- Books, Literature, and Writing
10 Ways to Kill Writer's Block
How to write when you can't write
I am no expert in writing, but I can definitely claim intimate knowledge about writer's block. We go way back. And I mean waaaaaay back. To give you a very recent example, the idea for this article came to me when I was really trying to write about something else. But then it happened...
I stared and stared at the blank page in front of me and could not think of anything to write. So I started doing a few things that have helped me in this situation before, and suddenly - in the middle of a deep conversation with my teddy bear (see more about talking to inanimate objects below) I got the idea for this article instead and I set my other project aside for now.
Photo: This and all other photos in this article belong to me, unless otherwise specified.
You're not alone
Writer's block is a psychological barrier that simply hinders you in getting words down on paper. But it can be overcome. Try out some (or all) of the tips below, and take comfort in knowing that you are in good company. According to Wikipedia, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald ("The Great Gatsby") and cartoonist Charles M. Schultz ("Peanuts") have reputedly both struggled with writer's block.
Photo: This is my cat, Robin Hood, who comes with me everywhere. When he was a kitten he loved sitting by my desktop keyboard. His favourite game that age was hit-Mommy's-fingers-while-she-is-typing, but here he has fallen asleep with boredom. Not much typing going on when Mommy has writer's block...
#1: Skip it!
If you are writing something chronologically and get stuck, try skipping this particular part and jump ahead in time. Jump to something more interesting, something that you cannot wait to write. Maybe you even have a whole different project going on, or an idea for one? Take this time to get some work done on this, even if the deadline is not as close as the original. Some writers in fact prefer having more than one project going at once, to prevent boredom or simply to keep a fresh interest in what they are writing.
You can always come back to this part that you are struggling with now, and hopefully feeling refreshed and inspired.
For dummies - Because we all have got to start somewhere
Okay, I was really only going to include this for comic relief. "Writing for dummies, ha ha!" But when I started reading about it I realised I actually want this book. Have a look inside and you'll see what I mean.
From the Amazon preview it not only seems like a useful guide, but it is also well-written, as well as impressivley organised and easy to follow. It covers everything from strategic planning to polishing off the finished product.
105 five-star reviews says this is a book to keep in mind for people in need of a little inspiration and strategic help in their writing.
#2: Write anyway.
Write anything. Anything at all. Stream-of-consciousness writing can help you back on track. Find a piece of paper and a pen and write absolute nonsense, if you want. Make sure your pen does not leave the paper, this is the most important thing. Writing down what goes on in your head is like tricking the mind to write around your writer's block. This writing is for no one but yourself to see. You can even throw away the piece of paper without looking at it. The point is that you are writing.
Do you find it hard to even get started with this exercise? Write about what you see outside your window. Write about what you are wearing or what you wish you were wearing. Write about what you were just reading on the internet when you were supposed to write. Just write something. Write about how hard it is to write something.
Bonus tip: Be playful!
Yes, it is a toy. But what a fun toy!
This kit provides you with sixty exercise sticks divided between first sentences, a transition, and the climax of your story. There are so many different ways these stories can turn out, and they are brilliant to use as a starting point. There is also the Protagonist Wheel and the Sixth Sense deck of cards, not to mention four story wheels and a timer. You can sit down on your own and use the promts as inspiration, or you can even play it with others.
Set up as a game, The Writer's Toolbox is especially good for classroom writing - both for young and adult writers. Personally I found this toolbox while I was on vacation and could not really fit it in my already stuffed suitcase. I ended up giving some of my things to charity just so I could take this box home with me! And I have not regretted it. I have had hours of fun playng with it.
And the best part is that it reminds me of why I started writing in the first place: because it is fun!
Inside my Writer's Toolbox kit:
#3: Use magnetic poetry
Try playing around with words, using magnetic poetry. Or even cut some words out from a newspaper. Put them all together in a bowl and draw six words. Play around with them until you have a sentence, or six sentences, or more. Do not worry if they fit into what you are writing right now or not. Just play and see what comes up.
Or you can put the box next to the fridge and encourage your parents, room mate, partner, spouse, kids, or visiting friends to create something with them, which in turn might give you some inspiration. The clue is to have fun with words again, and to make writing feel less like a chore.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Steve A Johnson
Ahh, just the name - "Writer's remedy: The Cure for Writer's Block" - sounds reassuring. This is bottled magnetic medicine for writers in need!
Put encouraging messages to yourself on the fridge (for when you go looking for comfort food) or a magnetic board above your desk. Beware, if you leave the words out on you fridge, I promise that they will turn into an irresistible activity for the whole family.
#4: Keep a notebook with you at all times
Even when you sleep
Write ideas down as soon as you think of them. Do not think you will remember them later, because odds are you will only remember that you had a great idea - not what it was about. Imagine the bestseller you could have written if only you had a notebook with you when you thought of it!
My ideas often come to me late at night as I am about to fall asleep. Or I wake up in the middle of the night from a strange dream and think "That would make a good story." Many times I have thought I will remember these ideas in the morning, but I never have. Then I started keeping a notebook and a pen by the bed, and could write the ideas down right away. This notebook doubles as a dream journal, for those really memorable dreams.
