The dreaded writer’s block…
If you are a fiction or a non-fiction writer, you may have faced this nemesis at some point of your writing experience.
Even if you do not write for a living, you may sit at your laptop to craft that work email and then nothing happens.
Your mind draws a complete blank and refuses to move forward.
You begin to panic and throw a nervous glance at the time.
After much struggle, you get some words out there but you hate them.
You hate the words you wrote with a burning passion.
If you wrote them on paper, this is the time when you crumple the paper and play “toss it into the trash can.”
In other words, you have stumbled into the world of writer’s block.
Some may think and feel that writer’s block is a fictional experience that our mind sustains and feeds.
Some feel that it does not exist.
Some others think that it is a potent enemy and nemesis against the sanity of a writer.
Whatever your take on writers block is, you may benefit with some tools, techniques and ideas to get past writing hiccups.
Here are 11 inspiring ways to get beyond this ancient nemesis that wreaks havoc on your writing.
Please Note: This is the week on Writer’ s block at Launchyourgenius. I also wrote a guest post titled 10 Creative Ways To Get Beyond Writers Block at the writing blog of Scarlett Van Dijk. Please check it out for some creative and science backed ways to get beyond writer’s block. Please leave comments for that post on Scarlett’s blog if you have any.
1. Are You Making Connections And Combinations
“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.” – Charles Eames
If you are stuck in a plot or a scene, you may be the victim of dead end thinking.
Dead end thinking happens when you resort to what you know and do not make connections.
Connections are vital between the different elements of your story.
They are the lifeblood of the dynamics of forward movement in writing.
Connections ask the question “what is next?”
You may ask the question, “how can I relate this object or idea to the broader picture or how can I connect to to the tiny details?”
When you are stuck in writer’s block, often your mind may be repeating the same scene or may be frozen in one.
This is like playing “freeze” when you were little or pausing a video.
When you feel frozen in time and space, bring some motion and connection to your writing.
Twyla Tharp, the famous choreographer talks about the idea of Zoe and Bios in her book, The Creative Habit.
Zoe and Bios are like the forest and the trees.
Zoe is when you zoom out and relate the bigger picture to the plot. Bios is when you zoom in to look at the tiny details and connect them to your writing.
1. Make connections in your writing and ask: What is next?
2. Zoom in and zoom out of the scene to alter the perspective of the frozen scene.
3. Movement is good to shake up the block and bring the juices of writing back into gear.
2. Lower Your Expectations
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” —George Orwell
Expectations are powerful enemies in the battle against writer’s block.
When you least expect it, your expectations will paralyze you and push you into a checkmate.
Why are unrealistic expectations such a big problem in writing?
The issue is the fine line with pushing yourself to be better and the full blown “I hate my work” because it does not measure up and you expect a lot more from it.
What are your beliefs about how much and how effectively you need to write?
If you believe and expect that you will write important and impactful work every single day of your life, you are setting up for writer’s block.
The truth is much more messy than that.
The truth might just be that we are in our best element only a few times a week.
The best we can hope is to write enough to catch those moments when words seem to ceaselessly flow out of us.
“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent—and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.” ― Malcolm Gladwell
1. Assess your expectations.
2. Lower the expectations of writing and be happy with producing mediocre work sometimes.
3. Make writing a habit and write regardless of what you think the results might be.
3. Read More
“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” ― Lisa See
How much new and exciting writing do you read every day or during your week?
You may get so busy with writing that your joy of reading great work gets pushed over to the sidelines.
Big mistake. I have found that to get the gears of my mind running smoothly, I need to expose my mind to great ideas and writing.
The more I read, the better the connections and networks I make with my own writing and ideas.
In the recent information age, people devour books because they do not want to be left behind.
They read because they feel a social pressure to do so. But that is not the correct approach to reading.
You need to seek and read the books and material that excite you and make you eager to read.
Is the book a story that you cannot put down?
This is the best way that I know to retain information and make more meaningful connections to your own writing.
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” —Samuel Johnson
1. Read more.
2. Read some more.
3. Read stuff that you love and that makes you ask thoughtful questions.
“We read to know we are not alone.”- William Nicholson
4. What is Your Story?
“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on. Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it,” because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work – for you or for the reader.” ― Orson Scott Card
Trying to be a perfectionist in your writing is a big problem.
But what if the problem is deeper and causing dissonance?
Psychology research calls this cognitive dissonance, a mismatch between contradictory beliefs and values. This creates significant tension and demands consistency and resolution.
I like the insight by science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Card in his quote above because it goes deeper into the issue of this block.
If there is dissonance between what you wrote and what you find believable and interesting, you may run into writer’s block.
It is a way that your mind and your sub-conscious are telling you that they do not dig the story.
It is your intuition and your inner world whispering to you that the story does not feel authentic.
1. Does your story feel interesting and believable to you?
2. Does your writing feel authentic and express your inner voice?
3. Are you experiencing cognitive dissonance that is expressing as writers block and listlessness?
4. Go back into your writing and change parts to make it more believable and interesting to you.
“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.” -Jeffery Deaver
5. Is the Beginning causing FEAR?
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”- Stephen King
One of the most messy and uncertain time that you may face with your writing might be the beginning.
You need to set sail and leave the harbor but you fear leaving the known shores for unknown territories and adventures.
“Writing a novel is like heading out over the open sea in a small boat. It helps if you have a plan and a course laid out.” – John Gardner
Writing is like a quest, an adventure that makes you happy and also makes you sad and conflicted.
Writing bares your soul and your deepest ideas and lays them open for the world to judge and scrutinize.
This is too much emotional charge for many of us.
