“There’s always sadness in our lives. It’s that sad feeling that keeps us going.”

— Tsukino Usagi


From Writer's Block to Breakthrough in 60 Seconds

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


There's a lot of pressure when it comes to writing. I don't think we realize that when we're actually writing. You know, when the words stop coming. The analogies get weak. You reach for synonyms in the thesaurus that you know aren't words you'd ever use and are a stretch even in the manuscript. You start overcompensating, you get frustrated, and then you yell at the cat when clearly it's not Frisky's fault. I've been there. At the time of writing this post, I'm there, right now. Writer's Block sucks, and it comes in these rigorous walls of waves that linger and beckon you to do something about it. The solution is often not clear, and it seems so far away. That feeling is the pressure building. 


Don't let it bottle up! Hear me out:


I finished the second draft to my upcoming novel at the end of November. I took a couple of weeks off, worked on editing some client's manuscripts, and then returned to do self-edits just before Christmas. I did a pass through the whole manuscript, and then when I went to write the third draft, I realized something.


My second act is terrible. I'm going to have to gut much of these chapters and passages and reblock and rewrite more than half the book. No big deal, right?


Nope. Unless you have three weeks to turn in your manuscript to your editor. That's when the pressure mounts. That's when I got bottled up. And then the words just suddenly stopped coming. 


So what do you do when writer's block hits? 


Many writers try different things, and different things work at different times. The thing about writing and editing is that each scenario can be so different that there's never one true answer. Take this as more of a blessing than a curse, because you're about to discover something you wouldn't have had you been coasting through your draft.


When you're at odds with your back against the wall, you're forced to do something you wouldn't normally do (kind of like your main protagonist, amiright??). You'll find yourself trying a bunch of different solutions, testing new ideas, writing up or revising old scenes into new ones, or taking notes that are mostly streams of conscious. None of these things are bad. Alternative, none of them may be the thing you need. 


The thing about writer's block is that you don't know what the solution is. You have to find it. You have to make it on your own. Something in your manuscript isn't working, and you might not realize it at first until you keep digging. Until you keep scrutinizing your work. Or writing scenes and passages and even chapters that you may end up scrapping anyway. But there's a nugget, an answer, somewhere in there, and you just have to keep looking for it. 


When your back is against the wall, it's not that you're doing something you wouldn't do because that habit or thought doesn't exist in you already. That thing is there, already, hidden within you. You just haven't become aware of it yet. 


It is important to take time away from your manuscript. It is important to spend time with it, too. You can be aggressive when writer's block hits: keep writing, even when the words don't feel right. Block scenes and revisit your outlines. Talk it out with your editor or a friend. Read the chapters out loud. Write up a stand-up routine for your character. Or take a Myers-Briggs test for her (my antagonist is an INFJ-T, which surprised even me). Or, you can let go and give yourself a break: Take a walk. Listen to music. Watch a movie or TV show that already inspired you on the story. Read a book. Play a video game. Exercise. 


Whatever you do, don't count yourself out, and don't think it's all going to implode and fall apart because you've hit a block. I firmly believe writer's block is a good thing: your manuscript is going to become better. This is a trial of your characters, your plot, and your themes. It may pave the way for a new path, new ideas, strengthen old ones, and coalesce a lot better. It could also mean that maybe this project isn't ready yet, and you should be paving the way for a new project instead. Just don't give up. Take a break, but don't give up. It's not over, and you're only going to get better because of this.  



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Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor, published author. To inquire about his editing services, visit the services page. To read his work, check out The Recital and Project Anjou If you're just hanging out, subscribe to his newsletter below, where you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.

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