The thing to keep in mind with writing tips is that they’re often very personal, filled with strategies that work for one author but might not work for another. So, if you have a strategy that you find helpful, stick with it. However, it can sometimes be useful to see how other writers overcome the universal and dreaded writer’s block.
Beyond physiological reasons like fatigue and hunger, or psychological triggers (all of which you should pay equal attention to), writer’s block occurs for a primary reason – lack of research. How you deal with this depends on the topic and the style of writing.
If I’m having trouble picturing a scene or describing the characters that I’m writing about, it typically means that I have a very general idea of the environment, but lack specific experiential details.
Ask yourself this: If I haven’t ever been to a place, or experienced it, how am I supposed to write about it adequately? Most fiction is derived from experiential knowledge or inspired by cultural conditioning and exposure to other forms of art. Literature, TV, poetry, pictures, paintings, movies all help shape our descriptions and the worlds and characters we create. If you’re very good, you can take things you know, or environments you’ve seen before and stretch the descriptions into weird and alien worlds.
Consider George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones universe – amazingly creative and populated by interesting, disparate, and diverse peoples and civilizations. But he didn’t pull them out of the ether. Many of them are inspired by history, by cultures that existed or still exist in the real-world.
The Dothraki resemble many historical peoples, from the Mongols to the Tatars and the Scythians. The Valyrian roads, which stretch from one corner of the world to another, are modelled after the Roman roads, which did the same. Both were built by civilizations that fractured and collapsed, but the roads remained as a testament to their might.
If you’re writing a story about a Bronze Age civilization, and one of your characters reminds your subconscious of a Wisconsinite local, the scene is going to bother you because your artistic soul knows the character doesn’t fit. If you’re stuck on world-building or creating a society, kingdom, city, country, empire, borrow from history. Watch YouTube videos on old empires. Read through historical texts on ancient aqueducts and construction. Read other fictional works that depict the same era. If you have something specific in mind, and you’re having trouble describing it, a google image search can help ignite the tinder of creativity.
Research also unlocks the potential for new scenes, characters, and dialogue. As you learn more about the epoch that you’re writing about, you’ll learn all of the little details that make a world come alive. As you gain knowledge, you’ll gain confidence. Even if the research doesn’t help unlock a scene that you’re stuck on, it’s never a waste of time because of all of the secondary benefits.
Once you’ve done the research, it’ll be easier to put yourself in that place. And once you’re able to do that, start writing, pick a scene, an object, or a person and describe it. Keep going until the words start flowing. Describe the colors, how it feels, what’s around it, why it’s there, attach meaning to it. Start with something simple, like a blade of grass, a flower, light reflecting off of water, then put your characters into that environment and don’t be afraid to let the scene grow organically, keeping in mind important descriptors like touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.
You may find that the new knowledge takes your characters, stories, and scenes in directions you hadn’t anticipated and hadn’t planned for. It is often these unanticipated scenes, discovered while exploring a world you have created that are the most meaningful in a work of fiction.
Writer’s Block in Non-Fiction:
For essays, blogs, articles, and other similar formats, the problem is typically a lack of knowledge on a topic. There’s a trap with writer’s block where people stare for hours at a blank page because their unconscious mind (using knowledge and experience categories) has made a connection that it knows is meaningful, but when the blocked writer begins to write, the prose seems incomplete, or wrong. For some reason, it doesn’t fit, and that is because the conscious mind lacks the knowledge to explain a connection made through intuition.
Writer’s block with formal writing is easier to fix than it is with creative writing. Pick a topic you’re an expert on, and you should have no trouble rattling off prose about any facet of that topic. If you want to write an article about a very technical topic, you’re going to have to read some whitepapers, sift through blogs by experts, watch YouTube talks or conferences, read articles, and sometimes ask questions on twitter, email, or whatever format you can use to connect with credentialed experts. Once you do this, it should be easy to write about your topic of choice.
I hope you found some of these techniques helpful. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out on Twitter @MacroPolo707.
Header Photo by Susan Yin.