~ Dishari Ghosh
As a writer, making sure you put down your thoughts on paper or screen regularly is a task you inevitably have to check off the list. But, what happens when the writer's block clocks in and does not bother leaving? It is during those times that you must take a step back and put your needs first.
Writer's block can occur because of fear [of n number of things], of being able to write but not skilfully, of not being able to narrow down on an aspect or having too many ideas that you can't seem to pick from [or the opposite, having no ideas], external factors weighing you down [deadlines, missed opportunities, inability to get pay checks] or have other internal factors becoming a hurdle [lack of motivation, sleep, goals]. While these can cause difficulties, it is pertinent to try and overcome them to move forward on your writing journey.
Here, we list down some ways for you to effectively try:
1. Your Environment Makes a Difference
There are multiple angles through which you can see the above phrase. First, it can mean your physical writing space. Make sure to keep the space where you write best far away from the space you laze around in [eg, your bed]. Our minds are tuned to certain spaces giving off a certain feel; if you write on your bed, you are also likely to procrastinate or fall asleep faster there. It's important to demarcate specific areas for specific purposes.
If you have a desk where you write, make sure it's clear of clutter. Clutter-free spaces translate to a clutter-free mind, which gives way for ideas to pop up. You can also try adding your personal touch to these areas, and make it aesthetic and inspiring. Motivational quotes, happy pictures, books, colourful pens/markers/sticky notes/papers, adequate lighting, and stress balls are all low-cost additions that you could consider to make a space lively, inducing creativity! You could also keep changing your décor based on the book you are writing to align your thoughts accordingly.
Another thing to consider is, if this particular spot is adding to the writer's block, go to a different room or if you have the means, to a different location, a café, for instance. A different environment can spark creativity, even if you can write a page or two, it's a step forward.
Furthermore, you can also switch between tools of writing. If you are someone who prefers typing but is unable to move forward with that, you can take a break from the screen and instead, choose to write in the old-fashioned way – with a pen on paper (or vice-versa). A different medium could ignite a variety of newer thoughts, so you could give this a try as well!
Lastly do consider what you think is the best time for functioning, creatively and productively. Some prefer working early in the morning while others would prefer staying up till late and working. Making sure you know when you are most productive can help you with writer's block, rather than forcing yourself to write something when it's just not your time. Whether you are a morning bird or a night owl, write when and what comes naturally to you.
2. Write What You Can't-Wait For
At times, you are bursting with ideas and know exactly how you want to write a certain section or chapter of your book. But, you can't write that yet because you're still on a much previous chapter. Making yourself wait to get there and going in a linear direction might also be the reason for writer's block or might result in a shoddy piece of work you are not fully satisfied with. If you are clear about how you want the climax to pan out and you'd prefer writing that first, do that. You'd be able to write that portion then and there. You can always come back to an earlier section again, and work on it. It's okay to leave blanks - words, phrases or entire chapters - to work on something that you can focus more on. You might even have a better way to fill in these blanks at a later stage rather than when you are stuck.
During those times when you feel utterly stuck and have no ideas coming to you, take out a pen and paper, set a timer for say 10-30 mins and then write your heart out – without stopping. Write what comes naturally to you, what you are thinking of in the moment but mostly, don't go back to check whether you made any spelling errors or grammatical mistakes - don't judge the piece or yourself! Take this time to remind yourself why and what you love about writing and it’ll unlock some creativity in you.
This can help you free your mind of fears, of 'not being good enough', and rather make space for clearer ideas and thoughts. With this writing exercise, you could get in the process of just writing which you can take forward with your book. It will make you more confident in your skills and help you loosen your inhibitions.
4. The Boons & Banes of the Digital World
The digital world/social media can be a huge distraction from your work (yes, sitting guiltily, aren't you?). The endless scroll or the unending amount of digital consumption can lead you on a different path than what you imagined for yourself that morning or evening. Switch on the focus mode on your phone or laptop, and keep those distractions at bay. Start small, with 20-30 mins and try to focus on your writing during this time.
Another bane that comes hand in hand with the digital world is the constant need to compare. When writing your work and especially when facing writer's block, avoid comparing what other writers are publishing or achieving. It can send you into a spiral and make you doubt and question yourself. Rather, if you are doing that, take those posts and accomplishments as a sign to get motivated. By all means, you too could be sharing your creations with others soon - only if you get to writing first!
