Yeah, I hear ya. Happens to all of us. We’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill writer’s block, now, are we? No, you know what we’re really talking about: either a change in our actual, physical circumstances (a move, a marriage, a child . . . any major life change that’s utterly altered your schedule) or a change in our mental circumstances (no new ideas, novel stopped in its tracks . . . complete and total emotional breakdown . . . things like that).
So what do we do? Here are a few suggestions I hope will help. The bottom line is this: Don’t worry. It will pass. Have faith in that.
1. Change your setting
…in your story and your real world. Try writing someplace new. A different coffee shop, a different library, a different park, a different room of the house, or a different house altogether. Write at night instead of the morning, or vice versa. Get out of your usual surroundings.
If your block is more about the story itself, try rewriting scenes set in some unlikely place. The scene in the kitchen moves to the back of a racing cab. The scene in the restaurant moves to a ferris wheel that’s gotten stuck. Pick some odd or unusual place, and let that setting impact the scene, see what happens.
2. Protect your time
…and get everyone around you to agree to it. Whatever your life circumstances, talk with those people you have to live with day-to-day and come up with an equitable arrangement for your writing time. Maybe it’s only from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Tuesday mornings, or maybe it’s every weeknight from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. — whatever works for you and everyone you share your life with. Then, write. A new chapter, a new paragraph, a new poem, anything.
Where getting out of your usual setting can jump start your imagination, sticking to a writing schedule can have the same effect — when your butt lands in its traditional spot at the same time each week, your brain begins making the connection that It’s Time To Write.
(P.S. – I’ll give you a break if you’ve got a newborn. You ain’t getting nothin’ done for a few months. Don’t worry, it gets easier.)
3. Read a book
…about writing. The Writer’s Digest books are a great resource, and there’s any number of books on writing by authors like Stephen King (um…On Writing), Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird), and Charles Baxter (Burning Down the House). These can often kick start your ambition and excitement enough to rev up your story.
4. Study up
…on anything associated with your story. You’ve probably already done a ton of research (you have, haven’t you?), but dive in again. Freestyle it, brainstorm it. That video you watched about English castles might lead to a magazine article about an archaeological dig outside London, headed by Dr. I. Jones who also discovered an amazing mummy in Egypt when he was a new PhD who graduated from A Really Important School where your protagonist might have gone too and maybe that’s where she met the man who would later . . . !
I dunno, I’m just making stuff up. The point is, let your mind wander along, among, and within your research. Follow crazy ideas and fleeting thoughts. Often, you’ll stumble across plot points, characters, or even themes you hadn’t previously realized would fit into your story.
Research usually leads writers to ask that all-important “What if?” question, so stoke that fire as much as you can. You cannot be a writer without intense curiosity.
5. Take care of yourself
…inside and out. I mean it. The traditional ideas of the writer smoking a pack of Camels and tossing back shots of liquor are out-dated and stupid. How is your diet? Getting any exercise? How about meditation, prayer, or any other quiet time on your own?
I’m not kidding about this, folks. For yourself, your stories, your career, and your loved ones, you need to take care of you. A healthy body helps make for a healthy mind, which helps make for a great storyteller (who will live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her career).
If you know you need to make a change or two on this front, start now. If you’re already a vegan gym-rat or whatever, cool – try something new. A new sport or race or other challenge. Like research and changing your personal setting, tackling new physical challenges has a way of giving you new ideas and waking up your imagination. If nothing else, it will buy your more time on this Earth to write another story.