Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Overcoming Writer’s Block – Making the Word Count

I hear rumors that some people do not ever suffer from writer’s block. I also hear rumors that some people actually don’t like chocolate. Hah! For those of us who do battle writer’s block, frequently or infrequently, I’d like to share some ideas. One of the hardest parts of writing and attempting to get published is the mind game involved, the game of winning over the gremlins in your brain who sow doubt at every step.

When someone first starts writing, a common cause of writer’s block can be the fear that you will fail or that what you write will be terrible. The mind tricks you into thinking it’s better not to try because you are setting yourself up for a downfall. How do you overcome that? I found it was not to have a goal to write a polished, worthy-to-be-published manuscript. Too much pressure! I just had a goal to finish something, no matter how bad it turned out. What a great feeling it was the very first time I typed ‘the end’. If you make that your goal, you can remind yourself no one ever has to read it and that might ease some of the fear. And once the first is done, then you can think about revising it, or move on to something else, but having finished will silence a few of those vicious gremlins.

 So once you have that goal to just finish, whether it’s your first or your tenth, how do you actually manage to get words down? I have several different methods. If I’m really struggling, I just write dialogue, because that’s the easiest part of the story for me to imagine. Sometimes I’ll switch to writing a few paragraphs describing the setting, even though I know I won’t use most of it in the final story. Other times I’ll just write a laundry list of the action, more like stage directions. The important part for me is to actually get real words on the screen, because I can’t revise without anything to work with.

 Another thing I do is to set realistic goals and force myself to keep them, by not allowing myself to do anything else until I'm done. I don’t write quickly, so a maximum word count goal for me is one thousand words a day. On days when I know I will have very little time to make a goal, I lower the word count, sometimes down to as little as 250 words. Once I start writing, I often go beyond that, but the feeling of meeting one goal helps me go back to it the next day. Those 250 words may just be a description of what a character is wearing, or what they like to eat, or a bit of backstory. I don’t care. They are words.

Some people swear by a program called Write or Die. This is a much more drastic method to force yourself to write. As I understand it, you basically have to keep writing without pauses or else your work will disappear. That’s too much pressure for me and doesn’t fit the way I write, but every person has to find their own method. Anyone else have tips to share?
~ Dee Garretson


  1. For me, research ALWAYS cures my writer's block. It triggers new ideas and really allows me to push ahead. I'm a TOTAL research nerd! ;)


  2. Sherry DiFazio5/4/11, 12:19 PM

    Working in my garden always helps me. Thank God it's getting warmer!

  3. These are great suggestions. I think doubt is the biggest culprit, along with his evil henchman, The Second Guesser. LOL I just keep moving forward, even if it's just a little bit, knowing that things do get better, even when they seem kinda grim. :)

  4. That would be WAY to much pressure for me!! Yikes.

    If I'm struggling I tend to do some research or visiti some blogs until something gets jogged back into place :)

  5. Never had writer's block, but I'm sure it'll happen sometime. I've had projects I've scrapped after they just wouldn't "work" (once I got to a certain point), but that's not writer's block. I'm a very fast writer, so once I get going I don't stop until the project is finished. I'm sure if I wasn't able to keep going it might result in gaps which might bring about writer's block, so that's why I keep humming along until "the end" graces the screen. Great post, Dee!

  6. It feels like running a half marathon when you get to the 11 mile. There is an invisible wall that blocks your brain from moving forward. I read other books to get through it.

  7. What IS writer's block? Is it when you can't think of anything to write, or are you afraid to write? I have certainly put off writing, but I'm not sure I could call that a block. :)

  8. Tim,
    I think it's all of those, especially if you put off writing for a long time but think you want to write.

  9. Write or Die sounds like a nightmare to me, lol!! I tend to mull a lot over what I write. I could just see all my paragraphs disappearing one by one....

  10. Sometimes writing feels like pulling rusty old nails out of wood. Slow going, a lot of work on the front end, and then pop! Creativity comes back!

    I find that the best thing is to just write. To not think about it too much, a word count goal is helpful, and then just write. And to think optimistically about revisions - ha!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!