Writers Share Their Top Three Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block
October 03, 201812 min read
Having writer’s block is possibly one of the most frustrating things that can happen to you if you’re a writer. It comes either in the form of being burned out or even out of nowhere, which can be upsetting to your creativity and production. This happens to every writer no matter how great they are, and the most important thing to remember is to not let writer's block stop you.
Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome writer's block. There are many techniques out there, and it’s up to you to find something that works for you.
We’ve reached out and asked writers to share what they do when they have those days when they’re just looking at a blank page or screen. If you’re looking for ideas on how to get rid of writer's block yourself, here are writers’ top three tips on how to get over that slump called the writer’s block.
I think writer’s block is just fear that what you write will be terrible. I say embrace it. Write something awful. And then fix it. Or throw it away and then write something else. At least you have a starting point. The key difference between a good writer and a bad writer is mostly just perseverance. So my three tips are:
1. Just sit down and write something ... anything! 2. Forgive yourself for writing badly. 3. Understand that rewriting and editing is just as important as writing.
I have read countless blog posts on how authors work through writer’s block and many answers overlap. What works for me the best is if I’m struggling to get something on the page I will pull up a blank word document and begin to type what I did throughout my day. I’ll start with getting up in the morning, making breakfast, and go into the details of what I made, how it tasted and describe those details.
Inevitably, it’ll bring my natural writing rhythm back, and I can continue with whatever work in progress was creating brain fog. Another way I’ve helped myself is to pick up one of my favorite books and just ... read. We should be reading anyway, but that seems to bring my creative juices back into my current writing project. Finally, getting out in nature ALWAYS brings me in touch with the right side of my brain. I quiet my mind and remain present at the moment and eventually, those crazy ideas start to percolate again and I’m able to put it to paper.
Ask yourself, “Why can’t I write?”—are you looking at the big picture and thinking that writing a 350-page book is too daunting? Sounds like procrastination. Instead, you need to give yourself smaller goals. What are some easier-to-handle goals you could give yourself?
If it’s procrastination, then sit down and set a timer for 10 minutes—allow yourself only 10 minutes to write and when the timer goes off, you can stop. Usually, you’ll want to keep writing and you’ll ignore the timer.
Practice self-care—are you going for a walk to clear your head before writing? If walking is too hard on the body, then choose a quiet place to meditate and think. Are you eliminating all distractions so you can write in peace? No phone! Do you have a designated space to write?
I mostly talk about novel writing, but for writing in general, the best way to overcome writer’s block is solid preparation. Whether you are writing a novel or a nonfiction book or article, learning your craft, learning structure, studying great writers and those who’ve written best sellers similar to what you are planning is the way to eliminate blocks.
I believe many writers procrastinate and don’t dig into their project because they are grossly unprepared. Some are afraid of rejection or bad reviews and so that causes them to procrastinate as well. I would point writers to my book: Crank It Out! The Surefire Way to Become a Super-Productive Writer, which goes into all the ways we fail to bust through writer's block and ways to successfully hack through them.
I write children’s picture books, which are short, plus I have a short period of time when a kid is the perfect age for my stories. Picture books are also notoriously difficult to get published. I want to write several a year so I have a chance of selling at least one or two and having something publish annually. Therefore, it is important for me to be prolific. I can’t afford to let writer’s block sideline me. These are my top tips to keep the creativity flowing ...
Daily Idea Generation
Ten years ago, I created an annual challenge for picture book writers called “Picture Book Idea Month.” The purpose is to generate one new story idea a day for an entire month. At the end of the month, a participant will be left with thirty or more ideas to flesh out into stories.
That event is now called “Storystorm” and I host it on my blog (taralazar.com) every January. Thousands of writers join in.
But my ultimate goal for participants is to make idea generation something they practice daily throughout the year. Not every idea is going to be a winner, right? Having a long list of story concepts that can build upon one another and spur additional ideas guarantees that you’ll never be without something to write.
If I am stuck with a story, I often jump to something new. I create a different character, a new setting, or an outrageous situation. I leave the other manuscript alone. Working on a new problem often works out the kinks of the former manuscript and I can return to it with renewed mojo.
