From time to time, every writer struggles with bouts of this loathsome paralytic. Fortunately, those who have made it through have developed some battle tested methods for busting this debilitating state of mind. Read on and discover their remedies – they may be just what the doctor ordered!
Writers the world over often find themselves sidelined at some point by fear. Fear of disappointment, of rejection, or of simply not being good enough. If you let them, these negative feelings can influence your behaviors and zap your creative juices. Yet, trepidation needn’t stop you from pursuing your passion. According to Book Coach Cathy Fyock, the first step is to identify your fears and take away their power by facing them. From there, it’s a matter of guarding your thoughts, and implementing tools and techniques that keep anxiety at bay.
We all have such busy lives these days and committing time to write can be challenging. Yet, establishing the habit can go a long way toward keeping you focused and helping to prioritize your writing. Though it may seem counter intuitive (can creativity be scheduled?) Author and artist Twyla Tharp maintains that “creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” If you only write when you’re “feeling creative” you’re at the mercy of circumstance, waiting for the perfect conditions. Sooner or later your bound to stumble into a fog. So, try to set an appointment with yourself to write. Even if it is just 15 minutes of solid, undistracted time to sit and write. Maybe it’s every day, every other day, or just on weekends — but whatever it is, stick to it!
Free writing, batching time, word count methods, and timers are just a few of the technique’s writers use to streamline writing time and block out distractions. Yet it’s important to remember that every writer is different and what works for one may not be a fit for all. So, experiment with different methods and find one that works for you. Establishing a rhythm that works for you can be key to habiltualizing your writing, blocking out distractions and finding the focus you need to promote productivity.
Yep you read that right. Sometimes the pressure to create something transcendent can overwhelm, stemming the flow of your words. Release yourself from the pressure to be perfect. Sometimes writers can get caught up trying to find the perfect phrase to illustrate a concept. Skip this block-inducing endeavor by inserting a stand in phrase such as “in other words…” and just write what you’re thinking. Forget about being articulate, come back later to refine by pressing CTRL+F to search out the stand-in phrase you used. Screenplay writer and actor Sylvester Stallone contends that when he feels the paralytic effect of writers block, he just starts writing. Sooner or later he says, “The garbage washes out and other ideas start flowing…the words start flowing again.” So, release yourself from the burden of perfection. Try practicing what author and educator Shiny Burcu Unsal calls the “California Blowoff,” and push your inner critic to the side.
It’s important to remember that writer’s block is an obstacle to be hurdled, not a permanent state. Utilizing writing techniques or prompts can help you find inspiration and stimulate your imagination. Sometimes a change of perspective can be beneficial. How might a “fly on the wall” might narrate the scene? Many writers have also had great success with backwards engineering a story, while others employ simple exercises to get the juices flowing. There is no goal other than to get thinking and get the right side of your brain activated again. When you stimulate creativity, sooner or later the connection to your work at hand will be restored.
Sometimes when words fail you it’s best to just give them up. Get visual. Create mind maps, vision boards, drawings, paper your fridge with sticky notes - whatever unblocks your mind! There are also a variety of writing apps that offer graphic methods of organization. Apps such as InkFlow work like a visual word processor and allow you to move your ideas around/doodle on them however you see fit.
Take your time. Sometimes you can come up with a great idea, but bringing it full circle can be a struggle. It can take time to overcome direction changes or just flesh out the evolution of a story. As Award winning author of “Tuesday’s with Morrie,” Mitch Albom explains, “there can be immense pressure for an author to quickly pump out a sequel or a work that taps into a hot trend, but sometimes the best thing you can do is give yourself and your story room to breathe.” Resist the urge to force it. Sometimes the story unfolds on its own time table. If you have an outline, it may be time to revisit it to see if there is something missing or not working that’s holding you back.
We all have lives that exist aside from writing. Developing a support system may help you buttress your priorities and allow you to make room in your life for your craft. Friends, family or peers can also help you stay motivated. They can remind you of your goals or provide validation on days when your fortitude is waning. After all, by nature humans are social creatures (yes even the writer) and we don’t always do well alone. At one time or another we may need to ask for help. This could be emotional support, inspiration or guidance. If you find yourself languishing in the wrong headspace, author and life coach Shan Gill urges authors to ask for help. Reach out to a peer, friend, family member, or of course the community here at ALC. You’re not in this alone!
Even the most prolific writers have moments of hammering away and getting nowhere. In those moments it’s easy for even the most dedicated to get discouraged. When you feel particularly downtrodden it can be useful to try implementing incentives. Reward yourself when you reach certain goals, or when you've pushed past a tough hurdle. Give yourself a tangible reason to push forward. Sometimes writing is its own reward, but other times chasing the carrot may be just the motivation you need.
Accept that some days will be less productive. When Mackerel magazine editor, ghostwriter, and founder of The Creative Voice Carolyn Oei gets blocked creatively, she stops working on the project at hand and does something else that she enjoys. Take a walk, enjoy a delicious meal, meditate or practice yoga. Nurturing yourself and centering your thoughts can be just the rejuvenation you need. Additionally, sometimes the best way to climb out of a writing funk is to take yourself out of your own work and into someone else’s. Check out an exhibition, go to the cinema, or take in a play or local gig. Immerse yourself in greatness and soon sounds, sensations, and colors will fill the space that once felt empty.
It’s important to remember that writer’s block, while miserable and incapacitating, is only a temporary condition. The secret to reanimation is to find what works for you and honor the process. Make time for writing, commit to it as sacred, creative time. Don’t allow your negative voice to guide your thinking or stop your creative process. Continue to work and gain clarity and focus for yourself and your readers so that you may share your story with authenticity and without apology. One word at a time.
For additional resources such as writing prompts, software, and other helpful tools, visit our Writing Resources page.
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