When your writing has all but come to a stop, try these tips from editors to overcome writer’s block.
You may have seen our post about writer’s block for novel writers. (Check it out here.) But what if you’re a nonfiction author? It’s almost guaranteed that nonfiction writers will have that same moment of . . . I’m stuck.
Maybe you’re a student stretching out your five-page paper into ten pages. Or you could be a biographer struggling to organize material. Or, like me, you’re a blogger who has been trying to start on a post for more weeks than you care to admit. Whatever type of nonfiction author you are, this post is for you.
Remember, “stuck” doesn’t mean “not meant to write.” Writer’s block is completely normal! Let’s look at some ways to get past it.
1. See your arguments in a new light.
Writing can develop on its own—but only if we allow it.
Let’s talk school papers for a minute. After all, that’s how most authors start writing nonfiction. But when many students are taught to write a paper, they are trained to come up with a thesis before researching or writing an outline. As young writers, they need that guided goal to keep their research focused. But what many don’t learn in their English classes is that sometimes a predetermined thesis, argument, or objective can hold writing back.
By staying open to changing your argument or theme, you can allow free movement of your writing. In the end, an entirely different book might come into being—one that more accurately represents the experiences, data, and facts in your chosen topic. Try these tips to get back to letting the writing develop of its own accord.
Research with no argument in mind. If you’ve run out of material, you may have limited your research too much. Many times, we research without even realizing we are only looking for sources that match our predetermined thesis. Try researching without anything to prove and see what new information you come across. Read just to learn about your topic rather than to find sources that match your theory. As an example, let’s say I set out to write a biography, and part of my research includes interviews. If I go into the interview with a set goal to write a love story, my interview questions will subconsciously be geared toward that subject. But if I try interviewing without my desired romance theme in mind, the resulting interview questions may lead me to find that my romantic love story has more angst and hardship than I originally thought.
Take the opposite side. While research needs to be done with an open mind, writing nonfiction almost always involves trying to prove a point. So what side of your book’s issue are you on? Now take the exact opposite view. Can you write the same paper from that perspective? Take a whack at it and see what you can come up with. Who knows, maybe you will even end up switching viewpoints! If anything, you will better understand the counterarguments that your readers may have, and you can go back through your original work to address those opposing viewpoints.
Get outside perspectives. Writer’s block is often a solo act. By bringing others into the process, you may be able to get your creative juices flowing again. You can give your entire manuscript to someone for comments, or you can have a conversation about the themes with your friends and family. In these ways, you may be presented with ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. Just remember that at this stage, you are looking for different perspectives on your ideas, not for specific writing critiques, so make that clear when you hand over your manuscript for comments.
2. Think outside of the box.
So you’re a nonfiction writer. Does that mean you have to write in a straightforward tone with zero style? Of course not. The necessary tone does depend on the type of nonfiction you are writing, but there are ways to create your own voice while matching the expectations of your field.
Sometimes getting back into the groove requires writing in a way you never would have thought to. Here are a few ideas.
Write a poem. Take a break from your normal writing and get creative in a new way. How many years has it been since you wrote a poem? You can bet this exercise will get your brain moving some new gears. Write a poem about the topic of your nonfiction project and see what you can create. Maybe you’ll even decide to include your poem in your nonfiction piece, if appropriate for the field you’re writing in. But if not, a poem can still be a great way to get your writing brain back on.
Take a fiction writing course. A fiction class may seem just as unrelated to your chosen genre as a poem. But even nonfiction writers are storytellers, albeit in a different way. Go through your writing and find a “story” or two to practice with during a fiction writing class. For example, if you are writing a self-help book, you likely have life experiences scattered throughout that you could take a look at. And if you are writing a biography or autobiography, your book is FULL of stories—stories that deserve a well-versed writer that can weave those experiences into a thrilling adventure. By learning the storytelling techniques used by fiction authors, you will be able to apply many of the same concepts and better capture your audience.
Crack some jokes. While jokes may not always be appropriate to add to your final copy, see if you can come up with any to lighten the mood for yourself. If you don’t have a hint of comedy in your body, watch some comedians and see how they take everyday “boring” subjects and create laughter. Laughing may get your mind ready to write again, and if you can find ways to include humor in your manuscript, you can lighten the overall tone of your book to draw more readers.
3. Rejuvenate Stale Writing.
When writing goes stale, it may feel like nothing can get your brain back to that fresh-from-the-oven stage when the words seemed to just flow from you. But don’t worry, there are ways to heat your writing back up, and it doesn’t involve putting your manuscript in the microwave!
Get dressed up. This idea comes from the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. She suggests that when experiencing a creativity block, take some time to look your very best. Take a shower. Put your fancy clothes on. Spray some perfume or cologne. Gilbert theorizes that these steps will better entice creativity to come to you. I believe it opens your mind to inspiration because you show yourself that you are more than a lump on a chair. You are a writer! Give that designation some pizazz. You deserve it.
Read a new book. If you’re stuck in your writing, try reading instead! The book you choose can relate to your topic or fall completely out of genre—it doesn’t matter. It’s okay to let your mind take a break from creating. And while reading, you’ll learn how others have created for themselves. If you’d like, take notes on what the author does that you want to incorporate, or what they don’t do that you think would add to their book. And if something didn’t work for you, take time to figure out why, so you don’t make the same mistake.
Hire an editor or writing coach. Both editors and writing coaches are valuable tools for any stage of the writing process, especially when you’ve run out of ideas. At Ever Editing, we are trained to help you find new ways to approach your writing goals, and we love to do it! An editor’s entire purpose is to help you create the best version of your book that you can.
There you have it. Tried and true ways to get some oomph back into your nonfiction writing project. If you’re at a standstill, do one or two of these tips—or as many as you need to get that flow back!
You’ve got this. Don’t give up.