Trust Your Process
Over the years, I’ve come to understand my personal creative process. Often it means I take breaks between projects and don’t write anything at all. I still create new ideas for stories, read picture books, and keep up with publishing. My big toe is still dipped in the kidlit waters. I have learned not to panic or worry, but to trust my process. My subconscious will be churning away at an idea and somehow I will know when it is time to put my butt in the chair and start writing. What may look like “writer’s block” to others is an essential component to my creativity.
Professional authors may give you advice on when and where to write, but the fact remains that your process will be as unique as your writing. I encourage you to learn—and trust—your process.”
If you’re blocked as a new writer writing a first book:
Ignore what you (or other people) think you should write, and look at your bookshelf.
What do you love to read? What do you choose as a guilty pleasure? Be honest with yourself, even if you come from a literary background. What's fun for you? Then go write that.
If you’re blocked during a book in the “saggy middle”: Do some more research around your theme, setting or characters for fiction, or topic if it’s non-fiction.
If you’re blocked after finishing a book when you think you should immediately start another one:
Fill the creative well, then trust emergence. Something will come out of the milieu of this crazy, buzzing world and if you wait a little for the book to pass on, then ideas will start to emerge again and your mind will soon be filled with words waiting to be written.
In my experience, when writers come up against writer’s block they’re usually trying to go too mental in their approach to creativity. That is, they’re trying to think their way out of the writer’s block problem. The key is to move out of the logical side of the brain and into the intuitive/creative side. Three quick ways to accomplish this are:
Listening to Music Music bypasses our rational brain and defies verbal description so it tends to throw us into the realm of emotion, a great place to be when starting a story or working with intense scenes.
Focusing on Images Instead of trying to figure out the entire storyline of your book before you even write one page, concentrate on any images that might be showing up in your head and work from there. It’s okay if you see your main character standing at the edge of a cliff and you don’t know why. Write down the image first, and the explanation can come later.
Use Your Character’s Eyes Many writers who are blocked keep trying to access the story from the outside, as if they were an observer fly-on-the-wall-style. Sometimes this can be effective, but what’s even more powerful is to jump inside your character’s body and look around from their viewpoint. Then record everything you can see, no matter how trivial or mundane it might appear at the time.
Ask, “What would I most enjoy writing right now?” It may not be what you think you should be writing. It may not even be something that fits into your current WIP. But it’s more likely to help than starting at a blank page, and it puts you in a better mood.
Change your writing mode. Handwrite, dictate, typewrite, cut and paste letters from a magazine, write with a finger dipped in paint, carve words into wood . . . Robert Burns used to carry a diamond pen and etch his lines into glass. There are many ways to make your mark, and it's inspiring and invigorating to experiment.
Journal about why you aren’t stuck after all. List all of the things you LOVE about knowing where your story is headed, freewrite about the feeling of being in flow, describe what your finished story will look like in full sensory detail. Before long you won’t even be able to focus on being stuck.
Here are a few tools to climb over, tunnel through, or dig under “writer’s wall” to find the reward on the other side.
Method #1: The Alphabet Shuffle Rip a sheet of paper into twenty-six pieces. Starting with the letter A, jot down the first word that comes to mind. Continue with B through Z. Pick up pieces at random and lay them in a row. Reorganize to form a storyline or subplot.
Method #2: The Snooper Eavesdrop on public conversations. Observe what people say, scrutinize their grooming, and watch their facial expressions. Try to guess their feelings and motivations. Write a few fictional biographies, and create scenarios that incorporate them.
Method #3: The What-if-er Recall a funny, frightening, sad, or embarrassing situation. Imagine what might have happened if someone had [fill in the blank]. Now recall a few more situations. Combine and revise as necessary.
Keep track. Always carry a notebook to record your thoughts, or a smartphone to text them to yourself. Save your ideas as soon as they materialize. Most will disappear within less than ten minutes if you don’t document them.
1. Journal. The more you write, the less difficult it is. I find that doing morning pages, even just to plan the day, loosens up my writing muscles and helps me to attack the page. If you are feeling blocked or scared, write something. Write anything. Because the more you write, the more you write.
2. Take smaller steps. When we anticipate taking big steps—like writing a book or a whole chapter—our brains can actually panic and our bodies go into a flight or fight response. Small steps trick the amygdala and bypass the flight or fight response. They get us unstuck from a creative block.
