If you write, you are guaranteed, at some point, to be faced with a blank page.
Even if an editor assigns you a topic, the blank page can haunt you and make it difficult to get started. And for some, the blank wasteland becomes more daunting the more they are forced to face it.
Don’t let the blank page spoil your production.
Blockages can often be alleviated by determining their root cause. Knowing why the words don’t come out can suggest ways to solve the problem. Here are seven common blocks that writers suffer from and solutions you can employ to alleviate them.
1. The ending is unclear
You find yourself finishing a scene and all of a sudden the words disappear. You are paralyzed. You may not know how your story ends. If you don’t have a clear idea of how the plot ends, it’s hard to write the words to get there.
Solution: Brainstorm possible endings. Even if none of the endings you can think of is “perfect”, pick one anyway. Having a goal should suggest possible scenes that should be written, and writing those scenes should stimulate additional ideas. If endings do not come to mind, re-read what has already been written with the ending in mind. Even if no ending is indicated, some plot breakthrough is likely to be revealed.
2. The “internal editor” will not leave you alone
You are happy to write and have great ideas, but they must be expressed perfectly. You type a few words, you erase them, you look up the thesaurus, you write a little more, you go back again, you never put more than a few sentences on the page after work hours.
Solution: Understand that no first draft is perfect. Give yourself permission to write nonsense. Be dramatic. Write violet prose. Ignore the compulsion to find a better way to say something or eliminate duplicate sentences. Allow yourself to put the idea down on paper while you are still excited to write it.
On the same line, write what comes to mind. Don’t worry about bad ideas, bad grammar, bad writing. Record your thoughts and keep the words flowing by reminding your internal editor that everything can be polished during a rewrite.
3. The blank page syndrome
Sometimes it’s just the blank page that stops us. It can be difficult to overcome the hurdle of writing the opening sentence, of knowing that the page needs to be completed.
Solution: free writing. Set a timer for a short period of time, five or ten minutes, and write down whatever comes to mind. Write the same word over and over again, if necessary, until your brain gets bored and directs you another way.
4. The idea is too big
You’ve probably heard this old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Perhaps you are blocked because you are faced with an elementary idea. The idea of tackling it all at once can be overwhelming, especially at the beginning of a project where you haven’t figured it all out.
Solution: Before putting the pen on the paper, consider all the parts of the project. Divide it into smaller, more manageable pieces and conquer one by one. Create an outline or just jot down tasks or scenes as they occur to you.
5. You are too tired to write
Overcoming fatigue is difficult. The mind is numb, the words do not flow. It’s a hassle even to make the effort. This could be the toughest challenge writers face.
Solutions: Exercise. A brisk walk, some calisthenics, or a jog around the block can be exhilarating. Physical exertion sends more blood to the brain and avoids nervous tension. Or take an energetic nap. Cornell University social psychologist James Maas found that a 15- to 30-minute nap not only improves mood, but improves alertness, memory, and overall cognitive performance.
6. You have run out of ideas
Sometimes the muse just doesn’t play well. You have the time and the desire, but you can’t think about anything to write.
Solution: trick your muse into coming up with an idea. Find something from an author you admire and start writing the first few paragraphs of the story. However, instead of writing word for word, substitute your own words and ideas.
For example, Lewis Carroll Through the looking glassbegins, “One thing was for sure, the white kitten had nothing to do with it, it was completely the black kitten’s fault.” Instead, you can write: “Green glass did not influence the project. Red glass remained in vogue and was the most desirable.” Keep substituting your own subjects, rewriting the sentence structure to suit your style, until your mind decides to take over. Once the words start to flow, stop copying and keep writing.
7. The Subject does not interest you.
This type of block usually appears when you have been assigned a task that you are not passionate about: an article for school or an article for a magazine or newspaper.
Solution: change the incline. For example, you may be asked to cover a small-town festival, but your interest is food. Research and write about the various sweets available. Or maybe you’ve been told to write about Shakespeare since you’re studying his plays in school, but music is your forte. Write your final paper on musicals from that period and how it may have influenced Shakespeare.
Breaking the writers’ block isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. Know the cause and apply the solution. Knowing the problem can make a difference.