FEAR is the classic False Evidence Appearing Real.
Are you feeling the false evidence of a shipwreck and allowing it to block your beginning?
Acknowledge that FEAR will always exist and you need to transcend it, not get rid of it.
1. Are you afraid of the beginning because you are uncertain where to go?
2. Make some structures and rules and restrictions that direct your writing towards a believable signpost.
3. Acknowledge that the discomfort and uncertainty is causing fear of writing and train yourself to act in spite of the fear.
4. Once you take the first step, things will appear more doable and approachable.
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” —Virginia Woolf
6. Create some Distance Between You And The Problem
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”― Hilary Mantel in The Guardian, Feb 2010
Unfortunately, the common advice for something not working in your life is to persevere and try harder. And harder and better and still harder goes the suggestion.
This might be good advice in some cases but it may not work for writer’s block. You cannot persevere in something if you are unable in putting pen to paper or keystrokes to computer.
The best technique in such cases is the one described by Hilary Mantel.
Create some distance between you and the writer’s block.
The analogy that works for me in this idea is having a completely cluttered house. If you have no room to bring anything new, it may not be a good idea to pile on the stuff.
The solution is to create some space and declutter your mind and your house.
Changing the environment is a common and effective technique used in enhancing creativity.
As Mantel suggests, go do something else that invigorates you and takes your mind away from the writer’s block.
Changing the perspective on the problem will change the way you approach for solutions.
“Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.”- Stephen King
1. Create some distance between you and the writing block or difficulty.
2. Recharge your batteries by doing something that you like or some thing that does not involve writing or thinking about writing.
3. My secret weapon is to get a broom out and sweep the floors. This is strangely meditative, keeps the floors clean and gives me a change of environment. I also like to take a walk in nature sometimes to get the mind off the problem.
7. Switch To a Different Project
“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.”― Philip José Farmer
When you are getting stuck, you may want to switch from one project that you have a block on to another one that may be more favorable.
Often the blocks that we experience in one writing work may not be applicable in another writing project.
I do not believe that there is a universal writing block that affects all your writing all at once.
What do you think?
1. Switch to a different project.
2. Assess which project seems to be allowing forward motion and invokes emotion and go with that project for that day.
8. Write the Initial Stages In Secrecy
“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ― Erica Jong, The New Writer’s Handbook 2007
The careless word of caution.
The supposedly well-meaning warning.
These are the agents that wound your ego and hurt your spirit when you embark on a writing adventure.
It is important that you do not present your work to others while it is still a tiny spark in your mind, heart, imagination and spirit.
It will be too easy to put out through a careless word and a well-intentioned suggestion.
You need to wait for the spark to become a fire of passion burning powerfully in you.
You have to allow the passion of writing that piece or story to capture your deepest imagination. In other words, your words are now unstoppable.
Your words are now unstoppable by criticism and impossible to wound by careless people or talk.
1. Write in secrecy, at least in the initial stages.
2. Is the fear of being judged and oversensitivity causing writer’s block?
3. Do you write as if the world is listening and ready to pounce on your every tiny mistake?
9. Get Over Comparison And Develop Your Own Way
“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.” —Allegra Goodman
What techniques work for your writing?
What inspires you to write better?
Do you understand your writing and what sustains it and what motivates it?
Becoming aware of your motivations is a great way to get out of writers block.
But understanding that you might be making unfavorable comparison may be causing the block.
Often, we dwell in the greatness of others and measure our writing against others.
This comparison results in feelings of dejection and defeat in our own work.
I love the quote from Allegra Goodman that you need to understand where you stand about your style.
But when you are ready for action, you need to put away comparison and looking to others and write.
1. How often do you compare your work to your peers or your role model?
2. Do you understand what your style is and how you get motivated to write?
3. Is thinking about the achievements of others making you feel small and unimportant in comparison?
4. Do others get more social proof of their writing and does that cause you to feel unhappy about your work?
5. Are the opinions and comparisons of others making you stop your writing?
“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” —Virginia Woolf
10. Write Badly
“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.” -Jennifer Egan
Perfectionism is one of the major reasons for writing problems.
This is because you do not allow you to write badly and do work that does not match your own standards.
The problem is that those standards might just get impossible to fulfill.
Like the famous saying goes, do not allow perfect to become the enemy of the good.
“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.’”- Maya Angelou
1. Are you a raging perfectionist in your writing? The solution is to Write poorly. Forget about the advice to write GREAT content all the time and give yourself the permission to write forward.
2. Do you have standards that you are unable to match? Lower them.
3. Realize that first drafts do not need to be perfect.
4. Do not go back and edit. Leave editing for a later on time when you like your writing better.
“Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”-John Steinbeck
11. The Secret Of Great Writing And Getting Beyond Blocks
“The secret of it all is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood of the moment–to put things down without deliberation–without worrying about their style–without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote–wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant, the very heartbeat of life is caught.” - Walt Whitman
The secret of writing as Whitman captures is to simply write without worry. A great way to approach blocks is to stop thinking and just be spontaneous when you can.
Another approach is to transform your writing into a habit.
Set up structures, habits and actions around your writing habit.
Are you waiting for the muses to strike you with inspiration or have you made your writing habitual?
When you have the idea and belief that you need to get inspired before you can write, you may setting up for some writing difficulty.
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”- William Faulkner
1. Simply write in the moment.
2. Cast aside the worry, tension and resistance if possible.
3. Make writing habitual. Form your own writing rituals and habits.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King
Now over to you!
What are some of the techniques and tips that work for you to get past writer’s block?
Which idea resonated most with you?
I would love to know in the comments below about your writing experiences!