The only time I've had paralyzing writer's block was after my first book release. I couldn't write for a good week and a half. Some of you might scoff, but that's a *long* time for me. I got totally stressed out over my first release. I read every review. I would be flying high one minute and then plummet the next. All of that instilled DOUBTS. When we're talking the kind of writer's block that goes on and on and keeps you from putting *any* words to the page...I think it all comes back to the fact something has made you doubt yourself. Maybe it is poor sales or another rejection or bad contest results.
(And by the way, I think this can be extrapolated to life in general...what keeps you from asking for a raise, for putting your name out there for a volunteer position, for feeling stymied in your life in general. It's those pesky doubts that hammer away at your confidence.)
So how do you move past this?
1. Time. The further away from the "traumatizing" event, hopefully your emotions will normalize.
2. Chance. A great review comes in or you final in a contest or your book sales explode. Life is about timing. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it rocks. But, you can't count on this happening which means...
3. Write something, anything. Tell yourself it's just for you. No one else will see it. But, just do it!
4. Read something you wrote in the past. This can have two outcomes. Either, you read it, and go, Wow, that's some damn fine writing! Or, you read it and go, Wow, I've really improved and my writing is so much stronger now. Hopefully, either reaction will jump start your confidence.
5. Build a fortress around your muse AKA Learn to TRUST yourself. This is by far the hardest, but will get you the biggest return. I subscribe to Nora Robert's practical writing advice which is there is no "muse" that sprinkles fairy dust on your writing. But, I do think you must learn to trust in your voice and your process and you must protect it from doubts that come externally and internally. Pin up some of your favorite reviews next to your computer. Frame your contest finals and hang them up where your write. Practice your power stance in the mirror. Do some Stuart Smiley exercises (I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!) Hopefully, eventually, you'll believe that you and your writing kick ass.
The second type of writer's block is the kind I usually deal with; being stymied in a particular story. It's less devastating, but no less frustrating. This probably stems from being a panster. It's all fun and games until it isn't:) Here's what helps me when I'm stuck in a particular manuscript.
1. Jump to a different scene. I prefer to write in order because it makes the editing process easier later. Plus, because I'm a panster, moving logically from one scene to the next is important and if you jump ahead, manipulating your story to get there might involve some logical gymnastics. But, as a fix to get writing again, it works! In fact, I did it this week when I jumped way ahead and wrote the epilogue.
2. Do something else. This could be take a walk, clean the bathroom, take a shower... I'll admit the shower thing usually gets my brain unclogged. I don't know what it is about standing there under hot water and letting your mind have free reign. Quoting another famous writer it's like Stephen King's "Boys in the Basement" (or as I call them the Ladies in the Lounge:) Our subconscious is an amazing, powerful tool. Use it.
3. Listen to music/Look at pictures. I don't use inspiration pictures, but I do have a playlist for every book. The songs put me in the characters' heads and scenes. I spend a ridiculous amount of time in the car hauling my kids to/from school and activities. I often untangle issues or figure out how to tie up loose ends in a way that makes me fist pump in the car. In fact, I heard Viva La Vida by Coldplay this week and shot straight back into a particular scene of a book that's been out for months, A Brazen Bargain. The song will forever be associated with my hero's redemption in that book.
4. Work on a different project. This works for some people and doesn't for others. However, I love jumping over to something different when I'm stuck. Right now, I have three other projects cooking in my head:) Obviously, if you're frantically trying to finish a project before a deadline, then this might be a bad idea.
Speaking of deadlines...Some people thrive on them, some people die. If you know that the threat of an impending deadline creates writer's block, then for the love of pete, DON'T PROCRASTINATE!
I used to be an avid hiker. I went to college close to the Smoky Mountains, and I spent two weeks hiking the Swiss Alps. My lesson from hiking was this: Pick a pace that you can maintain forever. You don't want to be gassed before you even reach the summit. It applies to writing as well. I can comfortably manage 2-3k words a day**. At that pace, I can keep up with the rest of my life, and not walk around like a character from the Walking Dead. I am not one of those writers that can let things slide until deadline approach-ith, then whip out multiple 10k days. I would burn out real quick. But, 2-3k a day? I can do that forever! And, guess what?! Slow and steady wins the race:)
**I realize 2-3k is a lot for many writers, especially if you're juggling a family and/or a full time job. But, even getting 500-1000 words a day, every day will get you a book in 3-6 months!
I'm sure I missed something obvious, so share your tricks and tips in the comments...