Tips and Tricks For Overcoming Writer's Block

by WiseFool

All writers, at one time or another, have suffered the frustration of what feels like a complete creative drought. Read on, to find out how to beat writer's block.

First described by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in 1947, writer’s block is, as the term suggests, a period of time in which a writer finds it temporarily difficult, or impossible, to write.

Writer’s block may manifest itself as a blip during a piece of writing; a feeling of becoming stuck and not knowing what to do next, or it can be that a writer has trouble starting a new piece of work.

The exact cause of writer’s block is unknown, but its existence has been well documented by numerous great authors throughout history, including F. Scott Fitzgerald. The frustrated feeling is something that the vast majority of writers experience at some time in their careers, so the real question is: how do you overcome writer’s block?

The Dreaded Block

Does it happen to everyone?

Whenever I’m experiencing writer’s block, I always think of the scene from The Golden Girls (on the right) in which, Blanche, after deciding to become an author, finds it is not as easy as she first thought.

I’m fairly certain that all writers, whether they’re journalists, authors or article marketers, have experienced writer’s block, although please feel free to correct me. And I don’t feel it’s an infliction exclusive to writers, either. Admittedly, I’ve never heard of artist’s block or biochemist’s block - but, I’m sure all professions have that stymied feeling from time to time.

The good news, though, is that there are many ways to overcome writer’s block and get your creative juices flowing freely once again. Here are a just a handful of them…

The Golden Girls

Blanche Has Writer's Block

1. Get Out!

Don’t just sit there

Unlike Blanche (and Sophia), don’t just sit there hour after hour. If you’re really feeling frustrated and are out of creative ideas, sitting at a bright, white computer screen, which we both know is mocking you, or staring at a wall in the hope that divine inspiration will come, simply won't help - get away from it for a brief period.

Take the dog for a walk, or go walking alone. If it’s raining or cold outside, just head to the kitchen and make a cup of tea or coffee. Do something other than sitting and staring into space. In my experience, ideas come when I least expect them to, when I’m in the shower or driving my car; at times when it’s not so convenient to jot the idea down!

Nevertheless, the point is, your muse will come back to you and she’ll probably drop something in your lap, but she’s unlikely to do it when you're fixating on a blank screen.

2. Exercise Your Mind

Try word games or puzzles

You can’t expect to run down the road, let alone complete a marathon, if you don’t keep your body active and it’s very much the same with your mind.

It’s the same old story, use it or lose it.

That’s not to say that people who suffer from writer’s block are not keeping their minds active, but word games, in particular, can be very helpful. Sit and wrangle with a crossword or stand by the fridge and play with your magentic poetry kit, see what ideas pop into your brain.

If nothing else, a particular word or phrase may jump out at you, and you’d be surprised just how much you can build around a single word.

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3. Keep Writing!

Time Spent Writing is Never Wasted

When writer’s block strikes, it’s not necessarily a case of you not being able to write anything. It may be a simple case of what you are writing is not very good. Alternatively, you might have something niggling at the back of your head, which is completely irrelevant to what you're currently working on.

In either case, keep writing! If it’s a half -formed idea, scribble it down and put it to one side. If what you’re writing is not your best work, get it down anyway - it can be salvaged at a later date. The worst thing you can do is stop.

The great Stephen King often has half-baked ideas while he's writing his novels. These ideas get pencilled on a piece of paper and slung in a drawer. Later, these snippets of scribble become short stories or even ideas for further novels. So, as long as you’re writing, you’re never wasting your time.

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4. Go Back to The Old Fashioned Way

Use a pen and paper

Sometimes, there is nothing more intimidating than a glaring, empty, white word document on your computer screen. At times like these, you may find a reprieve from your writer’s block in going back to the ‘old fashioned’ way of writing.  Yes, that’s right, pen and paper!

In fact, a great number of authors prefer to write longhand, then type their work onto a computer at a later date. You might not want to go the whole hog and pen, quite literally, your epic novel. However, when it comes to sketching out a plan or storyboarding your creative work, you may find it extremely helpful.

Another quick tip, if you find white paper intimidating too, don’t use it. Get yourself some brightly coloured paper instead, you may well discover that it’s much easier to break that blank page when it looks less Spartan.

5. Avoid Distractions

Don’t feed the procrastination

I think a tendency to procrastinate is a universal facet of being human. Again, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. And, the truth is it’s easy to procrastinate, especially with our myriad of modern distractions.

If you’re suffering writer’s block, it’s incredibly tempting to just go and watch one episode of Judge Judy or Desperate Housewives. Oh and then of course, there’s that cake recipe you wanted to try, might as well give that a whirl now.

