by The Collected Mutineer
Writer’s block. We’ve all had it. Whether we are students or professionals or authors, every person has run into that indescribable wall that seems completely unscalable. When words escape us, be they written or verbal, we often feel at a loss or somehow incomplete. Writers perhaps feel this the most acutely. After all, we usually aren’t writing for school assignments or work reports. We write because we are storytellers, because we love expression and detail, because creativity is our life’s blood. And when we can’t write, some of us may feel like we will never “make it.”
So what happens when the words that we need won’t come? What do we do when the cursed cursor mocks us, blink after blink after blink? Or when you aren’t suffering from writer’s block for just a few days, but instead a few years? Movies about writers, like Shakespeare in Love or Moulin Rouge often center around heartbreak and sweeping romance as the author’s motivation—instead of what most of us experience, which (let’s be honest) is googling “how to get over writer’s block” or “how many chapters do you need before you send queries?” It certainly doesn’t help when you compare yourself to other writers who never seem to run into trouble, who appear to have an Instagram-perfect writer’s life resulting in best sellers at a young age (I’m looking at you, Christopher Paolini—no offense).
I recently returned from vacation in Australia and New Zealand, where I stayed with an old friend who is also an aspiring writer. We had a long conversation about writer’s block, and where we see our futures taking us. She is a busy mother of two who works from home for the family business, so her free time is limited. But when she does sit down to write, she feels uninspired. Realizing we felt the same way about the projects we had planned for so long—but that never went the way we wanted—we somehow ended up reaching the same conclusion. It had never dawned on me before that maybe a writer’s timing isn’t their own. There are dozens of books that tell you how to write a novel in 30 days by just sitting down and doing it. But what if that isn’t your reality? What if even the 30 days of pushing yourself beyond your limits aren’t enough to break your writer’s block? What if maybe you’re focusing on the wrong project, and that’s why you can never seem to move forward?
Maybe other writers don’t feel this way—but for my friend and me, this was a huge breakthrough. For the last ten years, I have been doing research for a historical fiction piece. And those ten years have produced dozens of notes and precisely three chapters. For three years now, I’ve been sitting on those chapters waiting for inspiration to strike; feeling like I can’t even think about another book; feeling like I MUST finish this project, or my years of research were a waste. Giving up entirely in the face of writer’s block has always felt like defeat, but the last few weeks have given me new insight. Setting aside one project for another isn’t necessarily giving up—it’s waiting for the right time. In the words of my favorite pirate, it’s totally okay to wait for the opportune moment. And in the meantime, have a glass (or bottle) of rum and work on something else. Your original project will still be there when you (or it) are ready. After all, it wasn’t too late for countless authors who got their start later on. Something I’ve been trying to remember on a daily basis is that there is no time limit on your dreams, except your self-imposed constraints.
Feeling the frustration of no inspiration? Here are some writing prompts that probably have nothing to do with your current project. Give one of them a try, and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll be right there with you! Take a leap of faith and work on something different, such as:
- “Word of the Day” fiction
- Visit Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day page, and write some flash fiction inspired by that one word. If you like what you came up with, expand it into something longer!
- Magic realism
- No, not fantasy. Those terms might seem at odds, but magic realism is a slightly different version of our current reality, where fantastic elements are part of society in interesting and contemporary ways.
- This type of writing is sometimes looked down upon (and if you’re one of those people who hates on fic, this isn’t the blog for you). It can be a great way to jumpstart your creative juices, so give it a try!
- A genre vastly different than your original project (i.e. nonfiction or middle grade)
- There is a lot to be said for thinking outside your regular genre box, especially if it’s something you never envisioned yourself writing. For example, I recently got an idea for a children’s book that I never would have considered before.
What has worked for you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Happy writing!