If you have ever tried to write anything, from a greeting card message to a novel, chances are you have experienced writer’s block in one form or another. It happens to the best of us. One day you could be cruising along and churning out thousands of words every time you sit at the keyboard, but then the next day, you type and delete the same sentence dozens of times before getting hopelessly frustrated. The good news is that this is completely normal. Creativity is not something to be predicted or forced, but a process that must occur naturally.
But just because it is normal or expected does not mean we must embrace it completely. It is important to know writer’s block will happen, and have the tricks and techniques up your sleeve to push back against it. That doesn’t mean you will instantly shift from no productivity to pages worth of output, but it will help you keep momentum. Here are some of the ways I have found to move past writer’s block:
Focus is a good thing. Determination and dedication to completing a specific project, or portion of it, is admirable in most instances. But there is a fine line between being productive and delusional. Just because you want to work on something does not mean your brain is on board with that idea. Remember, creativity is not something that can be forced. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just let the words take you where they want to. Or, you can plan to meet in the middle.
It is always a good idea to have several projects underway simultaneously, even if those are all related to one bigger project. Your brain might not be in the mood to write the sappy love scene needed for the chapter in your novel, but it could be steps ahead thinking about options for the second book or plot twists in the first. When there are several tasks to choose from, and they are all slightly different, your brain can get what it needs, and you can still feel accomplishment for crossing something off your list.
This may sound counter-intuitive for anyone who wants to make progress on their work instead of reading someone else’s, but the benefits are profound. The best writers are also prolific readers. Reading provides a source of inspiration by forcing you to focus on how other authors write instead of being trapped in your head. That is not to say it is ok to plagiarize their work, but rather to use it as a tool to spark your creativity.
Reading is also quite relaxing and therapeutic. When you sit down with a good book, the rest of the world tends to melt away. So, not only can you forget about the project you need to write, but also all the other issues of life that can derail you. It does not have to be long or often, but definitely keep a book on standby in your workspace so it is on the forefront of your mind when the words stop flowing. Set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes so you do not lose track of time, but also be flexible with that window. If inspiration still does not materialize, keep reading or try one of the other items on the list!
Most of us do not get nearly enough exercise to begin with, and as writers, we probably tend to sit more than most other professionals. Sitting has been referred to as the new cancer, partly because of the numerous health issues that arise from a sedentary lifestyle. No one is saying to go out and join a gym or run a marathon, but even slight changes can help in the short and long term where performance is concerned. One of the best investments we have heard writers share was in getting a standing desk. There are even desktop attachments available at a lower price point if you do not want to change your entire office setup, and on the higher end there are under desk treadmills and walking pads.
Beyond just the small routine changes, exercise in any form should be a go-to option when suffering from writer’s block. Walk away from the screen and stroll the neighborhood for 10 – 15 minutes. Close your eyes and meditate or do Yoga. If you are really stressed out, drop in place and do a few push-ups. Each of these activities helps to take your mind off the constraint and get the blood flowing so you can get back to thinking clearly and creating.
This may not sound like the sexiest or most enjoyable thing to most people, but for some writers, it is the exact opposite. So, we should exercise caution before using research as a crutch for writer’s block. What does that even mean? Basically, do not spend all your time researching things instead of writing and then tricking yourself into thinking you were writing when there are no words to show for it! Some genres require more research than others, and it is always advisable to do just enough research at the outset of a project to get started and build the outline.
Once the project is underway, keep a notebook or other tracking method to jot down all the various elements that will need researching at some point down the road. Keeping everything in one place ensures you do not forget anything and keeps it all readily available for those moments when the words will not come. The research needs to be done anyway, and operating in this manner gives you options of making progress every time you sit down to write, regardless of creativity levels.
Some writers have a rule about not editing until the entire project is complete, which is a valid school of thought. Going back and refining a first draft before it is complete can lead to a lot of extra work and heartache if you later decide to cut any of the earlier material out. It can also send you down rabbit holes of technical writing versus creative writing, which can be difficult to switch gears from. Full disclaimer though: this hack works better for fiction than nonfiction – unless you have other unrelated projects you can jump over to editing.
But, if you approach the editing as more of a casual read-through with more effort placed on connecting with the story and characters instead of spelling and grammar mistakes the results can be therapeutic. In the writing community, it is common to hear an author say that the characters spoke to them and decided their fate, if you will. Well, if you are struggling to generate new content, taking a step back to read what is already written and letting your characters speak to you can open new doors of creativity.
For many authors, this can be the most difficult option to embrace, even when not facing writer’s block. While there is no “one size fits all” persona for the average writer, we tend to be more reclusive than other professionals. We already have so many voices in our heads and a burning desire to get them on paper as soon as possible, which makes interacting with another human being less desirable at times.
But having a supportive network of writers can make all the difference when suffering from writer’s block. Other writers understand what we are going through when we hit a wall, and they can be great sounding boards for ideas. Sure, not everyone will be able to pick up the phone when you need them most (after all, they are probably writing as well), but having the ability to text a question at the moment will at least allow you to move on to something else for the time being. If you do not have anyone fitting that description, consider looking into joining writing groups, communities, or webinars where you can build your network.
The intent of this list was not to make it seem like anyone can beat writer’s block anytime it creeps up. There will be times your brain just does not want to work, and that is ok. Even the most dedicated professional athletes take a day to let their bodies recover and continue to perform at optimal levels. Your brain is the same. If you have tried some or all of these techniques and still find it to be a struggle, be kind to yourself. Watch some Netflix, do a puzzle, or take a nap! Your project is not going anywhere, and there is always tomorrow!