What you can however use in the digital world is to get inspired. There are several sites, accounts, posts, photos - really no dearth of information - which could help you move forward. Try using these free resources to get the content you need. This could range from character names, settings, and story inspirations to reading reviews of books and understanding what the readers liked and what they didn't incorporate in your writing.
When it comes to other resources, you can also join writer's groups or classes or forums to get writing with others. Joining others to work on a similar craft will get you motivated, and keep you accountable also, it's a great space to brainstorm or even collaborate.
5. Do Something Other Than Writing
If you are feeling too stuck, it can be because your brain has given up on words. That's okay! You should let it rest and occupy yourself with something else to divert your mind.
If you are someone who likes numbers, you can solve sudokus or you could try your hand at a puzzle. If you've painted, try creating something [doesn't need to be a masterpiece!] or even if you just have a pen, draw random shapes over and over or even doodling can help you relax and reset. Play games, with someone or by yourself - it will boost your morale. Listen to music, have your dance party - move yourself. If nothing appeals to you, go for a walk, it will help you unwind.
You can also use this time out to do other chores that you have kept away - cleaning, laundry or bringing the groceries. By ticking some things off your 'to-do', you might feel productive and energised to work again on your writing. A cleaner space will also help you in making a 'clearer' beginning.
In between all of this, make sure that you are getting ample sleep, food and water - the basics are always needed to help your body run in the direction you would like. Rest as and when you must; overdoing anything is harmful.
6. Get Inspired
When you are stuck, it could be because of a lack of ideas or inspiration. This can be tackled in several ways. Go outside and observe people (not in a creepy way!); observe their reactions, their mannerisms, how they carry themselves, the kind of activities they are indulging in, and the way they act with people - observations are a great place to start too. Perhaps you see two friends on the metro and start imagining their background, where they would go for the day, and who could they be meeting and there's some part of a story right there!
Reading as much as possible is another way to get inspired. Read more about the genre you're working on, get ideas (don't copy!), and create your narrative. You can also listen to audiobooks, as they provide a whole different dimension to stories - the voice. Observe how dialogues are delivered, the setting is created, and how each character is distinctly different to another - these minute details will help you with your writing.
Even watching movies and TV/web series can lead to creative thoughts and ideas. Many times, novels are best when can be visualised vividly (though, this is not a must). If you are looking to create a visual novel, watching movies can give you ideas for the flow and structuring of your work. It can also point out where and how the character developed, which can be the source of inspiration for your character arc. Moreover, it is a great source to learn how to pace your story, which segments need more focus, which can be wrapped up in a few paragraphs, where the tension needs to be extended and how to eventually tie it all up.
7. Create a Mood board
Mood boards are a creative way to get some ideas going. You can opt to make this digitally or on a chart paper, for example. A structure, a theme or a connection between different images, illustrations or graphics could help you map out what you expect from your book. It is also a great way to explore the tone and mood of the book - with different colours and shades about it. Even while collecting and stringing these pieces together, some particular element could prove to be the missing piece to your writing.
Mood boards are also a great way to keep the details of your story consistent, and not get jumbled up. You could create different mood boards for different characters and refer to those when feeling clueless. Or even, the setting - say, a school, a bookstore, an office.
Regardless of whether you are trying to overcome writer's block or just simply taking a break, self-care is the most important way to keep yourself nourished. This could be carried out in several ways- reading (as a hobby), creating art, cooking/enjoying a meal, drinking juices/coffee/ tea, talking to friends and family, exercising, skin care, playing with kids or pets, journalling, listening to music or podcasts, meditating - the list is truly endless. You must find something that truly brings you joy and take out dedicated time to do so, at least twice or thrice a week even if every day does not seem possible. It will not only boost your health, but it will also give you fresher perspectives and a clearer mind to work on your writing.
There are several ways to overcome writer’s block. At times, one way will work, and another time some other method. Keep switching or even these tips will become monotonous. The main goal, in the end, should be able to produce a piece that, foremost, you are satisfied with and that can only happen when you are in the right space. Don’t chase deadlines, keep reminding yourself why you are passionate about writing; the words will fall in place.