Today we have a fantastic guest! She shares her tactics for defeating the dreaded writer's block. Meet author, Hannah Stahlhut
Common Types of Writer’s Block (and how to combat them)
We’ve all been there. The blank Microsoft Word document glaring back at you while Facebook notifications beckon from the iPhone on your desk. You want to write so badly-- you’ve fought this battle and won a thousand times over-- but for some reason at this moment you have lost the power of language.
This is writer’s block.
I’ve struggled with it on many occasions during each of my novels. And no two cases of writer’s block were the same for me. That’s why I decided to lay out the different cases of writer’s block (I divided it into 6 types!) and recommend potential solutions. For writers like me who find themselves stumped and gazing vacantly at your screen, try diagnosing your case of writer’s block and applying treatment as necessary:
The “uninspired” variation of writer’s block is a tough one. It’s quite common for me and my writer friends. It’s also, in my opinion, a poor excuse for not writing. If you call yourself a writer, you cannot stop writing when you don’t feel inspired. Same goes for people of any profession. Even the best teachers, accountants, business people, or architects don’t wake up feeling like the stars are aligned for them to perform with divine inspiration every day. They must work at their jobs, through the rough days and the great ones. And so must we.
Having said that, there are some treatments to help with inspiration in writing. If you haven’t yet started the story, begin by writing character profiles and backstories. Maybe something interesting about them will bring you the motivation you need. A spark of connection with a character can do wonders. My personal favorite solution to uninspired writer’s block, however, is simply to pick a favorite movie of mine and watch it. If I’m feeling uninspired writing a romance, I watch something like Ever After. If I’m stumped writing a battle scene, I watch Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The experience of watching a truly great movie that gives you all the feels you want to create in your own writing can jump start your project.
Bonus tip: while I highly recommend watching movies to spark the writing bug, I strongly warn against watching TV shows for inspiration. I tried this once. It led to me binge-watching the first four seasons of Game of Thrones with nothing to show for myself. Don’t make my mistake. Watch a movie with an ending and make yourself sit in front of the computer when it’s done.
Written into a corner
This is the toughest form of writer’s block in my opinion. Writing yourself into a corner in the plot, whether you’ve accidentally wrapped up the main conflict too soon or, like me, accidentally separated two main characters without realizing the implications for the story, can be a tough bind to escape.
The great news is, you can always write yourself out of a bind like this. The bad news is, it may require some rewriting. Try going back a few chapters. What did you do that led the plot astray? Could you lead it in a different direction that makes sense and leaves the story more open to possibilities? Or maybe you don’t need to rewrite at all, and what you need is to introduce another point of conflict for the story that gives you more material to work with.
Bonus tip: You may not like to hear this, but the key to preventing this type of writer’s block is by writing an outline and by revising the outline when the plot takes unexpected turns (which it’s certainly allowed to do).
Out of ideas
If you’re out of ideas, usually it means you’re actually “uninspired” or in a corner. If you haven’t yet started a story and you have no concrete ideas to nail down, try more prewriting. Work through your characters. Find out what it is they want most and take it away from them. Find out what they fear and make it a reality. It’s cruel, but it’s what writers do. Without that, we have no stories to write. Create characters you love, then create some kind of opposition for them to overcome. If you’ve written yourself into a corner, perhaps you’ve resolved the conflict or opposition too soon. That is the death of a plot, so watch out for it.
Bonus tip: Remember to keep and carry a notebook wherever you go, or a notepad app - whatever the kids are using these days. Then take down all your ideas when you feel inspired, that way you can return to them when you get stumped at the keyboard.
Too many ideas
Having too many ideas is more my problem than being out of ideas. Sometimes I get ideas for too many stories at once, other times I get too many ideas for directions to take my current project. The key here is to harness this moment of extreme inspiration and motivation. Pick a project and try to stick to it. If you get threads of ideas for other projects, jot them down so you can return to them later. For your current story, if you have too many ideas, write some potential outlines to see which idea leads you where you want to go. Also listen to what your characters are telling you. Pick the route that reads true for them.
Bonus tip: Don’t be discouraged if you have too many ideas. Too many good ideas is not a bad thing.
Disagreements with characters
This is a frequent source of writer’s block for me. I tend to fight my characters on some things, which is a bad call almost all of the time. The only recommendation I can give is to make sure whatever happens in the plot, the characters respond based on their personality, desires, and history. If their natural responses are unexpected, work the plot around that. You wrote your outline. You can change it.
If the disagreement is you struggling to relate to a character, your challenge is more difficult. I had some serious trouble connecting with one of my characters, and it destroyed an entire draft of my novel. It took weeks and weeks of rewriting to resolve it. The important thing to remember is if you don’t find some way to relate to your character, neither will readers. It comes through in your writing if you don’t like a character. Try doing some free writing with the character who gives you trouble. Find common ground, some value that you share with them, no matter how different you two may be. Trust me, pressing pause on the story and having a heart-to-heart with your protagonist pays off.
Bonus tip: Take a personality quiz, like the Myers Briggs, on behalf of your characters. Study their strengths and weaknesses. It’s helpful, plus super fun.
There’s no easy way to say this, so here’s the deal: You must get rid of your distraction while you are writing. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. If your distraction is social media like the rest of us, you must turn off desktop notifications for Facebook. And leave your phone in another room. If it helps, maybe you can turn off your internet. Self control is key, okay? Good talk.
Bonus tip: block off writing days or hours on your calendar and stick to them. Don’t reschedule, this is a downhill road to putting off your book indefinitely.
The struggle is real. No one wakes up feeling inspired to write the perfect draft every day. The important thing is that we keep each other accountable and lift each other up. We’re in this together.
Do you have any common traps you fall into for your writing? Share your solutions!
Hannah Stahlhut began writing books in her early teens and hasn't stopped since. Her debut novel came out when she was just 16. Now age 24, Hannah is currently working on the Spirit Seeker Novels, fantasy adventure books for teen and adult readers. In her free time, Hannah likes to binge on Netflix shows (Parks and Recreation, The IT Crowd, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica, and The 100 are a few of her current favorites). She also enjoys pretending to be fit by riding her bicycle to work. She considers herself an honorary member of both House Lannister and Hufflepuff. An odd combination to be sure, but one she will defend to the bitter end. Hannah hopes readers enjoy reading her books half as much as she enjoys writing them.
For as long as Adala can remember, she’s spent summers abroad as part of her father’s crew. At last she is determined to stay home and pursue a new life with her mother and young brother, Shem. But Adala’s world is suddenly thrown into havoc when Shem collapses at the market one day, crying out that their father has died at sea. Before she can process his surreal claims, Shem is stolen away from their cottage in the night.
Adala’s plight to rescue Shem soon lands her captive to an outcast group of criminals. Traversing the desert hills, she grows ever aware of the surrounding dangers and afraid that Shem’s intuitions may be used in a nefarious plot for vengeance. Adala is forced to ask herself: Are her brother’s otherworldly senses genuine? How do they relate to a dark prophecy of the “savage” desert clans? Can she trust Tobin, a kind-hearted outcast soldier with ties to the desert dwellers?
Join Adala as she seeks to free herself and her brother from the clutches of an outcast leader determined to push Shem toward a frightening destiny.