Does the following experience sound familiar? You’ve finally managed to carve out a solid hour of writing time in your busy work-life schedule. You pushed back client meetings, sent the kids away on a play date, and already have dinner prepared for when they get home. So you sit down at your desk, hot cup of tea in hand, and open your notebook (digital or otherwise) to a fresh, blank page. All you have to do is write!
But, what if your thoughts don’t come as easily as you would like. What if, thirty minutes later, you’re still staring at a blank page.
Writer’s block is common, even among the most acclaimed authors. Everyone deals with it differently, but there is one common thread among all who suffer from it—there is a solution. Here are five strategies to help you get over your writer’s block.
- Invest some time in planning.
Writing a book is only part of the battle. Much like you would prep for a court case or plan your child’s birthday party, a lot of leg work goes into the planning stage of any project. A book project is no different. Many professional writers say a whopping 40 percent of their time is dedicated to planning and research, with another 40 percent devoted to manuscript editing. That means writers spend only 20 percent of their time… writing! So, have you made a plan for your book? Have you gathered your research, previously written articles, and blog posts into a coherent book outline? If not, this might be a good place to start.
- Create a solid writing habit.
When was the last time you did some creative writing? Was it yesterday or was it a couple of years ago? If you’re having trouble putting pen to paper, maybe it’s because your creative writing practice is a little rusty. Only a few people in the world are naturally talented writers; most people are talented practiced writers. If you can, try creating a daily writing habit. Famous novelist and former Assistant United States Attorney Scott Turow sold over 25 million copies of his seven novels and two nonfiction books, in part by creating strong writing habits.
“Generally, I like to write in the morning before all the dust of dreams has blown away. Beforehand, I read two papers, cook my breakfast and then settle down in front of the word processor, usually by 8 a.m. I’ll write, and then check e-mail or voicemail when things stall… I try to make myself do a little every day, knowing that I will inch my way into the world I am trying to imagine.” (For more advice on writing habits, see “How to Create a Daily Book Writing Habit”.)
- Stay away from anxious thoughts.
If this is your first book (or even your fifth), the idea of putting your creative ideas out into the world for your peers and clients to scrutinize can be especially nerve wracking. For many people, writer’s block stems from this anxiety or self-conscious fear of being judged. “If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line,” according to Erica Jong, author of The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career. “That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”
- Practice patience, not perfectionism.
OK, you’re busy. Maybe you just want to dive into the writing process and get your book finished and out of the way, but your mind is racing, and you can’t seem to organize your thoughts. Be patient; your book won’t be perfect on the first draft. If you’ve spent the last few minutes writing and deleting your first sentence, try a different approach: write down all your thoughts, and avoid the temptation to delete anything. Leave revisions for the editing stage.
On the other hand, if you’re facing a particular writing problem that needs to be solved before you move forward, try some writing meditation. Prolific author and lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of eighty-two detective novels featuring the tenacious LA defense attorney Perry Mason, was known to suffer from the occasional writer’s block. Gardner’s wife Jean recalls one of her husband’s pensive writing habits: “He had a Navajo rug in front of the door of his office. He’d get in his favourite rocking chair and rock from one end to the other. Then he’d pick up the chair, carry it back, and start all over again—until he got his problem worked out.”
- Split the work.
Writing a book can be a lonely process. Sometimes it helps to have a sounding board for your ideas. Consider employing your spouse, colleague, or a even a professional editor to bounce ideas off of. A developmental editor is a particularly valuable resource to have when planning and writing your book. They can help you refine your ideas, develop an outline, and coach you through the writing process. Or maybe you could go one step further and bring a co-author on board. Collaborating with a co-author might lighten the load and help you get your book project on track.