Ever since a long-forgotten ancestor of ours picked up a rock only to realise they couldn’t decide which particular swear word to hammer into the skull of an enemy chieftain, artists have known to fear the dreaded writer’s block. Symptoms include high blood pressure, a desire to raid the fridge, and a sudden realisation you probably really ought to get back in touch with that old friend you fell out of touch with after that glue-sniffing incident. So what to do when your latest opus runs smack into a solid wall of pure metaphor and nothing short of an entire whisky bottle seems likely to punch through it?

Before we start it’s important to note at this point that I’m coming at this topic from the perspective of someone who mainly writes fiction, but writer’s block can strike during essays just as easily as it can during the process of writing a certain debut fantasy novel whose author is trying his hardest to sneak a plug into an article with only passing relevance. Bearing that in mind, here’s a few sly suggestions on how to fend off the spectre of writer’s block.

Start with a plan, but don’t overthink it. For a story I’d suggest having some clue of the sort of tone you’re aiming for and a skeleton plot, but don’t obsess over every detail on your first draft; most of the time I grind to a halt, it’s because I start to agonise over what every line of dialogue says about the character who speaks it, or whether this particular order of events is more dramatic than another. Better to start off with a spark of an idea that sounds like it should be fun to throw yourself into and tidy up the inevitable plot holes and clichéd description later. And speaking of clichés…

Murder your darlings. I can’t tell you how many stories of mine have started out with a vivid goal in mind only to evolve into a different beast altogether. There have also been stories that died because of my determination to make good on a concept that quickly proved too limiting or shallow. If you’re frustrated with a half-baked project and find yourself increasingly tempted to switch out the almonds for some pistachios, particularly while redrafting, it couldn’t hurt to let those urges run wild on the page for a while and see if the new direction takes off. If an element of a piece is being preserved at the cost of other interesting ideas, you risk burning out when that core element blocks your progress. Of course, another good way to avoid burning out is to…

Take a break and try writing something else. About halfway through the first draft of my novel, I hit the wall hard enough to dislodge the fine china on next door’s living room shelf. I was drowning in plot threads and self-doubt caused by constantly overanalysing ever facet of the increasingly convoluted mass I’d created. Luckily I decided to mix things up and think about absolutely anything else for a few weeks. So I set about writing a short story which very deliberately had a different tone and setting, along with a plot driven by events rather than characters. This diversion let off a lot of the built-up steam and produced something I was pretty happy with in itself, which all in all is a considerable improvement over abandoning my novel in a huff. It also didn’t hurt to…

Read other people’s work, both good and bad. It might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget that reading around is a key means of arming yourself to write better. But a personal favourite trick of mine when I start to seriously question my competence is to find a story filled with tired tropes and laboured characterisation. The effect of this is to give myself some perspective and remind me how decent my writing might be, at least in comparison to something I dug up from the bowels of a fanfiction forum. To put it simply, reading utter dross gives you a handy example of what not to do.

And there you go. There’s no magic strategy to better writing, but finding ways to keep it fun and compelling is pretty much necessary to get a project to a some state of completion in the first place. It also doesn’t hurt to take time out of your regular writing to slap together some pretentious article for some website with a silly name.

Image Rights; Drew Coffman

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About the author

Jazmin Frost

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Aspiring novelist, veteran nerd. I'm a young gal with a Creative Writing degree and pretensions of making a living from it. Mostly I write science fiction and fantasy and I’ve penned a fair few short stories, but my great hope is to finish my first novel and find a publisher willing to back it. I welcome anybody with questions about my writing. Beyond that, my chief interests are videogames, movies and nerdom as a whole, and I enjoy scribbling reviews and other analytical pieces.