Hilary Mantel once said, “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” (The Guardian, 25 February 2010)
No offense to Hilary, but I have never worked through my writer’s block by walking away from it. I do think that if you get frustrated, taking a break to destress can be a good tool since anger can cloud your thoughts. However, in the end, you have to go back to your work. As H. Jackson Brown Jr. once said, “Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.”
As such, here are some tips on how to work through writer’s block.
- Ask questions. If you’re having trouble with figuring out where to go next ask yourself questions about the problem. What is the villian’s goal? What does the hero know? What does the audience know? What does the audience need to see at this point? What is the backstory of the cyborg trying to kill the main character, other than just a bad guy thrown at the main character? Do we really want to kill him now that he has a backstory? Just keep asking, and eventually, you’ll ask the right one.
- Close your eyes, and see through your character’s eyes. Don’t just think of the character as a piece of the story, but as a real person. What decision would they make at this point? Or take a step back even further and think “what would logically happen at this point between all characters?” Use your characters as fuel to drive your story.
- Play with side ideas. Don’t just focus on what is happening at this point of the story. Think of everything else going on and how you can work that into the part you’re having trouble with. Looking at the story from a different angle can help open up new avenues.
- Talk to someone. A nice trick in computer science when working on a problem is to explain it to someone else without showing any code. This is for two reasons. (1) For the obvious reason, advice, but also (2) because in the act of telling someone what the problem is, you will often see some detail that can help work through it before you can even finish explaining what you needed help with.
And the most important trick to conquering writer’s block is to never give up. Walk away for a short while if you need to, but always come back.