What to Do When Your Creative Writing Hits a Brick Wall
It happens to all of us: we’re a few pages in, the words are flowing, and we know what we’re going to write next — then all of a sudden we hit a brick wall. A moment ago, it seemed like we were coasting toward the end of the project, but now we’re lost somewhere in the middle with no idea what to do next.
Most writers know what it’s like to sit there, staring at the screen. The minutes tick by. Hours pass. Nothing happens.
We all know this can happen when we set out to start a project, but what about when we’re in the middle of a project? The weirdest thing about it is that we can have a pretty good idea about what’s supposed to happen. We might even be working off an outline. But for some reason, the words don’t come. What’s a writer to do?
Working Around a Creative Writing Block
Sometimes, it occurs at the word-and-sentence level; you know what you want to say but you can’t find the right words to explain it. Other times, it occurs on a much broader level; you lose your train of thought and the entire concept falls apart.
Here are some techniques you can use when you’re writing and run into a brick wall:
Push Through It: When I encounter a creative writing block, the first thing I usually do is try to push my way through it. Sometimes if you keep going over the last few sentences or if you review the assignment, the words will start to flow again. Sometimes reading the piece back from the beginning helps.
Skip Ahead: If it’s a longer project and you’re stuck on one particular spot, skip ahead. If you’re writing a book, jump to the next scene or chapter. If you’re working on an article or essay, jump to the next paragraph. When I skip ahead, I usually make a temporary note in the document and mark it with red text and all-caps. This makes it easy to find the spot and serves as a reminder to come back to it. I get the sense that when I skip ahead, the gears in the back of my mind keep working on the problem. Sometimes, I come back to the trouble spot a short time later to find that I know exactly how to handle it.
Do Some Research: Most of us have had to stop in the middle of a project to conduct research because we just don’t have the facts we need to get the writing done. But when we hit a creative writing block, pausing for research is a great way to stay on task and get some work done when we can’t do the actual writing.
Take a Side Trip: As with research, taking a side trip is a way to get work done without writing. This works best with bigger projects like long articles, essays, and books. If I get blocked while writing fiction, this is my first-choice solution. I work on character backstories, world-building, and other details ranging from themes and symbolism to naming characters and places.
Planning and Brainstorming: Sometimes we just run out of ideas in the middle of writing. The best way to build up more ideas is with a brainstorming session. You can also use mind-mapping. I usually get out colored markers and a big sheet of paper and just start jotting stuff down. I list various problems with the piece and then work out solutions. Sometimes, I’ll also write an outline of what I have written so far and brainstorm to figure out what needs to happen next.
Re-evaluate: The worst-case scenario is that you’re stuck because something is wrong with what you’ve already written. Sometimes, we need to stop and re-evaluate a project. Have we gone off on a tangent? Was that last scene out of character? If you’re stuck because you’ve taken a wrong turn, stop to re-examine what you’ve written so far and do a little revising.
Check Your Health: If you’re not physically or mentally up to writing, your body might tell you by erecting a road block that prevents you from writing. Are you hungry? Tired? Do you need to stretch or get a glass of water? This can also happen if we write for too long (I used to have a bad habit of forgetting to eat all day because I got too absorbed in my work). Your writing will be much stronger and smoother if you take good care of your health.
Be Disciplined and Don’t Make Excuses: If I’m working on an especially tedious project, I often use ten-minute breaks on Pinterest when I need respite. But I don’t ever turn to social media, games, and other distractions when I’m blocked. That leads to procrastination, which is something else altogether. If you haven’t written anything in weeks but you’ve managed to spend forty hours surfing the web or playing video games, then you don’t have writer’s block. Get back on task!
How Do You Break Through Creative Writing Blocks?
I want to know what you guys do when you’re in the middle of a creative writing project and suddenly find yourself at a loss for words. Do you take a break? Work on something else? Share your solutions by leaving a comment, and keep writing!