You’re stuck for words. Writer’s block happens. Or does it?
Not according to my first-ever editor on a women’s magazine.
“Ever heard of builders’ block?” This was his signature shout when someone struggled to finish a feature.
“Nah,” he’d bellow without missing a beat, “because builders don’t throw down tools when a house needs walls no matter how shit the job is. Bollocks to writer’s block. Get to work!”
Bollocks, bricks and mortar aside, I take shouty editor’s point.
Building houses or writing books, if we want to finish what we started within a reasonable timeframe, we can’t grind to a halt. Not even when we hit a brick wall.
What does spur us on?
We know The Fear Factor kick-starts a creative surge. There’s nothing quite like a bellowing editor to take a wrecking ball to someone’s job security the minute a person defaults on a deadline.
Most independent authors, however, are their own boss. There’s no one screaming at them to get the job done, which can lead to a lapse in concentration and motivation. Imagination takes a hit. Coffee not character arc is prioritised. Maybe a writer’s boot camp? Maybe not.
If boot camp or a bollocking from the boss seem rather too intense, beat writer’s block like this:
1 THINK NUMBERS NOT WORDS
When words fail you, take the formulaic approach. Break down the creative process into numbers: 35 chapters per book; 2,000 words per chapter; 4 scenes per chapter; 500 words per scene; 1 word to get started.
2 KNOW HOW IT ENDS
Struggling to go with the flow? Ditch the linear approach. Write your final chapter and a finishing line. Do this after you write your first 10 pages then flip back to the start.
3 CONSIDER THE 2:4 RATIO.
Need a writing timeline to focus on? Set aside two months to write 70,000 words and four months to edit. Deadline based on four hours’ uninterrupted writing per day.
4 DON’T LOSE THE PLOT Creative writing-prompt exercises can be fun and useful when inspiration dries up but don’t let random writing distract you.Your book won’t write itself. Get back to it.
5 COMPILE A QUESTIONAIRE
Think up 20 questions about your character. Use the answers to generate fresh content.
6 READ AND RECORD
Create an audio file of your first 10 pages. It doesn’t need to be technically perfect – the objective is to listen and learn. Start writing down creative improvements. Don’t stop.
7 BLURB ABOUT ITIf you can’t finish a chapter, have a go at writing the book blurb instead. Aim for 200 words that sell the book.
8 HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT IT?
Let’s be honest. If you’re struggling to write this book maybe you don’t want to write this book. If you’re not excited enough how do you think the reader will feel? Boredom alert!
9 CHOOSE ONE SONG
What is the standout track that sums up your book? Listen to the lyrics. Let the lyrics feed your imagination. Write down what you feel and where the music takes you.
10 ASK FOR DIRECTIONS
If you’re lost for words, you’ve no idea what destination your book is headed in. Approach your book as you would a road trip: plan, stop, refresh, write, read the signs, focus on final destination.
11 RETURN TO THE FIRST 10 PAGES
Can’t write, won’t write? Then go back to the start. The answer to your book lies within the first 10 pages. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
12 WRITE THE SYNOPSIS
You’re pitching to an agent. Tell (not sell) the story in 200 words including spoilers and ending.
13 LOSE THE DEAD WEIGHT
Kill your darlings or murder them, as was suggested by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch or maybe it was William Faulkner. In other words, delete those much-adored, precious parts of the book that mean the world to you but not so much to the reader. Edit like a professional in order to free up your mind to write new material.
14 CAST OUT THE DEVIL
We’re taking about distraction. You go online to research your book and, oops, end up reading about a man who has a foot growing out of his back. Sensational click-bait content is hard to resist but resist you must. Stop surfing, start writing.
15 GET TO WORK!
You want tough love? Write, write, write. There’s no such thing as a house without walls. There’s no such thing as writer’s block.