As a writer, there are times you fail to pick up the pen and write or just stare at the cursor on your word processor, that little guy just blinks in front of you.
You are failing to write, albeit the need to. That, my friend, is writer’s block.
What is Writer’s Block?
It is simply the inability to write and the suffrage that is brought about by that inability.
Writer’s block makes you incapable of expressing existing ideas or coming up with new ones.
You might be forgiven for thinking that this inability to write is mere boredom, but writer’s block is quite serious, and it can last for days, weeks, even months.
How Does It Come About?
Well… writer’s block is a classic example of how our mind represents one of the biggest impediments to attaining our goals.
Writer’s block is caused by a couple of factors listed below:
- Anxiety resulting from comparison with what other writers have written
- internalized criticisms i.e. being told your writing isn’t that good.
- Other externalized forces i.e. dislike of the content
So now that you know that there’s this monstrous giant standing in your way, the question becomes: how do you head-butt it and get back to writing?
How to Overcome Writer’s Block?
Here are some tips on how to overcome writer’s block; some suggested by famous writers and others by yours truly.
What?! It doesn’t make sense, right? It does.
When writer’s block hits you, you still have things hopping around in your head.
So, the idea is to take down notes of whatever comes to mind.
This is actually how Maya Angelou dealt with writer’s block. She explained,
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
Sleep Late and Wake Up Late
Although it isn’t prudent to make this a habit, it may just be what you need to cure writer’s block.
You need to reinvigorate your creative side, and it has been alleged that early risers tend to score high on productivity but are not as creative as night owls.
You can spend the late nights reading random stuff just to excite the creative side.
Begin in the Middle
Starting can be the hardest part of writing. So sometimes, you just need to hot-wire your writing and bypass the beginning.
Apart from warming your brain up, beginning from the middle has an illusionary effect of feeling like halfway through.
Write the Heming Way to Avoid Writer’s Block
Ernest Hemingway suggested a rather peculiar but effective way of dealing with writer’s block.
The 1954 Nobel prize for literature winner said,
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way, your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it, you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
Break Your Work into Smaller Activities
Writing a book can be a daunting task, especially if you look at it from the word count perspective.
You may fail to start because you think the required word count is just too much. But if you decide to work on it chapter by chapter or scene by scene, it lessens the workload, and getting started becomes easy.
Mark Twain recommended this method and he remarked that,
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”
Shut Down Your Inner Editor
Harsh self-criticism comes from that little voice in your head. Shut it up, at least until the editing part.
A good writer differentiates between writing and editing. When writing, you need to forget about quality, just pour your soul onto that paper or page.
Create a Reward Scheme to Overcome Writer’s Block
You need to give yourself monetary and nonmonetary incentives for completing a self-assigned writing chore.
After a chapter, a topic, or a section, promise yourself a reward and spoil yourself upon completing the task.
If you are stuck, the reward will be your motivation to pick up the pen and complete the task.
Declutter Your Head
Knots in your thoughts can cause writer’s block, a flurry of ideas, blog posts, and stories, just cluttering up your brain.
You need to relax. Take some time off.
Go hiking, go sight sightseeing, do some yoga perhaps.
Don’t Try to Be Perfect
Writers desire to be the crème de la crème, and they may try to perfect their works during the writing stage.
This only leads to unnecessary pressure and stress. Good writing comes from expressing pure emotion, and we really can’t perfect emotions.
Write what you feel and ‘perfect it later.’
‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’ Margaret Atwood, Canadian author
Write for Yourself
Let’s say you have a blog with about 20k followers, and you are trying your best to satisfy each and every one of them. Don’t
Apart from the fact that that is just unnecessary pressure, you can’t satisfy everyone.
You have to write for yourself. Writing ‘hot topics’ you know nothing about can limit your creativity and suck the fun out of the writing process, and wham! Writer’s block.
Remember how our high school notebooks used to be full of scribblings and drawings?
Some people drew to ‘keep their eyes open’; now, you have to draw to unlock your mind.
Draw maps, characters, or anything you can visualize.
The illustrations can unlock a story, a blog post, or a novel idea.
Get off Social Media
Writing and social media don’t go hand in hand. Social media’s distraction is subtle:
You write two lines of your draft and decide to check your Facebook, two hours later, you are scrolling down pictures on Instagram. Four hours later, you don’t ‘feel like’ writing anymore.
This pattern can become cyclically redundant, so you need to get off the internet and WRITE.
Have a Writing Excursion
Call up a couple of your writer friends and go on a writing excursion.
Here, you will share ideas and help each other on different topics concerning writing.
The change of environment might also spark your creativity.
Use public transport like a train or bus. Just observe, write notes if you can.
You are going to see a lot of things on a train or a bus. Try to create a story and jot it down.
Get that Glass.
