It’s practically inevitable. You’re rockin’ and rollin’ through your writing, feeling invincible, and then you reach a sudden halt: You’re blocked. The words won’t come. It seems like there’s nothing more, and yet you’ve got things to do! Deadlines to meet! Dreams to fulfill!
It can seem impossible. But never fear: it can be done.
Here’s how to write a book when you’ve got writer’s block.
Want to learn how to write a book from start to finish? Check out How to Write a Book: The Complete Guide.
What is Writer’s Block?
This seems obvious: Writer’s block is a writer’s inability to write.
But unfortunately this isn’t a real thing. There is no bacteria or viral condition out there that afflicts writers like other diseases.
Instead, writer’s block is the result of several problems, like low self-confidence and poor planning. And to fully address this complicated situation, it’s important to take a number of steps that will restore the writer’s confidence and plan a course for success.
This is the only way you can continue to write a book when you’ve got writer’s block!
How to Write a Book When You’ve Got Writer’s Block: The 5-Step Plan
Ready to overcome your block and revitalize your writing? Here’s your recovery plan:
Step 1: Take a Step Back
Some coaches out there will encourage you to plow onward no matter what.
That may be good advice for a determined few, but for the rest of us it’s just plain impossible. The words simply won’t come. And when we force them out, they’re terrible and we hate them and we hate ourselves for writing them.
What do you do then?
Stop writing and take a step back.
It’s important to understand that writer’s block is caused by specific knots in your story, not general ones. In other words, it’s not you – it’s your protagonist. Or your setting. Or your point of view.
Something specific to the story isn’t working as you’ve been approaching it, so you need to stop and back up, if just for awhile.
Writing a book is a lot like navigating a maze. Consider how complicated each character’s journey is! And when you write the story, you’re finding your way through the labyrinth without a map. Reaching a dead-end is the same as writer’s block. You have to stop moving forward, step back, and find your way again. Crashing into the same wall isn’t going to solve your problems.
Remember: The block is specific, not general. You don’t suck. This moment in your storytelling life is what sucks, so you need to step away and gain some perspective.
Step 2: Emancipate Yourself
One of the reasons you’re blocked might be an imaginary rule.
What is an imaginary rule? It’s a rule that you have created for yourself that you’re unwilling to break, and it’s killing your writing.
Have you created a self-imposed deadline for yourself? As in, “I have to have this done by July”?
Or have you read a bunch of great literature, only to demand that your first draft look and sound just like The Great Gatsby or Beloved?
Another rule I tend to create for myself is a story rule. These look like this:
- The story has to take place entirely in one room.
- The story has to be in the first-person point of view.
- This character has to die.
And so on. We make these rules for ourselves because we want to achieve greatness, or reach a particular writing goal.
But more often than not, they tend to trap us in prisons of our own making. When we can’t meet our own impossible demands, we submit to the feeling of failure and throw in the towel.
You have to emancipate yourself from these imaginary rules. Free yourself from the bondage of perfectionism.
Identify the imaginary rule you’ve created that is holding you prisoner. Write it down in a way that frees you: “The story can take place in any room. It can be in any point of view.”
Whatever you need to free yourself from this false bondage and get back to creating with freedom.
Step 3: Unplug
To fully recover from the frustration of your writer’s block, you need a break.
Take a short sabbatical from your labors. Unplug from the world of your writing and enjoy the things that refresh your body and spirit. Visit nature. Play with your children. Make other kinds of art. Watch your favorite movies or a season of your favorite show.
Part of the reason you need to unplug is to separate your humanity from this project. The frustration becomes personal. The rules and expectations that have been driving you become unforgiving taskmasters.
Unplugging is the physical action you must take to redefine your writing life.
Also, you may not be able to fully emancipate yourself from your imaginary rules until you’ve unplugged. Steps two and three go hand-in-hand. Rediscovering your humanity works side-by-side with reframing your independence as a writer.
Make sure to keep your sabbatical brief, though. Give it a deadline since it can threaten your long-term productivity, and hold to it.
But let yourself live a little and reconnect with the things in life that inspire you to create in the first place, free from crushing expectations and the feeling of failure.
Step 4: Strategize
When your retreat ends, it’s time to get back to work. But if you simply start banging your head into the same wall in the labyrinth, you’ll just end up back where you were.
Instead, plan ahead before your jump back in. A book is a large undertaking with numerous parts. Certainly there are parts where you aren’t blocked, right?
Here are five ways you can strategically continue to write a book when you’ve had writer’s block:
- Back up and start a scene from a different time and/or place
- Let a character fail during a scene
- In a scene between two characters, add a third character for triangulation
- Move the scene to a new, more resistant setting (location)
- Craft the scene from a different character’s point of view, or a third-person point of view
Once you’ve made a choice, try it. But be prepared for it to possibly fail. Be ready with another idea or two in your pocket.
Strategy isn’t just about the story itself; it’s about readying yourself for a variety of outcomes, successful or not, so you don’t end up blocked again.
Step 5: Return and Write With Freedom
The final step to overcoming writer’s block when writing a book is to return and write with freedom.
You’ve stepped back and freed yourself from the shackles of impossible expectations and faulty rules. You’ve take a restorative sabbatical and come out of it energized, filled with ideas about new strategic approaches to your storytelling problems.
The last thing to do, then, is to write.
The Secret to Overcoming Writer’s Block
See, overcoming writer’s block isn’t just about the story. It’s about the storyteller.
When done right, taking these steps builds muscle memory. Every time you conquer writer’s block you get better at doing it. In fact, if you beat writer’s block enough, you’ll hardly ever feel truly “blocked,” but see the momentary hiccup in your process as just that: a minor nuisance that you’re an expert at dealing with.
No one is ever truly, eternally afflicted with writer’s block. The power is in your hands.
You can do it. You can write a book when you’ve got writer’s block.
You just have to know how.
What strategies do you use to overcome writer’s block? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to journal about imaginary rules that you have possibly created that are forcing you into corners or dead-ends in your writing. What deadlines, narrative rules, or lofty expectations are threatening to paralyze your latest efforts? Share your journal in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!