Tag Archives: overcome writer’s block

How To Fight Writer’s Block and Win

how to fight writer'sblock

Writer’s block is an affliction that affects almost all writers at some point. I say “almost all” because I have to allow for some cyborgs from outer space posing as writers who never have writer’s block. For us humanoid writers, it just so happens that sometimes the words don’t flow. The ideas don’t come, panic sets in. And then paralysis.

Writer’s block can be debilitating and some writers can take a really long time to get back up on the horse after falling off. Ralph Ellison, whose novel Invisible Man made him not only an overnight literary genius but also a hero, is one of the most famous cases of writer’s block. Publishers and critics waited for decades for his second novel to come. It finally did, in 1999, published posthumously five years after his death.

Harper Lee’s story is much the same. After publishing To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, she finally birthed her second novel this year in 2015. Some writers have prolific careers and then suddenly stop cold. Truman Capote’s last novel, In Cold Blood, was the one that made him most famous and, arguably, the one that ended his career. Sometimes, a work is so famous that the writer becomes intimidated by the task of trying to top it. And then, writing becomes not only difficult but impossible.

So, if these literary giants were defeated by writer’s block, what possible hope do the rest of us have? Well, it can be that you have even more hope than they did. Because chances are you haven’t reached your peak or written your masterpiece yet. That’s actually the good news. Let’s get you writing again, so that you have the chance to reach your top.

Can-Do Attitude

Jerrold Mundis has a great method for beginning writers. You can read his book or listen to his audio tapes which are sold on his site www.unblock.org.  Mundis’ method encourages first a healthy dose of self-esteem and a can-do attitude about writing. Silencing the inner critic and believing that you can write are the first steps to getting over writer’s block. He also warns writers not to focus on the end result, on book deals and movie contracts, but to concentrate on the writing itself, making the goals small and doable. Looking too much at the big picture will inhibit your ability to focus on the small tasks of putting one word after the other.

His recommended method is freewriting, with no editing or revising allowed during writing sessions. And he also champions the idea of quitting while you’re ahead, i.e. not going past time or word count goals for the day but saving whatever might have spilled over for your next session. Hemingway also recommended doing this. It makes you thirsty for your next writing session to see where that thought process you started will end up.

Don’t Fight It

College professor John Perry made waves recently with his book The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing. The genius of his advice lies in the same wisdom as those martial artists who use the enemy’s energy against them by not reacting. Don’t resist it. The more you resist, the worse it becomes and the harder it is to get over it. He urges people to make lists of tasks starting with the least important and building to the most important. Knocking the less important tasks off the list make you feel productive and builds your confidence so that by the time you get to the important one, you feel more prepared to take it on.

You can apply the same to writing. Instead of working on your book, for example, work on an essay or a journal entry or a poem. Build yourself up to the intimidating tasks by knocking off some writing assignments that hold less emotional weight for you.

Just Focus On the Work

Most writers are pretty good at inflicting terror on themselves. They get caught up in thoughts like “How will I be able to market this?” or “How will I be able to look my mother in the eye after publishing this book with sex scenes in it?” Don’t try to write someone else’s book. Don’t try to write a book that your mother would approve of. Don’t think about what publishers will say. Just write what’s inside of you. That’s the only concern you should have for a good long until you have something that’s developed enough to show to someone. Then let an agent or publisher tell you their thoughts.

If you get caught up in preemptive worries about the finished product, you may never get to that final stage. Shut those thoughts down and every time they come up, recognize them, breathe, and get back to writing. Remind yourself that this is your job, not worrying about other people’s opinions or the future criticisms of your work. Tape a note above your desk reminding you of this. Type it at the top of every page if you must until it sinks in. Your art is yours, your words are yours.

Get Comfortable With Routine

All of the professional writers I know follow some sort of routine. And there are scores of interviews with famous writers about their writing process that all go pretty much along the same lines: write every day. Some may, argued that writer’s block is more of an existential crisis than anything else. Like most artists, writers write because at some point they had a taste of the thunderbolt of inspiration and they wanted more of it.

Most days aren’t inspired days. So what do you do in the meantime? The only way to get on with writing when the inspiration isn’t there is to humbly accept the fact that writing, like being a chef, a plumber, a construction worker or a teacher, is work. You’ll have good days and bad days, but that you must show up to work. So, create your routine. Designate your working time, punch your time card and write.