3. Take breaks. Engaging with nature or doing a menial, repetitive task will help you restore your ability to pay attention. And, the time away from your work may lead to what psychologists call the Eureka effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eureka_effect). So next time you get stuck, take a break to watch the clouds or sort the laundry. No doubt you’ll return to your desk refreshed and ready to write—and potentially with a solution in hand!
I’m an aspiring MG and YA fantasy writer and also support myself as a contract writer. For my job, I can’t afford to have writer’s blog because I need to write 15 articles or more each week. Here are my tips:
Just write. I find sitting down and starting to write can help, even if I don’t like what I wrote. Just getting some words out on the page can help get my creative juices going.
Work on what you love. When I’m stuck on a manuscript that I’m writing, I like to work on my favorite part of writing, which for me is editing. If I go back and edit a prior chapter or two, it can get me going enough to work on my new chapter. Whatever it is that gets you excited about writing, spending some time on that might help you get inspired.
Do something relaxing. I like to take a walk or take a shower and think about the problems that are causing me to get stuck in my writing. I can’t tell you how many times I solve problems in the shower. Reading in my genre can also motivate me.
“Writer’s block can frustrate us and steal our courage to create, so kick it to the curb with three easy tips:
1. Rewrite Netflix descriptions: Scroll through movie descriptions as if searching for something to watch. Then, either take two different premises and mash them to form a new, interesting storyline, or challenge yourself to switch a movie’s genre (say, a thriller) to the genre you usually write in (romance). Then free write the result (as much as you like!), for fun, to flex your creative muscles.
2. Skip ahead: If writer’s block hits when you’re mid-novel, make notes about what needs to happen next and then skip ahead to the next scene you can see clearly in your mind. Once your brain is past the block, ideas will flow better and you can come back and fill things in when inspiration strikes.
3. Dig for the WHY: Sometimes a block hits because we write ourselves into a corner. If you get stuck, change things up like choosing a new setting and rewrite the scene, or visit Novelist’s Triage Center to get unstuck and find help for many types of common story problems.
1. Just write down anything and everything you can think of. Just let it flow out of you like vomit after eating a gas station burrito! Bleeaaaauuuugggghhhhhh!! Don’t worry if it’s any good or if it even makes sense. You can sift through it later—like panning for gold! You never know what might strike a chord with you later on. Even if you write down something like “I wish I was eating a baked potato right now,” you could turn that into “25 Recipes Using Potatoes” or “8 Budget-Friendly Meals for Starving Writers” or something.
2. Turn to your readers for help. It’s a win-win situation: you ask them for ideas, and then you produce the content they most want to read about! Let them help you help them.
3. Sleep on it. Seriously. If your brain is absolutely 100% fried and you cannot think up any ideas to save your life: get some sleep, and try again the next day. Eat a good meal too, while you’re at it!
B2W works with writers all year round, so the spectre of ‘writer’s block’ always comes up. Here are my top three strategies for dealing with it:
1. Outline or plan. Most writers get blocked because they are attempting to write with only a portion of the story in their head. This means as soon as they come across an issue, they get stuck in what I call ‘The Story Swamp’. An outline is like a map, helping you get out again. It doesn’t have to be mega-detailed, it could index cards or post-its, or just be bullet points. It could even be a drawing. Just as long as you have that ‘story map’, you are far less likely to get stuck.
2. Stop and reflect. Writers often don’t have enough time to write, so when they finally get to sit down in front of their computer, they ‘can’t’ write. This is due to putting so much pressure on themselves. The worst thing you can do is sit there in front of their screen, freaking out. Turn off the computer, go for a walk, reflect on WHY you feel so anxious, down, or not confident about writing. Think about the interventions you can put in place to stop this happening. Instead of writing only at specific times, perhaps keeping a notebook handy and writing in five-minute bursts longhand would help (or vice versa!). Perhaps explaining to your partner and getting them on board with your dream would help. Whatever it is stopping you, deep down, work out what it is and what you can do about it. There’s always something.
3. Believe. If you don’t believe you can do this, no one will. When you feel blocked, tell yourself – YOU GOT THIS. It will come true!
There you have it, some of the best nuggets of advice for when you have writer’s block. Entering that zone is very scary especially when you’re in a mad rush to beat the deadline, but have no fear, dear wordsmith. Try any of the tips above, and you’ll scale that big wall of nothingness and frustration in no time flat.