13 Tips for Smashing Writer’s Block

Writer's Block title

You know those moments when you finally get to sit down at your laptop/writing pad/typewriter/chisel and tablet, and you’re so excited to start writing. I mean, it’s coursing through your veins while you try so hard to put it on the page, but then…. nothing.

It’s stressful. The emptiness seems so barren and devoid of life and so empty – purgatory of the page!

It can happen to anyone. Hell, it does happen to everyone! Writer’s or not, we all find ourselves stuck for creativity sometimes. Whether you’re Jones trying to close the Wang account, or the city council trying to think of new ways to encourage recycling, creativity can be a cruel mistress.

That said, it doesn’t have to control you. Blocks are often formed from fears; the fear of failure, of not being good enough, or of not knowing where you are going. Well I say smite that fear! Smite it until it is smitten! Or rather, harness that energy and flip it into something else.

Like any obstacle, it can be beaten, nay destroyed!

I smite thee!

I smite thee!

Switch Subjects

Changing tac is a great way to take some pressure off of you and give your brain a chance to switch gears. Are you a fan of ancient Greek History? Why not summarise a favourite passage of text regarding an aspect of that part of history. If you’re struggling to write a sci-fi story, why not try writing a quick horror piece instead?

The idea is to trick your brain. It will either see how hard something else is and settle into your original topic much easier, or by getting a start on writing something else, you can switch back to the original topic and watch the words flow!

Behold the power of my words!

Behold; the power of my words!

Flex

This can be anything from taking a walk to 100 stomach crunches. The trick is to do something that gets the blood pumping and forces you to focus on something else for a while. Kurt Vonnegut liked to do exercises like push ups and sit ups during his writing time so as to keep himself disciplined. Many authors preach the benefits of yoga on focusing the mind and getting the blood flowing.

According to TheTelegraph.com, Dan Brown likes to hang himself upside down from gravity boots! Go ahead, try it. We’ll wait.

In the end, you just want to find something that gets you moving. Anything. Fencing, amateur gymnastic, pole vault or even sex, find a way of getting your heart rate up.

“Writing really takes it out of you”

Do Something Dull

Wash the dishes, brush your hair, feed the cat, clean the fan, polish your shoes… it could be anything, so long as it’s dull and it’s easy. Some of the best ideas seem to come when you’re in the shower, as that is when your brain runs on autopilot and you can focus on being a little creative, just like the above tasks!

Obviously, don't over do it and bore yourself!

“This is how I get all my best ideas”

Get Your Hobby On

You must find something to do that isn’t linked to writing or reading. I know, I know. What else is there, right? You might enjoy carpentry (or simple whittling), kazoo, lion taming or LARPing. Whatever brings you joy outside of the world of words offers you a great break from your writing, and you should come back refreshed and revitalised, perhaps even with a fresh perspective and a ton of new ideas.

“As long as it’s gnarly, bro”

Change the Timings

Sometimes, it can be a simple matter of trying to write at the wrong time. I am a personal fan of the morning write, and many great authors were too. Hemingway used to believe that writing was the most important task of the day, and should therefore be done first, often rising as early as 5am. Of course, maybe your schedule requires a late night write, or afternoon scribbles. Change it up, check the results.

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Freestyle

Literally, write anything. Write new words, structure sentences so they become nonsense, hit the keyboard with different parts of your body and see what words are formed. This is a great way to give you a feeling of comfort and familiarity at the keys, but also so you can see an empty page fill up (and remember that feeling of progress).

I normally sit and write out everything in my head for fifteen minutes straight, and then delete it. Once I’ve cleared the pipes of the mould and mildew, I’m ready for the good stuff to flow!

Plumb the depths of your creativity... (ok, no more puns)

Plumb the depths of your creativity… (ok, no more puns)

Get Superstitious, Baby!

Now, I’m not talking about blood sacrifice or chanting (though, by all means, I’m open to creative approaches to superstition too), but something a little smaller, such as wearing your lucky shorts or drinking a certain drink. According to TheTelegraph.com:

“Some writers find that they can only write in particular circumstances. Philip Pullman needs a ballpoint pen and lined A4 paper with two holes in it. Two. Not Four. Stephen King on the other hand starts his day with vitamins and tea before sitting down to write at exactly 8am. He needs to have the papers on his desk arranged in precisely the same way.”

Sometimes we can train ourselves to be most productive by giving ourselves certain mental cues. It can’t hurt to try.

Whatever gets you in the zone

Whatever gets you in the zone

Read, read, read (and read)

Like an apprentice sculptor watching a master at work, you will get better just by being around such greats. Bury your nose in some classics, or churn through some schlock rubbish; it all matters. Read what you love, read what you hate. Read books by men, by women and by children. Read books about cats and books about dragons. Read in your genre and outside it. Read fiction and non-fiction. Everything will make you a batter writer. Everything. Whether it’s the instinct inside you to try to emulate the legends, or just an annoyance at a story written so poorly it hurts, you will find some form of fuel in there that will help your writing grow.

“See Emma, Gandalf does die”

Copywork

Why stop at reading, when you can full on plagiarise! We wrote before (here) about the benefits of using copywork as a warm up exercise before writing, but it can also be a fruitful way of battling writer’s block.

Essentially, you just copy parts of other’s work (making it gradually more difficult by forcing yourself to remember greater and greater amounts) and see how your remembered sentences compare to that of the original author. Some say it’s outdated, some say it’s fantastic. Whatever the case, it definitely gets you writing! Just don’t actually use other people’s work in your writing as that is stealing!

“Huh?”

