Nine Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block
Writer’s block calls to mind the image of a wild-haired author at her desk, empty coffee cups littering the surface as she stares desperately at the blinking curser on a blank Word page. Her mind is as blank as the page she’s looking at, her ideas elusive.
It’s a painful image and one all writers would do almost anything to avoid…
But writer’s block can manifest in several forms. It can be characterized by a lack of motivation to write even though the writer feels creative. Or it can be the opposite, a strong will is present but the author doesn’t feel creative. A writer may find themselves blocked because of self-doubt or because they are simply too tired to write. Sometimes writers know the cause of their block, other times they’re clueless. Either way, it can be a distressing time!
(To learn more about the causes of writer’s block, visit: Writer's Block: Exploring the Cause and the Cure | Writers.com)
So, how can authors un-block writer’s block? What techniques can authors use to improve creative thinking and help themselves get back on track?
In this article, I explore nine ways to flush the block out your imagination plumbing and get you writing again.
Take a Break
If your brain is insisting on a break, why not listen? Take a break and do something else creative: read, draw, learn to knit! You’re writing mojo will return after some R&R.
Make Writing a Habit
If a short break hasn’t worked, or you want to get back writing now, now, now! Then prioritize yourself. Think about your writing process. Great creative minds emphasize the importance of a dedicated writing place but also the need for dedicated time. Make writing part of your daily routine, and if creative ideas won’t come right away, use the time to complete the writing exercises towards the end of this article. And when you start to type, leave the analytical brain behind. It doesn’t matter if your writing is any good at this stage – you simply need to write.
Biophilia: Creative Connection to Nature
Improving your writing environment might help your ideas start flowing: I read in an article recently about the Psychological Benefits of Keeping Indoor Plants in Your Home | Discover Magazine. As a huge plant lover (my house is akin to a jungle), I wasn’t surprised that keeping plants inside the home reduces stress and has a wide range of mental health benefits including boosting optimism and happiness. What did surprise me is that people spend on average 85% of their lives indoors.
The pandemic has certainly brought home the importance of immersing oneself in nature, whether that’s sitting in a garden, walking around the bock, or taking a trip to the park. Snowdon (a mountain range close to where Iive) has been all over the news this year because it’s had far more visitors than the place can cope with. People want fresh air; they want to reset their mind – and nature helps do that.
Combine the above statistic with the Snowdon news story and any writer without a sea view or a mountain on their doorstep should realize that they need to bring the outdoors indoors. And the answer is house plants.
Discover Magazine’s article goes on to explain that: “Almost seventy-five percent of respondents [of 4,000] noted that their plants had improved their outlook during the pandemic. Fifty-five percent even wished they had more plants to care for, while sixty-three percent found these benefits so useful that they wanted to spend more time caring for their plants once the pandemic ended.”
Looking after plants is an excellent mindfulness activity; caring for plants not only calms you, it has been proven to improve concentration and attention span. Because they alleviate stress and improve mood (both of which hinder creativity), they also boost your imagination.
Office spaces across the world are embracing the concept of biophilia, a theory of design that recognizes that humans need to feel connected to nature. If multi-million corporations think their workers need access to green spaces to be creative and productive, then you should too.
But what if you don’t have a green thumb? Good news! Including other natural elements within the design of your home can still boost creativity by fifteen percent, so place a vase of flowers on your desk, or position your desk near a window so you can see outside. You could also invest in a great land or seascape, or in some of that fancy leaf wallpaper. Looking at nature can be enough to boost creativity, you don’t have to become a botanist…
Write Early in the Morning
Until I read an article in the Writer’s Digest, I thought writing early was just a preference of mine, now I see it has scientific grounds! When you wake up early, your brain is still in the Theta mode - dream mode. If your usual writing time isn’t working for you, set that alarm clock and give this a try.
To read more about sleep and creativity read this article/creativity boost blog:
Forget Word Count
A barrier to creativity is focusing on the end result and for writers this is the finished novel, or a word count deadline. Fear of failure also quashes creativity.
I’m a regular on Instagram, and I frequently see posts about word count targets. These posts are littered with questions about time needed to write x thousand words, or comments about x thousand written and x thousand to go before bedtime. They all sound very stressed.
While I’m sure these word pressure targets work for some, they leave me in a cold sweat. I can’t think of anything as anti-creativity as a pressurized word count. Sure, the competitive environment might make you sit at your desk and bash away at the keys, but will what you write be any good?
