Dear Agony Aunt,
I’m 9,000 words into my novel and I’m stuck. I have the whole thing planned but I’ve just lost the plot, so to speak. I haven’t written anything for a few weeks now…I’m a procrastination machine and my pantry has never been cleaner – how do I get writing again?
Dear Pantry Procrastination,
Ah, the dreaded writer’s block. It gets all of us at one time or another: two episodes of Orange is the New Black and a load of dishes went into the writing of this advice. Sure, a spot of procrastination is to be expected, but you certainly sound much more stuck. You may not be giving yourself time and space to write or you may have become anxious or conflicted about an element of your story. Try these tips to get through it:
1. Make time to write. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike and then find that you haven’t sat down at your desk for weeks. What you write doesn’t need to be perfect but words on the page that you can play with are better than words swimming around your head. Set yourself writing goals, even it it’s just 300 words a day.
2. If you’re stuck on a plot point or how a conflict between characters will resolve, try a writing exercise. Put your characters into a completely different situation – one that most likely won’t end up in your book – and see how they respond.
3. You can try freewriting: spend 10–15 minutes a day writing whatever comes into your head. Don’t worry about punctuation or structure; the point is just to write, write, write.
4. Do some research – it keeps you in the world of your story and expands your thinking on it while giving your brain a chance to regroup. If you’re writing about a small country town, visit a small country town. If you’re writing sci-fi then immerse yourself in the tech-mags, if it’s a historical fiction, get to a library.
5. Don’t worry. Stupid advice, right? Like telling someone in an argument to calm down? More accurately, don’t worry about things that aren’t in your control or important at this point in your writing career. One step at a time – there’s no point worrying about market trends or literary agents before you have a finished manuscript. Focus on your writing and block out the industry noise.
6. Exercise. Get up from your desk, go for a walk, a swim or whatever exercise works for you to clear your mind and feel invigorated. Then sit down again (though some people do favour the Hemingway approach of writing standing up).
7. Figure out when and where you best write. Some people write best early in the morning, some late at night. Some writers thrive in a bustling café while some love a quiet library. If your house is full of distractions – kids or television or chores – then find another location.
8. Writing is a solitary activity so it can be easy to cheat yourself when it comes to goal-setting and discipline. If you’re the kind of person who thrives on collaboration (or shame) then join a writing group and be clear about your goals with others.
And if you just read through these tips and dismissed them as tried and failed, then talk to another writer about what is demotivating you – often once you talk through your particular feelings you uncover an anxiety that can be overcome: whether you’re a memoir writer being held hostage by feelings of fear about family reading your work or a blogger struggling with feelings of inadequacy, you can get through it and acknowledging the problem is the first step to shutting the pantry door and picking up your pen again.
Want some more bitter pills to swallow? Check out these other Agony Aunt posts
Shelf Snubbed (about having trouble getting into bookstores)
Garage Graveyard (ie what to do with boxes of your own books)
Journal Jeopardy (where should you submit to)
Red Pen Wary (coping with editorial feedback)
I'm Listening (where writers can go to find feedback on their work)