What to do when you have writer’s block: A guide for panickers

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For some writers it’s a myth, for others it’s a mountain, but one way or another we all have to come up with our own ways to overcome the fear and get past writer’s block.

Whether you believe in writer’s block or not – perhaps you call it something else? – most of us will be familiar with that sinking feeling when the words won’t come and the story we want to write in our head can’t find its way onto the page.

 

Some of the reasons for experiencing writer’s block might be:

• Fear

You look at the blank page or screen in front of you and are filled with terror about how you’re going to fill it. There’s nothing like fear of the blank page to paralyse your brain and prevent you from writing. So you stop.

• Impossibly high standards.

You know what you want to write but the words that land on the page are not nearly good enough. Not perfect. The gulf between expectation and reality takes your breath away. So you stop.

• A half-formed idea.

You’ve had a burst of enthusiasm and scribbled some words, but don’t know how to carry on or what needs to happen next. You’ve run out of steam. So you stop.

• Forcing it.

You think you ought to be writing but you’re tired and stressed and your creative energy is taken up with fretting. So you don’t even start.

• It isn’t the right time.

Your perfect idea needs you to write it in ideal conditions which bear no resemblance to the chaos of your actual life. So you can’t start.

• You keep putting it off.

There’s always something that need to be done before you let yourself do any writing. The housework, the overtime, the shopping, the cleaning, the whatever it is that you feel you have to complete before you will allow yourself some writing time. And then when you do sit down to write your brain is buzzing with static and your creative energy has departed. So you don’t bother.

 

Here are some ways to help you overcome writer’s block.

• Make time.

Schedule a certain amount of time in your diary as writing time, and stick to it. It will help you take yourself seriously as a writer, and there’s nothing like regularly showing up and exercising the writing muscle to get it into shape. If you make writing a habit, doing it will come more naturally to you than if you save it for special occasions like when inspiration strikes.

• Start working on something new.

Put the thing you’re blocked on to one side and begin a new writing project and let your enthusiasm for that override the jaded sensation you have about the piece that isn’t currently working – you may well find that when you return to it you can see your way through to what needs doing.

• Release the pressure.

Tell yourself that it doesn’t matter if it’s any good it, the main thing is writing because you love writing. Let yourself write for fun. Play with words on a page. Try writing something new in a style that’s different from what you usually write.

• Revise what you wrote yesterday.

By the time you’d made a few tweaks and corrections you’ll be in the writing zone and the ideas will be flowing. That’s a good time to get them on the page. And the next day, you can come back to them, revise them, and be inspired to write some more.

• Set yourself a target.

It might be as little as a few lines, or 100 words a day. If you wrote 100 words every day that could give you a novella-length draft in a year, or half a novel draft. Put your bum on your writing seat and stay there until you’ve met your target. Think of how professional writers, who have to produce words to a deadline if they want to get paid, work. They meet targets, and wordcounts. You can do the same.

• Don’t be too hard on yourself.

You’re allowed to have an off-day. Go and do something else. Relax about it. It’s not the end of the world if you spend some time away from your writing, and there’ll come a point when an idea will strike you and you’ll be itching to get back to your screen or notebook.

• Go for a walk.

Get outside and leave your phone behind. Walking is good for clearing your head and giving yourself a space for thinking.

• Do something else.

Read the newspaper, look at cat pictures, play a game, do some gardening or colouring in.

• Change your routine.

Write somewhere different. If you usually write in the living room, why not take your laptop to bed, or into the garden, and write there? Write at a different time. Just because you always do something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Try working in a different way and see if it prompts new words and ideas.

• Try writing morning pages.

Scribbling two pages of whatever is in your mind every day before you do anything else is a great way to clear out all the clutter in your brain, play with ideas and get you in the right frame of mind for some properly focussed writing.

• Go out of your comfort zone.

Set yourself a writing challenge. It might be to enter a competition every week for a year, or complete a first draft of a new story in a certain time. Raising your personal bar will get the adrenaline flowing and keep you excited about writing.

• Don’t feed the beast.

Sometimes telling your writer’s block that you don’t believe in it and aren’t going to indulge is the only way. You have written before, and you can write again. Put your fingers on the keyboard and start.

• Write.

This is the best way of all to get past writer’s block. The more you write, the more you will be able to write. It doesn’t matter if the words aren’t perfect – you can go back and rework them – but you can’t edit or re-draft work that isn’t there.

 

Just as there’s no single type of writer, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to beating writer’s block, so the best thing is to be open-minded, try different solutions, and settle on an approach that works for you. The most important thing to remember is that countless writers before you have beaten writer’s block, and you can too. It’s perfectly normal for every writer to have periods that are more productive than others, and times when ideas and words don’t come easily. The more you fret about being ‘blocked’, the more you risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, and staying blocked. And the more you write, the less blocked you will be!

What are your strategies for overcoming writer’s block? We’d love to know. Why not tell us on social media? We love hearing from writers on @WritingMagazine and Facebook.com/WritingMagazine so join in and be part of the writing conversation!