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Tips For Beating Writer's Block

Updated on April 22, 2011
Illustration by E. A. Wright
Illustration by E. A. Wright

Understanding writer's block

Writer's block is often caused by a mounting fear that what you write won't be good enough.

You worry that maybe readers won't like what you have to say, or how you say it. You worry that even you won't like what you write. You worry that you will have no readers at all.

The fear and doubt builds up. Some deep, dark and slightly irrational corner of your mind picks up on these thoughts and runs with them, trying to save the day. If you write nothing, the reasoning goes, nothing bad will be written. Pride saved; problem solved. And so a case of writer's block is born, as a blunt and unwelcome self-preservation device.

To beat writer's block, just relax.

  • Write just to write, just to string words together. Do this for half an hour; longer if you can stand it. Don't judge yourself. Don't analyze. And unless you absolutely have to, don't rush to publish. Give your writing some time and space. Give your mind credit for sensing you might be having an off day. 
  • Later on, when your emotions are more settled, you can go back and assess whether your ideas and execution met your own standards. You can then tweak your work, vastly revise it, or totally scrap it.

Curing writer's block when the clock is ticking

When facing a deadline, no amount of warm-and-fuzzy, get-your-head-in-the-right-place advice will work in time.

Here's how to crank out the words:

  • Take a minute to look back at some of your past work as a reminder of what you can accomplish. You can write. You have proof that the task at hand is far from impossible.
  • View what you have to write as work, not art. Allow yourself to think of your writing as an onerous task, just like weeding thistles or scrubbing grime out of a toilet.Take the assignment you've been dreading and approach it as you would one of those chores. Grit your teeth, get in, get it done, get out.
  • Adopting this attitude from time to time does not make you a bad writer or a mercenary. And even if writing is only a hobby for you, no one will force you to give it up just because you admit hat you don't love every minute of it. If you want to improve, there will be days when you have to work through your blocks. (Say, if you're holding yourself to a Hub Challenge timetable.)

When the blank page is the block

Sometimes, writer's block is more than a fear that you won't be able to write well on some specific project.

You may be in the mood to write, but your fear is that you have no good ideas, and that you don't know how to think of any. You worry that you may never have a good idea again.

Here are a few tricks for brainstorming:

  • Conjure a strong emotion. Think of someone you love or hate, or a time you were scared to death. Write from that vivid mental image you now have, and from the related experiences. Maybe you once had an ornery co-worker. Relive the agony, and now you have some groan-worthy stories and (hopefully) some coping strategies to share.
  • Focus on your areas of expertise. How-to articles are a good fallback, if you write about something you do regularly. Just narrate the task. No deep thoughts involved.
  • Give yourself permission to take a break. If you've been writing, writing, writing, and suddenly feel drained of ideas, take a few days off. A break isn't the same as quitting. While you're on a break from writing, spend time coming up with a plan for how and when to get caught up with your original writing goals. (Say, plan to spend two hours writing Thursday night after dinner, passing up a movie or a run that day.)
  • Take time to soak in new material, new experiences, new places, new scenery. On days you write less, read more. Your mind needs regular inspiration from others' creativity.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics)

The essay "On Keeping a Notebook" is found in this collection.


Preventing future attacks of writer's block

Consider keeping an informal journal full of snippets of overheard conversations, experiences and interesting articles you've come across.

  • If looking for some inspiration — and reassurance that mere bits and scraps of thoughts will do — read "On Keeping a Notebook," an essay by Joan Didion.
  • Your notebook could be a journal you keep with ink and paper. Or, just as easily, your journal could be in the form of a pile of links and random text files stored in the innards of your computer.

With time, you'll find your journal a reliable collection of ideas to turn to when the urge to write strikes, but good ideas seem to escape you.

What do you do when you're trying to write, but you're stuck?

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    • funmontrealgirl profile image

      funmontrealgirl 6 years ago from Montreal

      Cool hub. Something to ponder upon when experiencing writer's block.

    • Bredavies profile image

      Bredavies 8 years ago

      I need to bookmark this.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      This is just what I needed to read tonight! Thanks!

    • profile image

      Ghost32 8 years ago

      The tips for curing writer's block are all good. My favorite is, "Write just to write, just to string words together." For me, that one works even when nothing else will.

      It's a clear parallel to the story about an apprentice to a master sculptor. When the student told the master one day that he couldn't think what to make, he was advised, "Make a pile of chips."

      Or, as the sales training folks preach, ACF: Action Cures Fear.