We contracted you for a series! Where’s book three??”) but even you who don’t have a contract forcing you to write, you can still motivate yourself with deadlines. You can take part in a program like NaNoWriMo, can join a writing group/have a writing partner to whom you feel accountable, or even just set a goal yourself (assuming you’re able to keep yourself motivated with just that circle on the calendar). Would I have gotten through my writer’s block without Camp NaNoWriMo? At some point, yes. Would it have been this week? Probably not.

2. Avoid distractions. Some people write best with music playing, some in a coffee shop, some in complete silence. Finding what works best for you really comes down to trial and error. The important thing is to figure out what does and doesn’t allow you to write. Can you have a TV on in the background? Or do you start watching that instead of writing? Does having a wifi connection help with your research? Or does it mean you’re spending your “writing time” on Facebook or blogging (Man, if I could count the 600 words so far for Camp…) There are programs, such as Scrivener or Dark Room that provide “full screen” word processing (so you don’t see all the other tabs and applications you might rather be playing with) if you find yourself distracted on a computer, or it might just be as simple as putting on noise-cancelling headphones with some Vivaldi if that is what helps you focus. The main thing is to be aware and figure out what is distracting you from actually writing.

3. Bribe yourself. I’ve heard it said, “It works for kids, why wouldn’t it work for you?” Just like getting a child to sit still with the promise of a toy later on, rewards work really well when you’re in a slump and can’t seem to reach a goal (especially when you’re working on self-imposed deadlines). Some writers do this with the basics (Once I hit 20,000 I can eat/sleep/perform some other basic function required to stay alive), some writers bribe with food (500 more words and I get that piece of chocolate cake in the fridge), some writers bribe with things (If I finish this chapter tonight, I’ll buy myself that new pen I really wanted…) Whatever works for you, setting a reward can help give you that last little nudge you need to keep going.

4. Jump around. Whether or not this one works really varies from person to person. Some people need to write chronologically for their stories to make sense. Others, however, might find it helpful to write the scenes that excite them and then go back to fill in all the middle parts. As long as you can force yourself to go back and do the middle parts later, jumping around to the scenes you like can at least get you back into the flow of writing. Just make sure you keep track of the scenes you have already written so you can fit them together later. Some writing programs such as previously mentioned Scrivener and yWriter offer platforms which allow writers to write scenes in separate chunks and then rearrange them once all the scene are written (the more advanced version of index cards and a bulletin board) but it is also possible to do so with just a word processor if you don’t want to buy/download a special program (personally, I open two documents, one the actual manuscript, one for scenes, and then title each scene I will put in later in the second document [KYLE MEETS JOHN, JOHN AND MARY FIGHT ABOUT KYLE, etc.] As long as they are all clearly titled, it’s possible to fit them together into the first document with just a little more effort).

5. Just start writing. And when all else fails, there’s always just writing until it starts to make sense. Perhaps more a pantser thing than a plotter, this is finally what got me past my two-day writer’s block for Camp NaNoWriMo. Not finding anywhere to jump to, not able to bribe myself, as un-distracted as I was likely to get, the NaNo deadline at least motivated me to try putting words to paper–any words. While the first few hundred words were still like pulling teeth, and I’ll likely cut most of what turned into a rambling monologue by the main character about all the bad things that had happened to her, it at least got me into the flow of writing. I topped out the day at 2,000 words (400 more than needed to stay on par with a 50,000 word goal daily) and even losing those words later, I at least ended up writing a scene that not only actually could fit with the plot, but one that got me back on track for the scene after that, and the next after that. First drafts are meant to be sloppy (it’s why you don’t write something and go straight to publishing). Even if you end up writing drivel, at least you have written something, and that’s the first step to get past your writer’s block. As us tweeting campers will say #fixitlater.

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