Don’t let anyone tell you writer’s block isn’t real. I’ve heard well-intentioned people say, “You don’t hear about electricians getting electrician’s block. They just get on with it!”
Yes, but writing is not the same as wiring a house. Writing involves solving creative problems rather than technical problems, and sometimes the answers to those problems escape us. (How will Reginald escape the clutches of the psychotic human hair-paintbrush maker who wants to keep him prisoner so she can harvest his hair forever? If my ghost can’t leave the house, how will she get the thread she needs to embroider GET OUT on the sofa cushions?) The same is true for painters, musicians, and even other professions such as doctors and lawyers. A doctor can be stumped by a patient’s symptoms, and despite consulting all his books and other medical professionals, be unable to provide an accurate diagnosis. Doctor’s block. They don’t call it that, of course, but it’s not all that different.
One of the key differences is, however, in how other professions deal with issues of not having the answers. They work on other things. A doctor has many patients; a painter has many paintings going at once, or perhaps also works in charcoal. In other words, they don’t let the lack of answers paralyse them – they turn to something else.
Writers, however, have a tendency to let obstacles stop them cold. They get stuck, and they continue to spin their wheels in an attempt to remove the obstruction. This is the worst thing a writer can do. If a solution does not present itself within a few minutes, don’t push. The following is a list of sure-fire ways of resolving the block with very little conscious effort.
- Leave it and move on to the next scene. If that’s not possible, write something completely different. That novel you’re working on doesn’t have to be the only project you have going. You can work on a short story, or perhaps start outlining or mind mapping the next big project.
- Be patient. It can take a few days or even weeks for a solution to present itself, but it usually does, often after a good night’s sleep. The subconscious does a lot of heavy-lifting that we’re not even aware of.
- If you can’t wait, have someone else take a look at your work. Writing groups abound online (especially on Facebook), and it’s pretty easy to find someone who’s willing to take a look and offer some advice.
- Hire a writing mentor. A professional mentor will not merely provide ideas for manoeuvring around the obstacle, but will help you generate solutions yourself.
If you have any tips on overcoming writer’s block related to plot difficulties and other obstacles, please leave a comment.