Alongside the self-doubt, the lack of motivation, and the absence of time, one of the main hurdles that stop aspiring authors from actually writing and finishing their book is the infamous writer’s block.
Writers rightly complain about this common obstacle, and many of them often ask me as a book editor how to get past it. Some even give up for months on end, only to return to their unfinished story and struggle even more.
The length of time away from their project and the distance created only makes their writer’s block worse, which often causes writers to abandon their novel and start a new one only to repeat the cycle.
Too many writers now believe that struggling with writer’s block is a natural part of the writing process. However, this frustrating barrier is unnecessary and preventable, and many more writers would actually finish their novels much faster if they knew how to avert writer’s block from the start.
But you don’t have to be writing a novel to face writer’s block. You can struggle with it while writing blog posts, ad copy, news or magazine articles, and marketing emails. If your job requires you to put words onto a blank page, writer’s block can strike you at any time.
Fortunately, the solution is the same. In this post, I’ll share with you the two crucial tasks I’ve learned to prevent writer’s block before it has the chance to start and develop.
A lot of writers hate the researching stage, with some skipping it altogether. But refusing to research at all or failing to research as much as you should is one sure-fire way to suffer with writer’s block later.
An abundance of writers believe they can dive right into the writing stage and make things up as they go along, but they couldn’t be more wrong.
Let’s pretend that you want to write a historical piece about the Vikings, but you don’t carry out any research. How do you expect to write an accurate book that’s realistic and true to the Viking era? How will you know when your novel is set? How will you know where your novel is located? How will you know how to portray their culture, religion, beliefs, and morals correctly?
The research stage is all about learning and recording that crucial information. If you don’t do the research first, when it’s time to write, you won’t know where to begin and you’ll spend the majority of your writing time searching the web for answers.
It’s perfectly normal to quickly clarify or check something on the internet when writing, but when you’re constantly interrupting the creative flow to research, that’s when writer’s block strikes.
Think about it like exercise: If a new runner plans to go for a jog for the first time after being inactive for a while, it’s commonly advised that they run at a steady pace for 20 to 30 minutes with short walks in-between, usually around 30 seconds to a minute, so the body doesn’t cool down. Once the body cools down and returns to its normal levels, it’s much harder to get back into the zone.
It’s the same with writing. If a writer keeps interrupting their creative flow to research every five minutes, it will only get harder and harder to get back into the swing of things, which often leads to writer’s block. Consequently, it’s more productive to research as much as possible before the writing stage, therefore allowing writers to write freely without interruption.
Many writers think they don’t need to research unless they’re writing historical fiction or non-fiction, but this is also a false assumption. Writers may not have to carry out as much research, but it’s still needed.
For example, if you are writing a romance novel about a couple who meet in rural Cornwall, UK, you’ll need to understand the location to write the story authentically.
It’s no good writing about a young couple who frequent tons of Cornish nightclubs and Michelin star restaurants because there aren’t many in the barren county. It would make more sense to set the story in a quaint fishing town and have the couple eating chips by the sea or visiting a medieval castle.
Alternatively, if you’re writing an urban fantasy novel set on the busy streets of London, you’ll need to know how to represent the city realistically.
Will the characters venture into one of the big museums at any point? If so, which one? Will the characters use Oyster cards to travel around the city? The novel may appear unrealistic if the characters travel without one, for example, so it’s important to research the smaller details that add to the realism of the location.
As a result of you fully understanding everything about the setting, time period, specific location, culture, religion, and unique quirks within your novel, you won’t need to interrupt your creative flow to research, so the risk of struggling with writer’s block will be reduced significantly.
Even if you’re not a fiction author, research is a must for all types of writing. If you’re producing an article for a fashion magazine about the most popular trends this summer, you’ll need to conduct the relevant research so you can write an accurate piece.
If your job is to write fresh content for new websites, you’ll need to research the target audience, relevant content to attract said audience, and SEO keywords to rank online.
After you’ve gathered enough research to write your piece, you’re then more prepared and ready to write the outline. Without your research, you’ll struggle to write the outline, and consequently, your piece.
Like the research stage, a lot of writers dislike outlining for multiple reasons. Some find it boring; some believe that it limits their creativity, and others just have no idea where to start.
