Written by JJ Barnes
Writer’s block is a common problem that many writers struggle with. It is where you cannot move forward with your story and any menial task, such as laundry or vacuuming, suddenly becomes much more appealing to you than actually putting words on the page because of how hard you’re finding it to write.
I’ll be talking you through common causes of writer’s block, and things you can do to move through it and find your way back into your story.
Writer’s Block Because Your Scene Lacks Conflict
I find that writer’s block is more likely strike me when there’s a reason my story isn’t moving forwards. The way your story will naturally move forward is with active conflict. If the scene or section of your story that you’re working on has an active and busy conflict, you’ll have plenty to write about and it won’t feel stuck.
If I’ve written myself into a situation where it’s stalled, there’s no conflict, there’s nothing obvious to write about. If the protagonist is not actively in pursuit of their goal, then I get lost and I can’t write anymore.
You might find that you’re writing events happening, people are talking, there’s things going on, but it’s not actually story essential. Even if it’s momentarily entertaining, you know inside that you’re not contributing to your story in a real way. It feels like trudging through sand when you read it back. It is slow and meaningless.
As stunted as your story feels, it makes your emotional connection to your story even more stunted, and then you’re blocked from accessing it again.
What Does Your Character Want?
To deal with this kind of writer’s block, you need to refocus your energy on what your character wants, how they’re going about getting it, and what’s stopping them from having it. Reconnect with how your character is feeling emotionally about their situation and the people around them.
Go back into your story to the last point they were actively in pursuit of their goal. Delete everything after that point and start again, with that in mind. It might be a lot of work, but it’s work you’re not connected to it’s worth ditching.
Understanding why you’re telling this part of your character’s life is key. If you’re telling a meaningless story, just a snapshot out of their life where they’re not in pursuit of anything and there’s no conflict, it’ll quickly feel dull and you’ll feel blocked.
Ask yourself why now? Why this story, why this person, why this moment in their life? Focus on that, find that, and you’ll find you way back into your story.
Writer’s Block Because Your Scenes Are Flat
Another kind of writer’s block you might experience is if everything in the scene is moving forward as it needs to, information is coming out, everyone is focused and the conflict is active, but the scene feels flat.
When you read over what you’ve written you’re aware it does what it needs to do but it doesn’t excite you. It will drain your connection, leave you feeling like your story is dull. Even if everything else you’ve done up to that point is exciting and works well, that scene can lose you, block you.
Add an Additional Layer of Activity
In this situation, you need to give your scene some flavour. If your characters are talking about something and reacting to it, go into that scene and give one of the characters a secondary task. They’re not just discussing the issue that moves your plot along, they’re busy with something else that almost interrupts the flow.
By adding a secondary task, you’re adding a layer of conflict. It could be a secondary conversation point about a thing they’re excited to do and want to steer the conversation to, or it could be a literal task such as cooking or a craft that is important to them. When the information the scene needs to deliver comes out with more of a challenge, and extra layers of interest, it makes the scene feel more exciting and dynamic and holds the attention more.
If you feel entertained by the story you’re writing, you will free yourself from the block. Entertainment is the whole point.
It is important to remember that loathing of your own work is normal. We’re creatives, and creatives are often very emotional, and prone to self-loathing and self-doubt. But your brain is lying to you. Hating your work in the moment does not mean you will always hate your work.
When your writer’s block is caused by that insecurity and panic about your own ability, you have to try and fight it. Because you are the only person who can tell your story in the way you tell it, and your voice matters.
This is one of my main causes of writer’s block. I am chronically insecure about my work, and often struggle to move through it. But, if you love the job as I do, you owe it to yourself to try.
First Drafts Are Messy
First drafts are often messy and full of problems, and that’s okay. If your writer’s block is caused by awareness that your work isn’t perfect, you need to remember that editing is how you fix that. It’s not the job of the first draft to be a perfect story, it’s the job of the first draft to just exist.
Editing is how you shape what you’ve written into something beautiful and pleasing to read. You can add the extra dimensions of entertainment into flat scene, cull scenes that don’t move the story along, and weave in clever and interesting writing techniques such as narrative triplets that make your story feel professional and composed with skill.
Write through the feeling that your work sucks. Push through it. If your protagonist has fallen off the path of pursuing their goals, steer them back in that direction. If your scenes feel flat, you might need to add some flourishes, but the scene can still work in and of itself. Write through it if you can.
Writer’s Block Because You’re Feeling Creatively Empty
If you can’t write through it, you might just need a break. And that’s okay. You might be empty creatively.
When we start writing and creating, we’ve been filled up with the work of others, inspired by books we’ve read and films we’ve watched, and we have so much to pour out that it feels easy. But we need to keep that supply filled, and if you feel drained then take some time out to go and read, or watch, and allow your creativity to be refilled.
Rest and allow yourself to be inspired by others. We aren’t machines.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose