Getting the Best of Your Writer's Block

Ten Ways to Start Writing Again

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Though some people say that writer’s block doesn’t actually exist, the fact remains that most writers will have trouble writing at some point in their careers. The possible reasons for it are myriad: fear and anxiety, a life change, the end of a project, the beginning of a project…almost anything, it seems, can cause that particular mix of fear and frustration upon confronting the blank page.

Remember that you have an ongoing relationship with your writing, and as with any relationship, it’s not always going to be the same.

Part of dealing with writer’s block, whatever has sparked it, is accepting that it is inevitable to have periods of downtime, periods when it’s just not happening.

It does help to think of writing as a regular job, and less of an art, dependent on certain magical conditions. Trollope, for example, urged writers to regard their work as “common work to the common laborer.” Stephen King, another famously prolific author, uses the metaphor of a toolbox to talk about writing, intentionally linking it to physical work. If we think of ourselves as laborers, as craftsmen, it’s easier to sit down and write. We’re just putting words on the page, after all, one beside another, as a bricklayer puts down bricks. At the end of the day, we’re just creating things -- stories, poems, or plays -- only we use vocabulary and grammar instead of bricks and mortar.

Just as the reasons for writer’s block vary, there is also more than one way to deal with it.

The list below is far from complete: take it as a list of suggestions, things that have worked for some people, at some point in their writing careers. Trying new things will at least shake things up, which is the first step toward breaking out of your block.

1. Have a schedule, and stick to it.

If your body shows up to the page at the same time and place every day, eventually your mind -- and your muse -- will know to do the same.

Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words, and only 500 words, every morning. Five hundred words is only about a page, but with those mere 500 words per day, Greene wrote and published over 30 books.​

2. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

In fact, don’t be hard on yourself at all while writing. Anna Quindlin wrote, “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” Turn the critical brain off. There is a time and place for criticism: it’s called editing.

3. Don’t panic.

If fear is the basis for your writer’s block, panicking will only make matters worse. Again, having some kind of schedule can help eliminate anxiety. The less you have to think about what you’re doing, the better. I know a writer who goes to her desk immediately upon waking up. She says that this way, by the time she really wakes up and remembers that she’s afraid, she’s already writing. Sometimes you have to play games with yourself to circumvent your fear. Try different approaches and see what works for you.

4. Take time off

if you’ve been writing steadily for a long time, or have just finished a project. It could be your mind needs time to gestate. Idleness can be a key part of the creative process.

Give yourself time to gather new experiences and new ideas, from life, reading, or other forms of art, before you start again.

5. Set deadlines and keep them.

Many writers, understandably, have trouble doing this on their own. You might find a writing partner and agree to hold each other to deadlines in an encouraging, non-critical way. Knowing that someone else is expecting results helps many writers produce material. Writing groups or classes are another good way to jump-start a writing routine.

6. Examine any deep-seated issues

that may be keeping you from writing. Write about your anxieties regarding writing or creativity. Talk to a friend, preferably one who writes. A number of books, such as "The Artist’s Way," are designed to help creative people explore the root causes of their blocks.

If the block continues, you might seek counseling. Many therapists specialize in helping artists and writers reconnect with their creativity.

7. Work on more than one project at a time.

Some writers find it helpful to switch back and forth from one project to another. Whether this minimizes fear or boredom, or both, it seems to work for many people.

8. Try writing exercises.

As much as it may remind you of your high school writing class, writing exercises can loosen up the mind and get you to write things you would never write otherwise. If nothing else, they get words on the page, and if you do enough of that, some of it is bound to be good.

9. Get away from the desk for a while.

If you’ve been trying to work for a long time and feel yourself getting frustrated, take a walk or do your dishes. At the very least, get up and stretch. If you leave the house, though, remember to take a pad and pen with you. Chances are that loosening up your limbs and changing your perspective will inspire the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for.

10. Remember why you started to write in the first place.

Once you start thinking of writing in terms of a career, it’s easy to forget the pure fun of it. Look at what you’re writing and why. Are you writing what you love, or what you think you should be writing? Steve Martin gave himself a few years off from working, and in that time, ended up writing several plays, a series of sketches, and two screenplays. The point is, he let himself do exactly what he wanted, and it ended up being one of the most productive times in his career.

The writing that feels most like play will end up delighting you the most, and this is the writing your readers will instinctively connect with. At the end of the day, writing is too hard to do it for any other reason. If you can continue to touch base with the joy you first felt in writing, it will sustain you, not only through your current block, but through whatever the future holds for you and your work.

Exercises to Help with Writer's Block: