Writer’s Block is Really Your Friend (and you should listen to it)

Writer’s block is a horrible term I don’t even like to use. I think most writers hate the term and loathe the reality. We dread getting writer’s block but what does writer’s block even mean? How does it feel to be ‘blocked’ and what, if anything, is the ‘block’ trying to tell us?

I am very fortunate because writer’s block is not something I usually suffer from. I tend to have too many ideas, and too many projects on the go and my main problem is not enough time to do it all in! But recently the dreaded writer’s block struck and in fact I now realise it was with me for some time.

So, what is writer’s block? I think it can manifest itself in different ways. There is a block to ideas, when a writer quite simply can’t think of anything to write about. These writers tend to have big gaps between writing projects while they wait for the muse to show up again. There are blocks that happen mid-flow – one minute you are tapping away at the keyboard and then suddenly it all runs out. Your mind goes blank and you cannot conjure up the next words. There is also what I call plot blocks. Basically, you get stuck. You don’t know what to do next with the plot. Maybe you had it all planned out but now can’t figure out how to do it, or maybe you were winging it from the start and just ran out of steam. I’m not sure what type of block is the worst but I am more than familiar with the dread of sitting down and staring at a blank Word document.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

The block I’ve been suffering from was none of the above, not really. My current work in progress is a four book YA post-apocalyptic series. I had the idea a few years ago and it had to wait its turn. During that time I started a little notebook of themes, ideas and character bios. I always knew this one was going to be a challenge. I love the post-apocalyptic genre as you might already know from my post here: https://chantelleatkins.com/2021/07/02/post-apocalyptic-fascination/. From the start, I had this feeling that the series was a good idea but someone else would be able to do a better job with it than me. I don’t normally feel like that about my book ideas. I’m usually hugely protective and obsessed with them so I would never consider offering or suggesting the idea to someone else. But this one niggled from the start.

I started book one about a year ago but had to keep stopping to get other books finished and published. I was initially quite surprised with how well it went. The first chapters flew out of me effortlessly and were exactly what I wanted. I genuinely think the first few chapters of book one are excellent and I’m proud of them. It got harder after that. It became a slog!

And that’s the difference between these books and my others. Aside from my YA dystopian The Tree Of Rebels, all of my books follow a familiar pattern. I get the character first, they suggest the plot, back story, dilemma and so on. It builds in my head and everything flows from the characters until my head gets so noisy it feels like it will explode. By the time I get around to writing it it almost writes itself because I know it all so well. It’s not hard. It’s fun. It’s addictive and exciting. I normally cannot wait to sit down at my desk and tap away. Sure, I get stuck here and there and some parts are trickier than others, and first drafts are always a clumsy affair, but I still love it and believe in it.

With these books it has been hard work. I’ve forced myself to write a chapter a night most nights and with that work ethic I have managed to write the first two books and even get them to fourth draft stage. I am now nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I know what will happen in book four so it is all getting there. But it is so painful! When I say I force myself, I really do. I stare at the screen for ages. I nearly always get distracted by my phone, checking social media or emails or playing a game. Because it’s hard and I don’t like it being hard!

The trouble has been not understanding why it has been so hard and the other day I finally worked it out. As I mentioned earlier the only other book I had this trouble with was The Tree of Rebels. And there are similarities with this series – The Tree Of Rebels came from a concept first. I had the idea and then built the characters around it. The other similarity I only just realised was that I started writing that book and this series with an audience in mind. I knew The Tree Of Rebels would be a YA dystopian. It was great knowing that because then I’d know who to market it towards. Normally it’s a struggle to figure out what genre my books are! With this series, I knew it would be YA post-apocalyptic and with both The Tree Of Rebels and this series I wanted to aim them at 12-14 year olds. That’s the younger YA age bracket to my other books. I have some books aimed at adults and some aimed at 14 years and up. With The Tree Of Rebels I wanted to write a book my children could read at the time and with this current series I wanted to write a book the children who attend my writing clubs could maybe enjoy…

And that was the trouble! That was the block! When I realised it was like this light bulb eureka moment! Now I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out!

Having the idea before the characters was a problem but the main problem was deciding who to aim it at before I even started writing. It’s like having someone watch over your shoulder the whole time and it totally changes the experience for me. I start thinking about what elements are expected in that genre and what things are suitable or appropriate for the age group. It ruins the process. I feel like I am writing a book to order, writing for someone else, and that just doesn’t work for me.

I realised that the age group was a real problem. There is a big difference between books aimed at ‘tweens’ and books aimed at older teenagers. I didn’t feel I could swear in this series and it’s just not as gritty or hard hitting as my other books. It’s just not me.

But all that is going to change. Once I figured out what was causing the writer’s block I made a decision. I’m now going to aim the series at the older YA audience and I am going to do what I normally do. Let rip, let them swear, go as dark and gritty and edgy as I like! I am going to write these books for me and no one else because that is the only way it works for me.

It’s amazing but since I realised all this, the chapters have started flowing again. It feels different. It feels exciting and a bit naughty! I have already wandered into darker territory. I am going to finish book three in this vein and carry on into book four. Of course, then I need to go back and rewrite everything I have done so far. I do think that was partly what prevented me from admitting what was wrong – knowing how much work I’d have to do to correct it! But I’m looking forward to it now. There will be more character development, some extra chapters and lots of rewriting in each book but I think it will all be worth it. And I will keep one thing in mind the entire time until these books are ready to publish – I am writing this series for ME. I am writing the books I want to read.

That should work!

And I suppose the moral of the story is always listen to writer’s block because it’s just trying to tell you something. For that reason, writer’s block is actually your friend. You just need to figure out what it’s telling you.

Do you ever suffer from writers’ block? If so, what kind? And what do you do to push through it?

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