My favourite notebooks from Amazon
Many opt for the unpretentious yet stylish notebooks by Moleskine, famously favoured by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. They come in a variety of sizes and colours, including little pocket sized books that are perfect for carrying around everywhere.
This is such a stunning notebook! The magnetic panel that folds over the front will help protecting the book when you keep it in your purse. Good quality paper with faint lines help you keep your writing neat (without lines my handwriting is terrible and all over the page).
#5: Word of the day
Treat yourself to a word of the day calendar, and decide to use that word in a sentence that day. You may end up not using all the sentences for anything in particular, but simply see it as a writing exercise to keep your creative juices flowing. Make it a fun challenge!
Sometimes just a simple word can set you off into a writing frenzy, either from the word itself or something that you associate with it. And if nothing else it might expand your vocabulary, which – especially for a writer – is never a bad thing.
Any calendar that includes the word higgledy-piggledy gets my vote! Keep it by your computer, and try not to look ahead. I dare you.
#6: Kill your inner editor
Yes, you will need your inner editor for the actual editing of your work, but right now all you really want is to get some words down on the paper or onto the screen. Going back to read what you have just written will make this sometimes-not-very-helpful voice in your head point out all spelling errors and logical problems. Rather than moving on and floating on your creative progress you end up spending your time perfecting what you have already written. But what you have already written is already there and will not go anywhere (assuming you back it up properly, which I really recommend doing). What you need right now is to keep moving and get the story going. Get the words down and come back and edit when your first draft is finish.
Fun and motivating - Which is really what we need, isn't it?
Chris Baty, the brain behind National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) - where thousands of people worldwide sign up to write a novel in 30 days - has written a book on how to do just that. This is a great guide to help you ignore that nagging voice of your inner editor and just. get. words. down. on. paper.
#7: Go for a walk
Walking is almost meditative when you are on your own. It relaxes your mind and body, and gives you some fresh input - not to mention fresh air (sitting for hours in a stuffy room staring at a blank page or an empty computer screen does nothing for your creativity). Exercise is good for you. It will help blood circulation and clear your mind. There is no end to the reasons why you should go for a walk!
But remember what I said before, about keeping a pen and notebook with you at all times. Imagine the stress of coming up with your best idea ever, and not have anything to write on! You do not necessarily have to actively look for something to write about, but if you do come up with something at least you can relax knowing that you have a way of writing it down where you are.
Photo: You never know what you might see on a walk around your neighbourhood. Something as seemingly insignificant as a shadow in a window can get your imagination going. I took this photo in Gertrude Street, Melbourne (Australia) on a late winter evening, and keep coming back to it for inspiration.
"Above all, do not loose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it."
~ Sren Kierkegaard
#8: Disconnect the Internet
Yes, I can see why you think having a little look at the internet might inspire you. Yes, I am sure creating a relevant folder on Pinterest and then pin everything that has even the smallest relation to what you are writing might help you. And yes, of course looking at funny cats who cannot spell is exactly what you need right now. But the truth is one never has a "little" look at the internet. You open the web browser in the name of research, and then find yourself looking at your friend's colleague's distant cousin's wedding photos on Facebook three hours later. I bet mindless browsing is why you are sitting here reading this article right now (get back to writing!).
#9: Talk to your teddy bear
No, I have not gone crazy. Well, no more than usual, anyway. If you are stuck trying to formulate a sentence or cannot come up with a way to explain something, this is the exercise for you. Find an inanimate object (any inanimate object will do, but I usually find it helpful talking to something with a face) and explain to him/ her/ it what it is that you are trying to say. Yes, it will make you feel silly, and no, the teddy bear will most likely not talk back (and if it does I do not think I can help you anymore), but suddenly you might discover that the words coming out of your mouth are exactly the words you wanted to write down.
However: I would not recommend trying to talk to your cat. Cats tend to look at you as though you are crazy and then walk away. You do not need that right now (yes, I speak from experience).
Photo used under Creative Commons from Teddy Delivery
How about a colourful plotbunny?
A "plot bunny" is an idea for a story which will not go away until written. It can lead you into a magic rabbit hole of unexpected ideas, but at least it will keep you writing. I think having an actual plot bunny sitting on my desk would make me very happy. Inspired, I mean. Inspired.
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." --John Steinbeck
#10: Change medium
If you use a computer, try writing on paper. If you are writing on paper try the computer. A change in medium can change the way you think of writing. Personally I find that when writing something with a pen on paper there seems to be a direct connection from my brain to my hand, and writing flows more easily. But a friend of mine claims the opposite as she says she types faster than hand writing and therefore is able to get her ideas down quicker when using a computer.
Or what about trying a typewriter? There is nothing like the loud clicking of the keys as the black ink is hammered onto white paper, is there?
This poster is available at Allposters.
Poll: Tell me about your writing habits
What is your medium of choice for writing?
There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don't allow yourself to become one of them.
~ Ralph Marston
Don't forget to share this with a poor struggling writer who might just be suffering right now.
And finally: what are your best tips for beating writer's block?