How to Overcome Writer’s Block

I want to talk about writer's block today because I received a newsletter in my email inbox the other day… I can't remember if it was from Goodreads or Kobo maybe … anyway, it included a piece of advice from some author whose name I didn't recognize, who I assume is an author of note since this big company was quoting his words, and the advice was total crap. It was something to the effect that if you're experiencing writer's block you're probably writing the wrong thing.

Now, most of the time when I see advice on writing and it's coming from an author who has actually finished writing a book and published it somehow (either as in indie or with a traditional publisher), I agree with it. Our lives as fiction authors are very similar, right? We all sit down with an idea and spin it into a yarn, stay up too many hours, worry that we suck… However in this case I could not disagree more with the advice given, and because it addressed the most frequently asked question during my “Ask Me Anything” session that I just did last week, I figured it's probably important that I talk about it a little bit more here on my blog where maybe a few more people will see it.

If you've tried to write a book, even just one book, you've probably experienced writer's block. And if you have not yet experienced writer's block as a writer, I'm going to go ahead and predict your future for you right now and tell you that at some point you will. It's part of the deal, like body hair showing up in weird places. It happens to all of us eventually.

What is writer's block? I think it can come from many sources, but it manifests in this feeling when you sit down in front of the computer that you have no idea what to write. You stare at a blank screen and start to freak out. Or you don't even get to the screen; you just imagine yourself writing and suddenly you can think of 20,000 things you'd rather be doing, including ridiculously awful things like laundry and cleaning toilets and scrubbing a weird stain off your baseboard. If you're a writer, this is the last place you want to be in your life. You can't hate writing! It's what you do to pay the bills!

So if everybody who writes experiences writer's block, and you are or want to be a writer, it's pretty important that you know how to deal with it when it arises. I want to help you out and make it really easy for you to do that, no fuss no muss. So here it goes:

The best way to get rid of writer's block is to fucking write.

Sorry for that ‘sentence enhancer' there, but seriously, y'all, I'm feeling very passionate about this topic. Because of the bad advice in that newsletter, it's possible we will miss out on whole bunch of really awesome books that will never see the light of day but should! That guy couldn't have been more misguided in his advice. I'm not going to say he was completely and totally wrong, because I did once not finish a book, but I will say that if you adopt his wisdom, you will more than likely screw yourself.

Here's why:

I write a new novel every month. There are some detractors out there who say that it's not possible to write a good book in a month and accuse me of being hack; however, if you look at my book reviews, you'll see that the majority of readers who read my stuff are pretty happy with it. That's where I'm coming from, just to give you some perspective (consider the source when listening to advice, that's what I always say!) You may think based on my output that I can just sit at the computer and hammer out a bunch of words and be done with it, every day, regularly like clockwork. Boom! Book is done! But it's never that easy, or I should say it is most often not that easy. Okay, I'll admit … from time to time, it is easy to sit down and hammer out a bunch of words, and it all just flows, and all the stars and planets align; but more often it's a matter of work. Really hard, really dedicated, really focused work.

I learned pretty early on, and I credit this knowledge with my success, that you have to treat writing like you would any other job. If you want to get paid, you get up, you go to work, you do your job, and you go home. If you get up but don't go to work, or if you get up and go to work but you don't actually do your job, you are not going to collect your paycheck, and then you'll be without your job. I'm sure, even if you're a writer now, you had some kind of other job before. And if you had a non-writery job before, you probably had to deal with parts of that job that you really hated doing. There is no job on the planet that is awesome all the time. So what did you do in your other jobs with the tasks you didn't like? Maybe you put them off. Maybe you asked somebody else to help get them done. But in the end, those tasks got done because you forced yourself to push through. And that's what you have to do with the part of writing that sucks, a.k.a.: writer's block.

You have to just sit down and force yourself to push through. You should not read about writing, blog about writing (ahem), think about writing, or whine about writing. No, no, no! You should WRITE. Preparing to write is not writing. Practicing writing exercises is not writing. Writing forum posts or Facebook posts or tweeting or instagramming … or all that crap you know what I'm talking about, don't play … is not writing! That all falls under this heading: “Delaying Writing” People who delay writing do not get books written. They do, however, have really great blogs sometimes.

