Guest Post – Robert J Barlow

Today’s guest post deals with a subject that has affected me: writers block, and more importantly how to break the block. It is my pleasure to welcome author of The Laughing Man, Robert J Barlow, to Books and Beyond Reviews.
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Writers have a lot of different inclinations and areas of expertise and very few of us can claim to have mastered any aspect of the craft. There’s always things we can do more of, or do better, but one of the most significant obstacles we run into is writers block. Every writer gets asked for tips about it and I’m proud to say that this is the one area of what we do in which I can truly consider myself an expert. The one thing I have no shortage of is ways to break the block.

Step 1. Control Your Environment.

Find your best writing environment and rebuild it, it’s simple but not easy. Think back to the times you were really in the groove, what environmental factors did they have in common? Are you a desk person? A chair person? A bed person? Once you’ve established the facts you might even be able to make substitutes. If you write better at night because of no distractions you can go incommunicado for a few hours during the day, it might help.

Do you like music while you write? There are playlists out there for whatever mood you need. Do you need quiet? Noise cancelling headphones are expensive but available. Controlling environmental factors is the best way to build the mood.

Step 2 Remember your Platitudes

I know platitudes and quotes sound cheesy, but they do really help. Collect some things that smart people have said that you need to hear. Whether it’s Hemmingway’s ‘the first draft of anything is s**t’ or ‘fix it in editing’ or even Gaiman’s ‘you just keep writing the words until the story you want to tell is told, it’s that easy and that hard’. Having the right words available at the right time can get you past your insecurities hesitations and issues. Yeah it won’t absolutely fix the problems, that’s a slower process that requires real introspection, but it can get you through a bad moment.

Step 3 The Daily Grind

Writing isn’t something than can wait. There’s always going to be a good reason not to write, and other things you have to do and that is the easiest way to run out of time in the day and end up doing nothing. Whether you need to write first in the morning or before bed, schedule a time and stick to it without excuse or exception.

If nothing else, you have to write at least something every day, even if it’s an hour of staring at a screen writing about how you don’t want to be doing this you still have to do it. It’s the best way to get up the hill.

Step 4 Take a Break to do Something Else

Yes I know this sounds like it exactly contradicts what I just said, like everything else this has to be applied with intelligence. This isn’t an excuse to spend a week messing around ‘looking for inspiration’

I’m talking about taking ten minutes to get up and go for a walk, listen to music, have a coffee/cigarette/donut/whatever else. The trick is to keep it at the minimum break length to help, so you don’t waste time.

I would recommend a day as the maximum, go to the zoo, or see friends, or whatever, and then come home and get back to writing. Just don’t let it get in the way of the ‘one a day’ rule.

Risky Move 1 Switch Projects

It might be helpful to jump from one project to another for a while, while it might mess with your enthusiasm it might also give you a chance to get back into the habit of writing, which you can bring back into your main work.

It might also help to have a ‘reward story’ that you can write for fun, once you’ve made some progress on your long term project.

Risky Move 2 Skip Ahead

This is not advisable if there’s any other way to do this, start with all the other options, then use this if you need it but it can occasionally be useful to skip ahead to a cool part, to one of the things you really look forward to writing. Whether it’s the emotional confrontation, the twist, or the big fight scene writing a bit of what you enjoy most can help you get through the connecting parts.

Be warned, that can interfere with finishing the book long term, running out of cool parts to write can make the slog much harder, so again, only do it if you have to.


Remember why you love it.

This is my best advice, sometimes we get so lost in the difficulties and minutia of writing that we forget why we do it. We do this because we love it, because for some of us it’s the est part of our bad days and it makes our good days better. Remember what you love about the world, about the haracters, about the story that you want to share with the world. Take a moment to be happy that this is something you can do, something you enjoy, and remember why you value it.

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