We’ve all been there, that black hole where ideas evaporate and our characters stare dumbly off the page instead of doing something interesting. Yep, it sucks big time.
When writer’s block inevitably hits, you need a few tricks to get the words flowing. Granted, what works for one person won’t grease everyone’s gears, but I’ll share a few personal techniques in the off chance it helps one or two people out there.
First of all, consider what your brain needs to function creatively. As an example, I don’t mind a beer or two, but I can’t drink much the evening before a writing session. If I’m hungover – the creative centre in that sack of fluid and neurons called a brain, gets switched off. If I plan on writing the next day, I have to save the beers for a later date (I’m sure my liver and brain have a dodgy agreement to stop my fun).
For others, the barrier to creative thought may be a sleep deficit, mental or physical health, or medication. Some anti-depressant / anxiety medications, while being hugely important to mental health treatment, can unfortunately impact creative thought. If this is the case for you, it’s worth discussing with your doctor a possibility of trialling other medication options. As someone who’s on an SSRI themselves, I think its worthwhile pursing a medication strategy that achieves a reduction in depressive / anxiety symptoms, while also eliminating or minimising impact upon the artistic processes that give us joy.
Next, identify the chores that have to get done that day. This is where you work out the necessary from the activities of pure procrastination (come on - do you really need to sort the clothes in your cupboard or clean the windows today?). Put time aside in your mental plan for the day to knock them over, or better still, smash them out straight away to clear the mental clutter that may be obstructing your line of thought.
When all the basics are sorted and the words still don’t come, what next? This tends to happen when I’ve got a simple idea, but little more than that. I may have a personality trait of a character, a particular scene, or a creature / beast for which I’m yet to find a home.
I use a few different techniques to get the ball rolling. First of all, I work out what type of landscape the characters will inhabit. Is it the real world, or an imagined one? Is the environment wet, dry, forest, desert or city? How does this environment impact the characters and what they do, or how they live? What are the politics of the setting or group? Is it a democratic society, a dictatorship, a theocracy etc? How will this impact personal interactions, everyday life, business, education, the military etc.
If you continue this line of questioning for multiple areas, you end up fleshing out a world for your characters to inhabit. What was once an empty map, is now richly populated with possibility. Next, consider what problems or barriers could be elicited by such a setting, and lastly, how will your characters react and deal with them as they move from point A to B. For me, this process serves to thaw my brain, encourage logical thought and silence any distracting inner monologue.
Make sure to jot down your ideas. They might be enough to start writing immediately. If not, take comfort that you’ve made progress, and that these embryonic ideas will percolate in the back of your mind. At your next opportunity to write, you’ll likely be able to flesh out an outline if you’re a plotter, or dive into the story if you’re pantzer.
Alister Hodge is the international bestselling author of The Cavern. His new release is a grimdark fantasy titled 'Empire of Blood and Sand'.
“With Empire of Blood and Sand, a monstrous tale of betrayal, blades, beasts, and bloodlust, Hodges proves his mettle as a master of military sword and sorcery. Jael Crowfeeder is the hero we all need right now.”
-Lee Murray, five-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee and author of Into the Mist.
Available June 30th!