Now, there are some people who will argue that writing is a creative process [insert frilly finger movements here], and if the creative mind [more frilly fingers] is not in gear or if the muse is not present (so romantic!) there is no form of pushing through that will get your fingers moving. I disagree with this so strongly, I'm getting ready to cuss again. Dammit, people! I know the struggle! I live the struggle! I am blogging, for God's sake! Need I remind you what heading this activity falls under??

The beauty about creativity is that it feeds on itself. Sometimes it just needs a little kick start, but it always starts rolling once it gets that spark. So, how do we kickstart a brain-dead author? Well, what I do when I sit down at the computer is re-read the last chapter or two (or three) that I wrote previously, so I can get my head back into the world, and then I just start typing. I take those characters who were doing stuff in the previous chapters and I lead them to the next logical scene. I put them in that next logical scene, and I listen to what they're going to say, and I look at what they're going to do, and I just take dictation. Characters aren't going to stand there frozen in time. They're real in your head. Just listen. They might even just have a conversation about where they're standing or what they're doing, but it's enough to get things going. Every time. This has never failed me, in three and a half years of pumping out over 3 million words. Yeah, you read that right. 3 million. Tell me I don't know about writer's block. Pah!

Once you give a channel for your characters' voices to speak through, their voices will start coming in loud and clear. But if you don't give them that channel, if you don't sit down at your computer and start typing, there is no channel. There's a giant hairball in your showerdrain. Nothing's going to get through. There will only be the big white screen of doom. Channel blocked. Game over. Go get another job.

I think the worst thing that you can do when you're experiencing writer's block is to quit what you're writing and do something else, meaning work on another project (or do laundry). Because if you do that, you will never finish a book. You will have 85 started books and no completed books. Of course you can get excited about starting a new project rather than pushing through. The first few chapters are always the easiest! It's the middle ones that make you feel like you're bleeding from a damn vein. The difference between being a writing professional and being a writing hobbyist is the ability to push through writer's block … to push through those difficult moments, write anyway, and to finish the damn book.

I think it's a mistake to get into this woe-is-me attitude, to feel sorry for yourself, to bog yourself down in negative thoughts or the feeling that your book sucks or that the characters are stupid … because honestly, every writer goes through this and it's a complete waste of time. Every writer has self-doubts, even the great ones. Maybe especially the great ones.  I certainly have self-doubts, even after getting thousands of amazing 5-star reviews, hitting all the bestseller lists,  selling a lot of books, and making a lot of money. It just comes with the territory; creative people are very hard on themselves. You just need to acknowledge that and move on, and not engage in a pity party that overwhelms your life and makes it impossible for you to succeed.

I know I sound like some kind of military drill sergeant, and believe me I know what they sound like because I'm a veteran, but I really believe that when you have a problem with writer's block, what you need to do is give yourself a kick in the pants. Indulging in those self-defeating thoughts like “I can't” will only lead you down the path of never finishing anything.

Ignore that guy who said if you have writer's block you're working on the wrong book, because I've had writer's block for 40+ books so far, and those books that I did finish because I pushed through have made me a lot of money and found me a lot of really happy readers. It would've been a real shame if I'd followed that guy's advice and moved on to something else. Duh. If I'd done that, I would have moved on to another job … a non-writery one.

5 comments on “How to Overcome Writer’s Block

  1. I love your writing and find it amazing and inspiring how many novels you have written. I hope you and your husband are doing well! And thank you for all the wonderful stories (War of the Fae remains my favorite)!

    • Thank you Alexandria!! We are doing very well, now recuperated after my husband’s fall from my horse. And the writing continues! xoxo Elle

  2. Not read all of his books yet, more to the fourth volume of the war fae’m loving (in Portuguese is only available until 4) think amazing how you give life to their characters and they conquered us and cling to them every time more, I’m almost having a fit wanting to read the 5 volume (in a good way of course) hope estaja available in Portuguese soon, bye.

    • Hi, Serena! Thanks for your message. Unfortunately, Geracao has declined to translate the last books in the series, so unless another Brazilian publisher wants to do the translation, the series will stop at #4 in Brazil. I’m so sad about this! 🙁

  3. wow this makes more sense . I sometimes have to read then write . I like just writing . this is something I can do . thank you Elle .

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