Miss Write's Advice: Surviving writer's block

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Category: Writing

Our resident Agony Aunt is back with some advice on surviving writer’s block. If you've got a writing dilemma, don’t suffer in silence! Send your problems over to Miss Write.


The Question

I am writing my first novel. I'm stuck after 9 chapters and not moving ahead, a writer's block. How can I give myself a push? Gaurav

The Answer

Writer’s block is a horrible thing which all writers will encounter at some point but often don't feel able to articulate. Some lucky writers will be able to return to their work soon after a stumble. We don't like these people.  For others, writer's block can take hold and make you ignore every productive thought for days, weeks or even months on end.

Here is my advice for surviving writer’s block:

1.    Accept that you will get stuck

This won't help you get words on the page, but it is important to stop beating yourself up about it. Every writer gets stuck and it may feel like THE END OF THE WORLD if you can’t write. It isn’t. This is your first draft. Take a deep breath and give yourself a break. The act of sitting down and writing can be difficult enough, so don't get the fear before you've really started the process. 

2. Don’t be too tied down by your original plan

Even if you have the most detailed plan by your side, don’t get too tied down by it. Often a block in the writing road can be a sign that something isn’t working in your plan. Maybe that character you’ve introduced slows the narrative pace or you’ve reached that big confrontation scene far too early. Don’t be afraid to venture off the map or skip ahead to a more interesting part of the plot. We won’t tell anyone (just don’t forget to fill in the gaps later!)

I'm fairly certain it's a legal requirement for your first draft to be full of nonsense.

3. Let your character(s) do the talking

Your narrative should be led by a strong, engaging and vivid protagonist or cast of characters. If you’ve sketched these characters well, you should be able to let them take over and lead the story if you need to. You don’t have to stick to your original plot or pick up where you left things before the dreaded block came along. Try writing out some short, separate scenes with your character(s) and see what they get up to. 

4. Are you sure it’s the right form?

Are you sure that this story is meant to be a novel? I don’t want to bring your whole world crashing down around you, but if this block feels significant or sticks around for a while, this could be a sign that the story belongs in a different form, such as a short story or script. If this is the case, let yourself have a cry and resist the temptation to burn your notes or delete your manuscript. You may not be pursuing that particular form anymore, but those foundations will be useful. 

5. Sound off your ideas to someone

Talking through your progress or ideas with a fellow writer may help you see where the root of your writer’s block lies. After spending so long with your characters and your plot, you’ll never be the best objective judge of what’s happening. Relinquish control and let someone else have a look. It’s your perogative to completely ignore what they say, but they might just provide that spark you need. 

6. Don’t give in to the pressure

Early in the writing process, your inner critic will start yapping and in the space of a chapter you'll be convinced that the whole novel is rubbish before you've even finished it. I highly doubt this is true. Instead, focus on getting those words onto the page. I'm fairly certain it's a legal requirement for your first draft to be full of nonsense. Enjoy exploring your characters, building up an atmospheric setting and reach for the punch bag when your critic begins to pipe up again. Keep a separate folder or notebook to hand and use this to jot down any editing ideas for your second draft. That way, you’ll have a record but these thoughts won’t bombard your progress. After all, you can't write a second draft without a first one, or so I'm told. Drat. 

7. Take a break

Finally, there’s no harm in taking a break if things really aren't going well at the moment. The key is to not let this break become a lifetime. Hopefully some time away (even just for the duration of a cup of tea and an enormous slice of cake) will give you some perspective and zest for your writing. 

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or @ScottishBkTrust on Twitter, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

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Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.