Five Creative ways to Make Progress During Writer’s Block
April 3, 2018
Maybe the following scenario sounds familiar. You’ve reached a standstill with your current manuscript and nothing seems to alleviate your writer’s block. You’re staring at a blinking cursor, knowing that your goals aren’t being met, and your deadlines are fast approaching. The frustration you feel at not making progress only seems to kill any remaining creativity you have. If you’re determined to make progress with your writing, you likely dread periods of inactivity, and might feel a little guilty when writer’s block has you stuck. The great news is that there are ways to make progress, even when you’re not putting sentences to the page or keyboard. Here are five things I do to keep up my momentum when going through a tricky spot with my writing.
Do some more hands-on research
No, I’m not talking about going to the bookstore, or looking at more internet articles about your subject matter. While going back to research can be a great way to generate ideas, if you’re having trouble writing, chances are doing more reading might not be the best thing to get you out of the slump. Try to find something hands-on that relates to your book. Does your character ride horses? Consider trying to find a stable or equestrian centre in your area and ask the owners if you can take a short look around. If your character is a sailor, see if you can spend a day at a port or marina near you. It might not always be possible to engage in the same activities as your protagonists, but with some thought, chances are you can find at least one small activity you can do that relates to your book. The goal is to get some hands-on research that can boost your creativity and from which you can draw on when you get back to writing.
Find some inspiring photos
If you haven’t already, this would be a great time to put together a collection of photos that remind you of your book. You can have several categories. The photos I like to have on hand when I’m writing usually fall into either setting or character photos. Setting photos come in handy for when you get stuck with descriptions, or for when you generally need to feel a little more immersed in your world. This is especially true if you life in a place that is distant or or very unlike the setting of your novel.
If you haven’t already, this would be a great time to browse for some photos of people who resemble the characters in your story. This might be tricky if you have a very clear picture in your mind of your characters and can’t find anything that matches. But if you’re struggling with visualising the cast of your story, see if you can select some images to help you out. Here are some places I’ve had luck in finding cool photos:
- Good old-fashioned nonfiction books on my topic
- Internet searches on clothing from my time period
- Pinterest boards with overlapping themes as my project
- Totally unrelated places such as catalogs, museum displays, or photo-bins in antique stores
Listen to music
Whenever I’m stuck, one of the first places I turn to for inspiration is music. First and most obviously, it’s a great idea to try out some music that your characters may have listened to. Nowadays, with so many online music platforms, it’s easier than ever to find music instantly and easily. Getting a feel for the music that was popular in your time is an important but sometimes overlooked part of getting into the mindset of your characters. And since music has varied so broadly over the decades and centuries, it can be interesting to try something new.
If you’re writing about a time in ancient history, or a setting where the music isn’t as widely recorded today, you might have to do a little more research. The good news is that music has such universal appeal, even if you’re looking for information about instruments from the medieval time, chances are someone has done the research and may have even re-recorded something similar.
Do mental writing prompts
Lots of writers suggest writing to prompts when they feel stuck. Personally this hasn’t worked very well for me. If I’m stuck with my current project, sometimes not even breaking the flow and writing to a different theme will work. What I like to do instead is think about the prompts without putting anything to paper. All I do is visualize a scenario and let the scene unfold in my mind. First of all, this takes away the stress of the blank page, and the pressure to put any words together. Another great upside of this is that you can make use of the time when you’re not in front of your computer. You don’t even need a notebook–if you have a few minutes on the bus or on a walk, you can spend the time imagining your prompt. Don’t worry about finding the words, just let the thoughts come to you. In the end, you might feel compelled to jot down some ideas, but if you haven’t, don’t put any additional pressure on yourself. Just rest assured that at least you spent some time with your book.
Link your hobbies to your project
Sometimes even the most prolific authors have to resign themselves to the fact that not all days are writing days. Maybe you just need a day to take some time for yourself. But if the days between your writing sessions are adding up, and you feel guilty for neglecting your project, you have another option at your disposal. If you like cooking or baking, try out a new recipe that might have been eaten in the time period of your manuscript. If you like listening to contemporary music, turn it into a character exercise, and try to imagine what sorts of modern music your historical characters would have listened to if they had been born in this era. If you like shopping for new clothes, use that excursion as a chance to give some extra thought to what sorts of clothes your characters wore, or would have worn if they’d lived now. Knowing tiny details about your characters like what food and music they prefer, and how they dress themselves can go a long way into breathing life into your story.
Some people see writing as just a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But to some, writing is a crucial part of their life, and going too long without working on your manuscript can feel frustrating, and non-productive. But on the flip side, overworking or pushing yourself when you need a break can lead to burnout. The trick is to balance writing and other sorts of creative activities. Sometimes all your brain needs is a little trick to convince it that there are other ways of making progress than churning out paragraphs.