It might seem like a contradiction, after I said, 'getting away from your office or wherever you work' is a useful thing. However, there are good ways of inspiring creativity and bad ways. Actually, baking the cake is not necessarily a bad idea. Nevertheless, when it comes to your work space, it is a good idea to avoid distractions, such as the television or incessant background noise in the form of a radio.

Don’t get me wrong, some writers thrive in a noisy, gloriously busy atmosphere. However, if you’re experiencing writer’s block, don’t let procrastination make matters worse by preventing you from getting anything done.

6. Look Elsewhere For Inspiration

Ideas really are all around

While I personally don’t favour the noise of a background radio, I do like to listen to music sometimes, especially when I’m looking for inspiration. What do I mean? Well, when it comes to creative writing, you will often get stuck for ideas. Try listening to a few of your favourite songs, most of them tell a story - some more complete than others.

So, let’s take Rupert Holmes’ ‘Escape’ aka 'The Pina Colada Song’, it’s a fairly complete story, but we don’t know what happened before our lovers started lingering over the personal ads. How did they meet?

Another great way to exercise your creative side is to look at pictures. They can be any kind of picture, from famous portrait to a friend’s snap on Facebook. In either case, try to take a long look and create the story ‘behind’ the picture.

For example, the famous ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ (below) could tell dozens of stories. Start with the trivial stuff, what are the two men in caps (two from far left) talking about? What’s bare-chested guy got in his sandwich? Did his wife make it for him? What’s the man in the far right got in that bottle? Simple, inane things, but all can offer you a way of creating a miniature story, which can quite easily turn into more than a miniature story.

7. If All Else Fails, Read

Reading can be a wonderful tonic to the writer’s block afflicted

Yes, you may well say, “But, reading is a form of procrastination!” Well, yes and no. You see, reading, as long as what you’re reading is a good piece of literature, as opposed to the National Enquirer or Heat magazine, can be inspiring and it also enables you to keep learning. A writer should always be thirsty for knowledge; unfamiliar words, unusual ways of narrating a story, patterns that break from the traditional story arc.

Read something that you love, but not something that makes you feel completely inferior as a writer. For instance, if I’m experiencing writer’s block, I don’t find Shakespeare or the poetry of Sylvia Plath helpful, because, I’m not ashamed to admit, the pair of them intimidate the heck out of me. 

A good novel, on the other hand, may provide an interesting premise that I would have handled differently. Or there may be a character that is excellently written, but, if I had the chance to rewrite him or her, I would change them in some way. All of these things can give me inspiration for my own creative work.

Nobody said writing was easy, and writer’s block is just one of the things that makes writing the most unglamorous of ‘glamorous’ occupations. However, with the tips above, the block can be beaten!

More Creative Writing Tips

In most cases, characters are the heart and soul of your story. Despite the fact that they only exist in a make believe world, they must be ‘real’ to you and to your readers.
Exposition is important, and can even be vital, to your short story, novel or play. However, if handled incorrectly or clumsily, it can verge on painful for your reader.
There are many ways that a good story can be ruined, bad dialogue is one of them. So, what are the secrets to writing natural, captivating speech?
Updated: 05/19/2012, WiseFool
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WiseFool on 03/11/2012

Glad you found the article helpful, Katie. Although it seems like the most awful thing in the world while you're experiencing writer's block, I do think it's important to stay calm and remember it'll pass. As you say, perspective is important. Easier said than done sometimes, though. : )

katiem2 on 03/10/2012

That's an amazing picture of men breaking for lunch on the skyscraper. amazing. I get writers block, it seems to be a common condition of writers, nice knowing some very practical ways of overcoming writers block and more to the point realizing its not such a big deal and in fact one easily managed. I've learned to forget about what ever the piece is that has me blocked and move on to other things that will free my mind again. Thanks for the help putting this into prospective.

WiseFool on 03/10/2012

Thank you Vincent and Mladen. I'm really glad that you both found the article helpful. Vincent, I completely relate to your, "Bamm it comes back and I scribe like a dervish on fire." So strange, isn't it? You can be completely lost for words one moment, and the next, your hand (or typing fingers) can't move quickly enough to keep up with your brain. Mladen, I'm convinced all writers experience it, I've yet to meet one that hasn't - but maybe there is one out there!

Mladen on 03/09/2012

I believe we all have experienced this. It is really painful to watch blank piece of paper, or empty page on screen, while no idea is coming into our mind. Thank you for tips. You wrote useful article on the subject!

VincentMoore on 03/09/2012

Nicely done and thank you for all the tips. I like any writer will confess to having writers blocks every now and then. I am a poet so I have my mood swings and when they bombard me I have to put my quill down and go for a walk. If I leave my desk for a spell and let my mind wander in a different direction then I know my muse will come back to me. I have literally gone weeks without a word being laid down and then Bamm it comes back and I scribe like a dervish on fire. I will share this article for those writers like myself who will benefit from it.

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