I think I’ve suffered from writer’s block once in my life. I was working on my first book and got to a stage where, it seemed, the creative river got blocked and essentially, refused to unblock itself.
Two weeks went by and with it a mounting panic that I would never finish the book, and that the publishers would demand their advance back. I’ve since realised that what I thought was writer’s block was simply the Dreaded Middle, or Soggy Bottom, as I like to call it.
It’s what happens when you get to a certain point of the book you’re writing (usually around the 30-40% mark), and you feel like you simply can’t go on; your creative juices are dry, you have a mental block (or fog) and you loath the book you’re writing with a passion veering on venom. Even worse, you can’t see a way out.
Does writer’s block even exist?
Obviously, I was a novice when I was writing my first book, so I didn’t know that this was normal, to be expected even.
There is nothing arty or romantic about writer’s block – Abidemi Sanusi (tweet this – just highlight the text)
I’ve been in the game for a while now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the most part, what most people call writer’s block is simply your body’s way of telling you to take a break.
This may come as a surprise to some people, but writing is physically demanding work. How many times have you sat down in front of the computer and a few hours later, looked up and discovered that you were tired and ravenous?
Writing is work (please stop romanticising it); it’s no different from going to your salaried job and rushing around all day for weeks and months on end.
From experience, I know that there’s a certain point in my manuscript (usually, the halfway mark) when physically, I simply cannot go on any longer and need a break.
It’s the same reason that people take vacations from work. You need time to recharge your batteries, so that you can go back to your office fully charged and ready to go.
When you’re genuinely, physically incapable of writing
Having said all the above, there are times when people do genuinely experience writer’s block.
Francine Rivers, a Christian writer, has written eloquently about the time she couldn’t write for about three years. After her hiatus, she wrote Redeeming Love, her seminal work that was basically her love letter to God.
I did not have writer’s block in all my years as a freelancer, a business writer or when I ran my own boutique content agency, because of the nature of the job – basically, clients are not interested in your writer’s block. They just want stuff done. And when you have clients who have spent $$$$s on their campaigns relying on you to fulfil your end of the contract, there is no time for self-indulgence – you deliver. No ifs, buts or writer’s block – Abidemi Sanusi (tweet this – just highlight the text)
What should I do when I get to the Dreaded Middle then?
1. In the first instance, take a break.
Seriously. If, like most people, you write first thing in the morning, before going to work, or late at night after work (after fulfilling your family and other responsibilities), is it any wonder that you feel stuck and can’t see the wood for the trees?
You’ve been putting your brain and body through enormous strain, it’s only natural to feel and be spent.
Take one to two days off from writing your book (any more than that and you will struggle to get back in the ‘flow’). During that time, don’t think about it or do anything related to your book.
When you go back to writing your book, you will be surprised by how mentally and physically refreshed you’ll feel. Your energy and productivity levels will rise again, and you will even discover a new-found love for your work.
Whatever you do, do not nurture, romanticise or indulge in the idea of you having writer’s block. It might sound arty, but it is counter-productive, and most important, will not help you finish writing your book.
2. Revisit your manuscript
From experience, most people I know who feel stuck or think they have writer’s block have one thing in common: they do not have chapter outlines, which is an open invitation to chaos.
That’s why I would always recommend that you write your chapter summaries before you start writing your book. That way, when you’re stuck, they can be referred to and relied upon to guide you back to creativity and sanity.
There’s nothing ‘uncreative’ about chapter plans. It’s called being a professional author and the longer you are in this writing ‘thing’, the more you’ll appreciate their value – not just for books, but for all your writing projects as well.
3. Have a hobby
I know this is going to sound pretty strange, but trust me on this; it works. Writing is a pretty intense activity, so you need another way to release all that energy. When I’m tired and all ‘writed-out’, I pick up my camera. I love photography, so I’ll take a couple of photos in or outside the house for a few minutes, before going back to writing my book. This works for me, 9 times out of 10.
Freewriting is a fancy word for doodling, except you’re doodling with words. It’s pretty simple; when you feel creatively blocked, grab some paper and write anything you want for five minutes. Do not self-edit or self-judge. It’s freewriting and the point is for you to write – freely.
It sounds crazy, but it’s actually a very relaxing exercise. You can do whatever you want with your finished piece (mine usually goes in the bin). Afterwards, you can go back to writing your book. Trust me: those creative juices will be unleashed faster than you can say ‘waterfall’.
Whatever your thoughts about writer’s block (and I think I’ve made my views pretty clear :)), it’s not insurmountable. Trying any one of the four tips mentioned in this post should help unlock your imagination and get you writing again.
Over to you: is writer’s block a real thing?
Also published on Medium.