Sometimes I have those days where, whatever I was working on, I don’t want to do it. Those are the days when I don’t feel like writing or editing. I always know I’m having one because I end up restlessly shuffling through tasks and websites without actually doing or reading anything. There was a time in my life where I’d try to ruthlessly force myself to work on what I thought I should be doing anyway, no matter how much I didn’t feel like it. This is where I should mention that I’m an artist when it comes to stubbornness, and that nothing brings it out in me like forcing me to do something I don’t want to. You can imagine how well trying to push myself to write when I’m just not into it works. :p
In recent months, I’ve found another, better way to deal with it, one that works very well. Rather than force myself to work on whatever I had planned, I switch gears. I work on something else, whatever comes, and try (key word) to not feel guilty because I’m not working on the intended task. So far, this method works most of the time, especially since it doesn’t give me anything to be stubborn about. I’m still being productive, still writing.
Now, switching gears can involve a number of possibilities, which is good in a way, because it gives you options. You can pick whatever appeals to you or is most handy. The big thing about whatever you choose is that it needs to move you forward.
My first line of defense when I run into difficulties working on my writing/editing/whatever is to switch the medium I’m working in. No, I’m not talking about starting to write your novel as a movie script in the middle of the manuscript. Honest, not a good idea, not part way through. What I’m talking about is your writing medium. It can be as simple as moving from a desktop to a laptop (or the reverse) if you’re like me and have both. It can also involve some other electronic device you own that is able to function as a receptacle for wordage. If all else fails, get out a pad and pen and start scribbling. I prefer pencil myself and I’m sure that speaks volumes about me, but the point is, write differently. That change of writing arena can stimulate your thinking in a different way, let you approach it from a different angle.
I need to write the story from beginning to end and have found anything else doesn’t work for me, but I’ve heard plenty of people swear by switching scenes. For them, as I understand it, they just start writing a different scene when they reach an impasse on the one they’d been writing. As I said, I can’t offer personal experience on this one, and I would only suggest it if you know you can write in such a non-linear fashion. But if you can and it works for you, go ahead and do it. You should all know my motto by now, to do whatever works for you and gets you to The End.
This has almost always worked for me so far. I’m usually in love with the story or characters enough to keep going with just this change. But if that doesn’t work, I tend to get a bit more drastic in my methods of pushing through. I start working on something else.
Most of the time, this means making notes for other story ideas, though I do that whenever they come anyway. However, in this case, I’m talking about a concerted effort to stimulate ideas on a specific idea. It doesn’t even matter which future project I pick, but I do pick one and start going through my usual questioning and pushing at the idea to develop it, rather than passively waiting for more thoughts about it. It makes me think about something other than the problem I’m having with what I was writing enough that my brain works out the problem in the background. I’ve used outlining for this purpose too, especially starting to outline the next book. I suppose that, in a way, it’s like writing scenes out of order, but just the bare bones of the story. It gets me thinking further down the line, and I can find the path based on where I need to be. It’s almost like inducing story hindsight.
The most important part in all of this though is to move forward, not to stop and definitely not to wallow in the problem. There are a lot of good reasons why you need to keep going, but to me, the biggest one is that I find success fuels the confidence to keep going, even when it’s just a small success. Victory is still victory, after all. No one likes to feel like we’re failing (especially when we’re really not), so succeeding at something else can help us maintain the sense that we’re doing well.
I think I’ve only had one time when none of the above has worked for me. In that one case, I had to actually walk away and lose myself in someone else’s story for a while, reading and/or playing video games, just to get outside of the worked up, miserable state I’d managed to talk myself into. Thankfully that did the trick, but it was so hard. I want to write. Every minute of every day, I want to be writing, even when I know I need to stop. There’s a reason I call myself a writeaholic.
I’m sure that everyone has their own methods for coping with being blocked, as different things work for different people. Feel free to share your own in the comments. Who knows, maybe you’ll suggest something even better than my methods, for me or for someone else.