Feeling Frustrated And Out Of Ideas? 5 Tips To Keep Writing

how to keep writing

Every writer has writer’s block now and then. Some writers pass through seemingly interminable stretches of it. Writing is like surfing: some days you catch the waves, other days you miss them. Some days there are no waves at all, other days you can ride them all the way to shore. The point is that you have to still show up every day with your board. You never know which days you’re going to catch the waves and which days you’re going to miss them. That’s the beauty of it. You have to show up to find out.

Instead of giving up and packing in, try these 5 tips that will help you keep writing:

Be Bold

Sometimes (often) writers stifle their own creativity because they fear criticism or failure or that nobody else will “get it”. Penning yourself in is no way to keep yourself motivated. Spend some time digging up and mapping out some of the most outrageous ideas you’ve ever come up with. Look at Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, with huge stretches of the book written in the broken English accent of a Ukrainian guide. Genius. Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” about an angel fallen to earth whose bodily functions and lice are anything but heavenly.

Let it loose. Swing from the rafters. There’s the saying, “Dance as if no one was watching.” Well, write as if no one was reading. Be as bold, offensive, weird, daring, perverted and crazy as you can be. See what comes out once you’ve let the subconscious off the chain. Remember this advice from Albert Einstein: “For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.”

Get Out Of the House

Sometimes, sitting around staring out your window until you come up with an idea is just the thing you need to do. Other times, it’s best to head outside a bit and see what the rest of the world is up to. Head to a coffee shop, bar or bookstore. Go to a museum. Sit in the park. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Take public transportation. Observe people. Take a taxi. Talk to the taxi driver.

Make it an exercise when you’re receptive to outside stimulation and you’re an observer in the midst of the action. Bring a notebook or laptop and write down the things that strike you. It could be an interesting conversation you overheard. Or sensory stimulation such as crunching leaves, the biting cold air, the smell of roses in bloom. Choose a person and observe them physically. The way they’re dressed, the way they move, their age. Try to imagine who they are based on what you see. Use these experiences to prompt an idea.

Mold Your Environment To Induce Creativity

Though sojourns to the outside world can help spark lagging creativity, most writing is done in the confines of your home. So dedicate some time for carving a creative nook of your own in your home. Whether you live alone or with twenty roommates, whether you’re single or married with children, finding a space to call your own, no matter how humble, is the least you can do for yourself as a writer.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s post-Eat, Pray, Love writing took place in her attic where she collected eclectic things such as a knight’s armor, and had a window overlooking a garden for inspiration. Jane Austen wrote on what has got to be one of the world’s tiniest desks. Mark Twain took breaks from writing by playing pool on his private pool table. Nigella Lawson’s wall-wall bookshelves house her personal library of thousands of books – all within arm’s reach for research and inspiration. Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and E.B. White were partial to windows overlooking greenery.

Make a space that’s all yours. If you’re the type who likes to decorate and embellish things, fill it with inspiring pieces of art, handwritten poems pasted to the walls, books that you love. If you need blank space and peace and quiet, go the Zen minimalist way and un-clutter space for you to sit and fill the emptiness with your ideas.

Sign Up For Reinforcement

Make sure your ideas don’t dry up by giving yourself a constant injection of creativity. Get on the mailing list for interesting blogs, podcasts and websites to keep your mind stimulated. Sometimes you just can’t pull the weight of endless creativity all on your own. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and seeing what other brilliant minds are sharing with the world. Hopefully it will jog something in you that you weren’t able to access on your own.

Write Down a Lot of Ideas

Don’t sit and agonize over the perfect idea. Don’t wait for the thunderbolt. Sometimes it doesn’t come. Sometimes, you need to make it rain. Try any of these exercises:

  • Write down 50 ideas for stories or articles. They don’t have to be perfect or brilliant. Just write them down. You’re already being creative by just thinking about them. Choose the one you like best and use the momentum to build on it.
  • Freewrite. Do a freewriting session when you set a timer for 20 minutes and write down everything that comes to mind without stopping, erasing or spell-checking. See what came out of it. You can go another step further and choose your favorite thought from your first freewriting session and use it to start another one. This is called looping. You can do it ad infinitum.
  • Make a spider diagram. Write your main idea in the center of a piece of paper and then write ideas that spin off. You can connect related ideas with a line and start expanding beyond the original ideas, continuing to connect related ones with a line, like a spider’s web. Having a visual map of your ideas can help you organize your thoughts enough to start writing.