I’d rather have two hundred words that move the reader than three thousand that leave them cold.
I fear that the pressure of a word count deadline would actively shrink my creativity into nothingness. I write because I love it, it’s fun. Typing against the clock to hit a word deadline seems the antithesis of the reason I write – for pleasure.
If you’re reading this and you’re trying to write to a word count and you’ve become all clogged up, I suggest backing away from word counting as though it’s a dangerous beast. Spend today on one of the creative exercises below and approach your writing time tomorrow with a different attitude… fun.
Don’t Force Yourself into Linear Thinking
I’m a firm believer in writing what I want, when I want. The first part of The Guardians’ Trust series I wrote was the end of book one. In a series of seventeen, six are published, two more are signed for, but all of the remaining books are started and lie in various stages of completion. Indeed, I wrote book eight, before I’d finished book seven.
I imagine my non-linear approach will fill many authors, or would be authors, with horror. Surely, you write one book at a time? Surely, you finish writing a book before you go onto the next one? But here’s the problem: the creative mind wants what the creative mind wants.
In a previous article about ways to boost creativity, I argued that when your creative brain wants a break you should listen and you should pursue other creative activities for a while. The same is true when your creative brain is fully engaged and wants to roll in a different direction to what you imagine it should be imagining. This divergence of thought is precious. The idea might turn out to be nothing, or it could be several chapters of pure gold. Whatever you imagination wants you to get down, write it. You will be glad you did, because if you put it off, when you turn your attention back to it, you will find that it’s gone - and likely forever!
Firstly, good old-fashioned exercise. Take a walk, go for a run, join a yoga class. Everyone knows about the physical and mental health benefits of exercising so I won’t bore you here.
Secondly, creative exercises. These are mental exercises designed to help your ability to be creative. Time: 10-20 mins per day, whatever is workable for you.
From what I’ve read, these come in so many shapes and forms you probably already do some of them without even realizing. Coloring, jigsaws, knitting – anything that takes creativity and thought. You can also try completing a task with your non-dominant hand. Definitely a way to wake up sleepy parts of your brain! Below I run through art and writing creative exercises you might like to try.
Art Exercises: One I quite like is ‘finish the picture’. This is a technique invented by Ellis Paul Torrance in the 1960s. It involves a blank piece of paper with a partial line on it and you have to finish the picture. Simply Google ‘finish the picture’ and you’ll get hundreds of images to work on. Interestingly, these are often linked to primary school resources – creative children for whom a box is a rocket and who don’t fear looking foolish as they create!
You can find examples of this technique and more doodle creative activities here: 7 Fun Exercises to Quickly Improve Creative Thinking | Artwork Archive
Freewriting is another way t get your creativity flowing. The same timeframe applies. Write for 10-15 minutes about whatever comes to mind. Write freely, without sensor and without thought to punctuation. Remember the child with the rocket box? Channel her creativity and leave self-consciousness behind!
Journal or Dream Diary: before bed/first thing in the morning record your thoughts or dreams. The process might help your creative-self begin to cooperate again.
‘I want to write because…’ Another simple exercise is to complete this sentence. It will help you focus back on why you write, what you enjoy about it – hopefully reminding you that focussing on the end result, or possible failure, are barriers to creativity.
Take a Writing Course
Writing courses are a great way to boost creativity and get you motivated. While you might not be working on your project, a writing course will get you flexing those creative muscles and may just give you your imaginative spark back. They are also great ways to explore written materials created by others. It has long been established that great writers are great readers.
Reach Out to the Writing Community
Writing can be a very solitary profession but you don’t need to suffer in silence. Reach out on social media. Join a Facebook writer’s group, or interact with other writers in Instagram. If you aren’t sure where to start check out the hashtags #writingcommunity #writerssupportingwriters and #indieauthor
And this leads me back to my purpose in writing this article. Charles Burkowski said, “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” This blog is my creative exercise to try and wake my slumbering creativity. I know why I’m blocked. A busy life, Covid-19, the run up to Christmas, and issues at home have left me mentally exhausted and my creativity sapped. I’ve taken a break, but now it’s time to dust off my creative self and get back to work! Today blog writing, tomorrow back to my WIP!
Here are a few links to posts that might help you hone your craft:
You can find further ways to develop your creativity here: 17 Ways to Develop Your Creativity (verywellmind.com)