You might not be one of the writers who write better when they consume alcohol.
But when writer’s block hits, you might just find out that it drowns in that whiskey!
Steve Martin, an American actor and comedian, actually said, ‘Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.’
Change Your Spot
Sometimes, writer’s block comes about as a result of lowered concentration levels.
It might be that the usual spot’s surroundings have become too loud, or there are visual distractions.
You have to find a spot that heightens your concentration. It is central to good writing, as Stephen Fry affirmed,
‘I have to get into a sort of zone. It has something to do with an inability to concentrate, which is the absolute bottom line of writing.’
Others might like a more serene setting, and others, a bustling scenery such as cafes. You have to figure out which does the trick for you.
Give Yourself Deadlines
If you are not working for a client or don’t have a publisher waiting for your manuscript, then you can create some imaginary curfews.
If you are a highly motivated individual, this always works because the deadlines always push you to work around writer’s block.
Change Your Audience
The worry of your target audience not accepting your work can lead to stress and consequently, writer’s block.
You have to imagine that your audience is less critical and that you are always comfortable talking to them. This eases the pressure and can be reflected in the quality of your writing.
It’s precisely the dosage that John Steinbeck prescribed to George Plimpton,
“Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.”
Always Schedule Your Writing Tasks
Scheduling your writing is like booking an appointment with your own brain, and the brain prepares itself for the tasks ahead
Norman Mailer said something that affirms this method,
“If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”
Talk to a Friend
Talk to someone about what you are writing.
Ask them to give you feedback on what you are writing. You can find someone who is an expert in the field you are writing about.
The people you talk to might provide you with guidance and useful source material that can excite you back into writing.
Create an Imaginary Friend
Some great writers have admitted to talking to themselves while writing.
You need a friend that will genuinely support all your ideas and will cheer you on even when you are alone.
This ‘always-positive’ friend, in your head, will talk you out of writer’s block by arguing against the feelings of discontent which you may have.
Dance or Sing Writer’s Block Off
Writer’s block is stress on its own.
You need to exercise it, go dancing with your friends or dance alone or do some karaoke perhaps.
The idea is to get you excited again and get all kinds of juices flowing, including the writing ones.
Take Yourself Out of the Story.
Some fiction writers don’t want people to see their unfinished work even if they need advice. They don’t like external input or the extra set of eyes.
If you are this type of writer, then you need to provide the extra set of eyes yourself.
Change the point of view and look at the story as a mere reader.
You have to find out in which direction you, as a reader, would want the story to go.
Skip Chapters or Characters
If you are writing fiction, you may be stuck because you don’t know what your main character is going to do next.
The best way of working around this problem is to focus on another part of the story.
By the time you are done with the other part, you might have gotten unstuck in the first part.
Scrap Your Writing Plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail. This might be true but forget this cliché for now.
Your pre-planned writing tasks may be sucking the fun out of your writing.
So, you need to scrap that outline and write whatever is giving a ‘good vibe.’
Switch Things Up
Just like skipping chapters, you can also switch from fiction to nonfiction.
If you are stuck while writing a Novel for example, it may be beneficial switching to blog posting. Write something less serious.
Read Books and Magazines Deal with Writer’s Block
Well, you read books and you don’t need me to remind you of the importance of reading for creativity.
Of course, while that’s true, but when confronted with writer’s block, you can read books just to get headlines for blogs or magazines.
You can find ideas as fast as the ‘contents’ section and use them on your next writing project.
Switch Your Writing Tools
If you always use Microsoft Word, you might need to try the good old pen and paper.
It’s even better if you hate your handwriting; that ugly script will remind you just how sweet the Times New Roman or Calibri look.
You will be back on your laptop in no time.
Try Writing Impromptu
To beat writer’s block, you need stochasticity. Like, right after getting off the treadmill, write a line or two.
Ideas come randomly and instantly, and can dry up just as fast. Write anytime time you feel like.
Take a Musical Break to Overcome Writer’s Block
Music is powerful; it can uplift you, make you fall in love, and in this context, make writer’s block fade away.
Most writers use music to incite the writing juices and the lyrics are sometimes poetic, meaning that you can also get headlines and topics from them, at least I do.
The ways of dealing with writer’s block number beyond the 30 provided in this post.
The tips are not ‘one shoe fits all’. Some will work for you, others won’t.
It is up to you to figure what exactly works for you.
What’s the Ultimate Writer’s Block Hack?
Although writer’s block is a serious problem, it is all in the writer’s mind. It actually doesn’t exist—it’s an abstract concept.
I will leave you ‘in the words’ of Philip Pullman and Norman Mailer.
“Writer’s block… a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day? The fact is that writing is hard work.”— Philip Pullman.
“Writer’s block is only a failure of the ego.” ― Norman Mailer.