Productive writers have often claimed there is no such thing as writer’s block, but any writer who has ever felt unable to create knows how untrue this is. However, writer’s block needn’t be the end. Try the tips below:
1. Set a regular writing time
You will struggle less with writer’s block if you set a regular time for writing. It doesn’t have to be every day. It can be every other day, or every Saturday, or any other regular series of days that you can schedule regularly.
Setting an appointment with ‘the muse’, even if you just write ‘the cat sat on the mat’ (as Maya Angelou did when blocked), will make ideas arrive in time.
2. Get re-inspired reading loved authors
Dip into the writing of some of your favourite writers if you’re struggling to create. Try copying out particularly well-crafted passages. Think about how they construct sentences. Notice their rhythm and word choices, the pace of a scene, the tension in a piece of dialogue. What kind of details develop the characters and setting?
Consider all of these things and note down any grammatical or craft techniques you could experiment with yourself.
3. Jog inspiration using writing prompts
You may find it helpful to read books that include writing prompts and creativity exercises. Some excellent choices are Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, Nail your Novel by Roz Morris and What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.
Try one of the 50 writing prompts here. Sometimes a simple exercise will be all it takes to get into the writing zone.
4. Give yourself 10 minutes for freewriting
You can do almost anything you want if you give yourself only ten minutes. Set a timer. If you still can’t get any words down, use your ten minutes for freewriting.
You might also try the Pomodoro method or a variation on it. The Pomodoro method suggests working in intervals of 25 minutes with five-minute breaks. Breaking your time down into chunks like this can help you get started and help you keep going.
5. Learn how to overcome writer’s block and set goals
It may be that all you need to spur yourself onward are deadlines and goals. These are two things a writing coach can help with.
If you have not already set a deadline for finishing your novel, breaking the process down into reasonable goals, do so now. If you want to finish your book in six months, how many pages or words do you need to write each month? How does that break down into weeks and days?
Keep track of your daily writing in a way that encourages you. Use a spreadsheet, lists in a notebook or something you hang on the wall near your writing space.
6. Give yourself permission to write badly
In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott famously encouraged her readers to write terrible first drafts. She reassured us that we all write bad first drafts, and that the bad first draft must be written in order to avoid writer’s block and get to the second, better draft.
Give yourself permission to write something that is less than perfect or even very bad. Chances are it is not as bad as you think it is. Even if it’s terrible, nobody needs to see it until you’re ready.
Sometimes we get blocked because we keep hitting our head on the same point in the same wall. And if we only moved to another position, we might find an open door we hadn’t seen before:
7. Tackle another part of your story
When you reach a part of your story where you feel blocked, consider skipping over a section for now. Try writing the book out of order. Write the ending first. Write a scene that you’ve been excited about. Write a scene that you haven’t figured out yet.
If the above doesn’t work, set your book aside entirely for a few days and work on something else. Write a poem or a short story or an article. Make notes for the next novel that you want to write if you can do so without becoming too distracted by the idea. You want to give yourself a short break, not begin a whole new project (a temptation for seasoned procrastinators).
8. Use mind mapping and other brainstorming methods
Mind mapping begins with a central idea or concept written in a circle in the centre of the page. From this point, you can connect other ideas and concepts as they come to you. [The first step in Now Novel’s idea finder is another way to find a motivating central idea. Try it now.]
Turn finding ideas for a book or for individual plot points into a game. See how many ideas you can come up with in 15 minutes, or force yourself to come up with 25 story ideas as quickly as possible.
Delving into other mediums often also aids creativity. For example, collect pictures either from magazines or online that help you visualize aspects of your novel. Or else make a music playlist featuring the moods you want to evoke.
Alternatively, try setting your book aside and writing letters or journal entries from the points of view of your characters. This will make them feel more real in your mind’s eye.
9. Try a new writing location
If you normally write in a public place such as a library or coffee shop, try a more private one. Mix up the way that you write. Sit in a sunny park, and write with pen and paper if you normally use a computer. Go to a shopping mall and people watch while you write.
If you can afford to, get away for a night or longer, enjoying your very own writing retreat.
10. Partner up with another writer
Some people find they are more likely to exercise with company. Similarly, some writers find ‘writing dates’ can prevent or end writer’s block. Ideally, these are in-person meetups in which you both sit in a coffee shop or at either person’s house writing for a set period of time.
When partnering up, you create accountability external to yourself. Sometimes you need someone to bounce ideas off (or to kick your butt when you’re close to giving up).
11. Pay attention to what your body needs
If you feel blocked, you might just be exhausted. Lack of sleep, a poor diet, too little exercise or some combination of the three could be the cause.
Writers have to be especially careful about succumbing to sedentary lifestyles. Make sure you get up to stretch your legs and walk around at least every half hour.
Although writing is play, it’s also often taxing mental work, so remember to switch off from time to time. Take up yoga, meditation, or another activity that allows you to relax between intense bouts of concentration.
12. Take a break
You may need some time away from the work. Be sure that you don’t take too long off writing. However, there’s nothing wrong with taking a week off and coming back with a fresh perspective.
Even if you don’t need that much time off, if you find yourself stuck in a writing session, see what happens if you get out and get active instead.
13. Address fears and expectations
Fear of failure can hold you back as can fear of what other people will say about your work. You might worry that your work is not good, or that you are writing about topics that will upset those closest to you.
As strange as it may sound, you might even be afraid of success. Many successful people suffer from self-defeating thought patterns known as ‘imposter syndrome’, in which they fear they will be found out as frauds. Consider whether any of these fears are plaguing you and how you might address them. The suggestions here will help.
14. Allow yourself to deviate from the plan
Sometimes you have writer’s block for a good reason: At some point in your story, you took a wrong turn. If you try some of the above suggestions and keep meeting with a feeling of stagnation, you may want to take a look back at your work and ask yourself whether this could be the source.
Conventional wisdom tells us we should push on with our writing rather than go back. Sometimes, though, you may find you’ve written yourself into a corner. In such cases, it’s possible you either are trying to follow a plan too rigidly or are struggling without a plan.
If your problem is the former – you have an outline that your story just doesn’t seem to fit, remember that an outline is a guide, not a last will and testament. Feel free to take detours from your original planned route. If the issue is the latter, summarize what you have so far and try to create condensed chapter summaries or time-lines for individual characters. Stepping back from a detailed view often helps you see the broader directions of your story’s arcs.
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Cover source image by Dmitri Ratushny