However, by planning the direction of the story and solidifying the main plot points, you won’t be twiddling your thumbs and staring out the window halfway through, and you’ll be able to finish your novel much sooner.
I actually used to hate the outlining stage because I thought the outline had to be super detailed, so I’d spend days planning each chapter in great detail, but once I discovered the three-act structure I learned how to create an effective outline in about 30 minutes.
I understand that creating an outline can sometimes feel more difficult than actually writing the book, but having one from the start is crucial for the structure, plot and characterisation of the story and also for preventing writer’s block.
Many writers call themselves “pantsers,” which is someone who writes freely without any type of plan or outline, but while this method is exciting and incredibly creative, “pantsing” might not make the writing process any easier in the long run.
If you don’t have some kind of plan, you’ll find it harder to continue writing when you reach a major plot point, such as the inciting incident or the climax, and you are less likely to know how the story ends, which is a must when writing a novel.
Furthermore, if you don’t outline to some extent, you are more likely to go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the story, therefore leaving yourself with much more developmental editing to do later.
You don’t necessarily need a detailed outline to prevent writer’s block. You just need to know the beginning, the major plot points and subplots that drive the story, the climax, and how the novel ends.
Nevertheless, knowing these plot points is easier said than done. Therefore, I’ll share my outlining process to help you create a simple but effective novel outline that provides a basic structure yet still allowing room for creativity.
Again, even if you’re not a fiction author but perhaps a content writer, technical writer, or journalist, the following outline can be adapted to your work.
Once I’ve assembled the relevant research needed to create my characters and solidify my ideas, the first thing I do is single out significant plot points that will move the story forward, which then helps me to write a brief narrative for each outline point of the three-act structure.
So, let’s pretend that you’re writing a historical novel about a kingdom that faces the threat of invasion and therefore needs to protect itself against the enemy.
Here’s an outline you could write:
The Beginning: The King is peacefully ruling the kingdom on his velvet throne as he’s attended by his servants and maids. He’s elated with how perfect his life is and is excited for a prosperous future.
The Inciting Incident that Calls the King to Action: Enemy forces sneak up and use cannons to launch projectiles and gunpowder to destroy the castle and all those within. Many die in the unexpected attack, including the Queen, but the enemy soon retreats, leaving the King hungry for revenge. From this point, the King plans to eliminate the enemy.
Obstacles Throughout Act Two: Throughout the King’s journey to find the enemy leader, he comes across bandits who keep him and his knights captive until they finally manage to escape; he and his knights get lost in the forest when they leave familiar territory; and near the end, the King discovers that one of his knights has leaked information to the enemy, and has therefore committed treason.
The Climax: The King and his knights fight head-to-head against the enemies in a final battle. Two of the king’s most trustworthy knights get killed, and the King almost dies in battle before he succeeds.
The Relaxing End: The King has won against the enemy and can return to his previous castle and rule in memory of all who have perished.
This is only a brief outline that plans one possible story idea, but it took me less than twenty minutes to write. You may believe that each chapter needs to be detailed, but seriously, as long as you know the beginning, the end, the inciting incident, and the climax, you can go with the flow and write freely, which is much more fun!
By solidifying the major plot points, you’re forced to remain on track, which will help you to finish your novel much faster without struggling with the dreaded writer’s block.
If fiction writing isn’t your thing, but your career requires you to write informative content and articles, this outline can still work for you.
You won’t necessarily need an inciting incident, obstacles throughout, or a climax, but you will need a beginning, middle, and end. Always introduce your topic, use your research to delve into more information in the middle, and summarize your piece at the end.
So, before you even think about writing your novel, research, and outline to ensure that you know everything about your story and everything within.
By researching as much as possible, you’re learning the necessary information needed to make your novel authentic. By creating an outline that covers the main plot points of your narrative, you will know the exact direction of your story. As a result, you’re less likely to battle with writer’s block because you’ve prevented it from the beginning.
I really hope you’ve found this article helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your writing journey!
Chelsea is a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, her own editing business in the UK. She's incredibly passionate about working with different writers around the world and helping them to get their manuscripts ready for literary agents or self-publishing. If you would like to have your novel edited by Chelsea, please visit the Stand Corrected Editing website, and if you're a new writer and are interested in learning how to write a book from scratch, feel free to check out her Novel Writing Masterclass!