Or, How to Overcome “Writer’s Block”
Okay, I get it. Saying something like there’s no such thing as writer’s block is a pretty controversial thing. Even experienced writers say that writer’s block is real.
Some have written entire books on the subject. I’ve read about writers who stare at a blank page for hours, unable to come up with a single sentence.
I know, sometimes it’s hard to write. In fact, it can be very hard. But the concept of a mental “block” that prohibits you from finishing your story is not real.
But there is a real challenge that many writers face. One that can derail or upset the progress of a story/manuscript. A problem that is often mistaken for writer’s block is very real. But it can be overcome if you’re willing to work.
Oh yes, writing is work, just like any other craft. Writers just don’t sit down at a computer and watch the words fly onto the screen. Even the most prolific writers—who have produced countless books—didn’t start there.
The secret to all great writers is this: they write… A LOT.
When I first seriously started pursuing a career in writing, I had no idea just how much writing I had to produce—just to get something done. In my career as a freelancer, I have to produce a metric ton of words. In a single day. I’ve been writing professionally for about 4 years. In that time, I’ve written well over a million words.
Just Google my name and you’ll see for yourself. I’ve written so many articles, there are fake websites that have stolen them and reposted as their own (sometimes using my name), just for the clicks.
I’m not even kidding.
I’m not saying this to brag, or to suggest I’m am an amazing writer. I’m not even saying this to suggest I’m even close to reaching my goals as a writer. I get paid to write, yes, but my dream is to write fiction for a living. That hasn’t happened yet.
What I am saying is that because I have to write to eat, I learned a valuable lesson.
When people pay me to write words for them, I can’t have the luxury of “writer’s block.” Yes, the freelance work I produce is mostly news-oriented. That may seem like the stories write themselves—but they don’t. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to process a breaking story, understand it, and communicate the most important points to an audience who might otherwise not care. An audience who can easily get the same content someplace else.
Writing content is writing content. The same principles apply whether you’re writing a news article, cookbook, horror story, or erotic fantasy. It’s up to you, the writer, to actually put the words on the page.
The only way to develop the skills needed to overcome “writer’s block” is to write every day. Write a lot. Write so much it becomes second nature. Write so much that you can write in your sleep. Write until it’s more common to you than brushing your teeth or ordering Chinese food from Uber Eats.
When you develop those kinds of chops, you’ll begin to understand what it takes to beat those roadblocks that make it hard to finish your story. What is often called writer’s block.
But what is writer’s block, really?
The Truth About Writer’s Block
When you begin a story, you’re probably pretty excited. You have this great idea that you want to get down on paper. Maybe you were inspired by a movie or series of books you loved as a kid. Maybe you’re eager to write to a specific audience, like children. Maybe you’ve got this awesome character in your head and are so ready to see him jump into action.
Those early chapters or pages come pretty easily. That’s because you’ve been dreaming about this for a while. Probably for a long while, before you even started to write. Those early ideas are what motivated you to put it on the page in the first place.
Writing early chapters are easy because your creative subconscious has been brewing them for a while. Your mind has been making connections—connecting ideas, themes, characters, and settings. So that when you sat down to write, it all comes flowing out.
(This process is like a muscle and the more you write, the more it happens.)
It’s also easier to write opening chapters of a story because those almost write themselves. The three-act structure of nearly all books requires certain things to happen in the first act (the early chapters). It’s basically where you introduce your protagonist, antagonist, and setting. It’s also where you introduce the overall problem (plot) your protagonist has to solve.
Truth is, it’s easy to stick a cat up a tree. But it’s a lot harder getting him down.
In many cases, the ending of the story is easy to write, too. You have a pretty general idea of where you want your characters to end up. You may not have written it down yet, but an ending pretty much flows from the resolution of the plot. It’s not hard to sort out.
The real challenge, my friend, is the middle. The middle of a book comprises at least 50% of your story. Some even say 75%. It is the most important part, the part that makes or breaks your story. It’s also the part where many readers give up, because they lost interest.
It’s also the part where writing templates and gurus give the least amount of support for. All the books on structuring a novel give very little direction for the middle of the book, compared to the beginning or end. Trust me, I’ve searched for a clear template to follow for my stories, especially the tricky middle. It doesn’t exist.
That’s because you can’t follow a recipe for writing your story. You have to come up with it yourself.
Most writers have no problem coming up with the first act of their story. That, in many ways, is the fun stuff. The reader has zero clue about what this story is about, so you can play with them. Introduce your characters and setting. Be as creative and crazy as you want with the plot.
But once that train is on the track, it has to follow a very clear path or the plot will derail.
That’s not as fun. It fact, it can be very frustrating. Because you have to understand storytelling and work out how your plot continues and ends.
It’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road. And where most writers claim to get “writer’s block.”
But the same techniques that got you this far can get you clear through the end. IF you commit yourself to writing a heck of a lot.
Because the middle of a story is not easy to figure out. Especially if you want it to be unique and memorable.
Next time, I’ll lay out a few tips for breaking through “writer’s block.”