Try Short Prompts

Sometimes, writer’s block comes from a place of intimidation at the overwhelming size of a task ahead of you. So start small. Give yourself little prompts that shouldn’t take you more than five minutes. You should write solidly for a short period of time, and then read back through. Some ideas:

  • What went through your mother’s head when she found out she was pregnant with you
  • Explain the colour red to an alien
  • Describe a photograph you have
  • Talk about a time you did something scary
  • Describe the ending of your favourite film

There are lots for you to choose from. WordPress has it’s own Daily Prompt site here, or even this one at Writer’s Digest. For those on Twitter, a simple search will bring up hundreds (literally) of writing prompt accounts to follow.

“I’ll give you writer’s block!”

Look Back

That’s right, stand on the precipice of writer’s block and turn back to look for work from your past. Stare into the eyes of old characters you have and immerse yourself in old scenes you’ve written. Sometimes it can be a cringefest to rummage through writing from your younger years, but sometimes this writing can give you a wealth of stimulus for new scratching. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start editing as you go and voila – you’re writing again! You never know what you’ll find…

“Monsters, Magic and Twinkies”

Change the Setting

I have a writing area set up in my apartment, while some writers prefer the company of others and so set up shop in a cafe or library. Wherever you write, perhaps experiment with writing in an unfamiliar location that has many aspects that are opposite to where you sit now. In fact, just simply not sitting might do you the world of good. You could try converting your desk into a standing desk, as sitting is actually really bad for us. The Art of Manliness has a great post here on how to set this up properly.

“I always stand when I create!”

Wander in Wonderment

This could be in a bookshop, in a library, a museum or even just your local community centre. They key is, you want to go somewhere that has an energy and also a little ambiance, and can give you the chance to occupy your mind with casual browsing.

After you’ve wandered for a time, you should start to feel ideas coming back to you. If this doesn’t happen, perhaps be a little more forceful with yourself and start to look for ideas. The bad ones may come thick and fast at first, but wading through these you will always lead to something better that you can build on. Challenge yourself to have five to ten new ideas before you are allowed to leave. If you really enjoy yourself, perhaps flesh them out with more detail (a character’s appearance, a hero’s monologue, a villain’s trait).

“How many good ideas I’ve had this week”

There are myriad things to try of course, so above is not supposed to be a definitive list of them all. What do you try? I have a friend who is obsessed with silence, and so uses ‘pink noise’ (like white noise but a lower frequency) recordings on YouTube to block her ears. I have another friend who believes in caffeine as the paramount stimulus, and so doesn’t even think about writing before having three cups of coffee…

Special thanks to Ambro, Apolonia, Chaiwat, criminalatt, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, phasinphoto, photostock, porbital, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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11 thoughts on “13 Tips for Smashing Writer’s Block

  1. Nice list there, IQ! I’m fortunate not to suffer from it very often, but when I do I find that reading for a while gets me back into my own writing pretty quickly. I also have a good half dozen different pieces on the go at the same time (but just one as the main priority), so switching to another piece works as well.

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    • That’s a good way of keeping yourself busy, and I am similar in keeping multiple projects on the go at once. And reading cures pretty much everything, doesn’t it? 🙂

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  2. Great post. I especially agree with the idea of doing push ups or something physical to get the blood moving. And this,” I normally sit and write out everything in my head for fifteen minutes straight, and then delete it. Once I’ve cleared the pipes of the mould and mildew, I’m ready for the good stuff to flow!” is just such a killer point and a good idea!

    I also think this “slop pile” may have a lot of good stuff. Kick it to the blog and let it ride, stream of consciousness type thinking, or its a first draft of a future work.

    It’a great to celebrate and analyze the creative power itself. I also love how all these tips apply to being a positive, thinking person, an actualizer of dreams if you will. And would be helpful for anyone battling depression, and other life issues. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a pretty cool idea, the slips bucket. It could be its own little feature: The Sloppy Quill. I think I might give it a try! 😀 I’d never thought about applying writer’s block techniques to other life challenges, but I think that is a wonderful way to look at things! Thanks for your comment

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  3. Excellent ideas! Here are 4 more: 1. Give your subconscious the assignment of figuring out the next part. Before you go to sleep, or as you start a brainless task, remind yourself that you need to figure out how you’re going to get around your blockage. 2. Do something mindless. I agree with amcmclin914 that doing something physical helps, but I prefer something you don’t really have to think about, like ironing or walking. 3. Or if you are in a boring environment, like a doctor’s waiting room, instead of reading the collection of antique magazines, think about improbable next steps for your WIP–maybe your 1800s character witnesses an alien spaceship crash. Or maybe the next chapter in your economics book should be about the history of tic-tac-toe. Don’t knock it–I get usable ideas sometimes. 4. If your problem is that you can’t figure out what happens next, try jumping ahead. Maybe you know how the story is going to end–write that, and what happens may give you clues about how to get there. Or maybe you know what the next-to-last chapter of your book needs to cover, but you just can’t make progress on chapter five. Go ahead and write out of sequence.

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    • Some great ideas Andrea, thanks for expanding on things mentioned in the post. Though I’d already covered some of it, it’s always nice to hear another’s approach to similar ideas. The subconscious one especially gives me food for thought, as it’s already an approach I take the night before I am to hold training modules. Applying it to writer’s block seems like a novel way of tagging in your sidekick (your subconscious or other you). Nice one

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  4. A great post! We always need these little reminders of what we can do to power through writer’s block when it inevitably happens to us.

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  6. Okay, Itchy! These are great tips—and so many of them! So thank you for that. I must also say that—-as nerve-wracking as writer’s block can be, sometimes my brain needs to NOT BE WORKING ON WRITING! It needs something that is not words; it needs not to be on assignment. Risky, but true!

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