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We’ve all been there. That moment when we stare at the screen, our fingers on the keyboard, and the words just aren’t flowing. They aren’t even making an appearance. A lot of the time the feeling is short-lived and after a cup of tea or a chat with a friend, we’re back on the keyboard writing away. But other times it’s something bigger. It’s the dreaded writer’s block and it needs more attention than just a walk around the block.
Writer’s Block is no joke and when it happens, it feels like there is no end to it.
If you are in the midst of it or have had it happen before, we feel you. In this article, we’ve put together some tips on how professional writers deal with writer’s block. We’ve got real-life actions that help and actually work.
What is Writer’s Block
Just in case you need reminding, writer’s block is a predicament which affects writers. It’s the paralyzing feeling that you just can’t write, that there is nothing to write about, that you have no ideas, or that you are incapable of writing well. If the writer’s block is really intense it can last for much longer than a busy writing schedule will permit.
What Causes Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is essentially a psychological phenomenon. Therefore it doesn’t really depend on how talented a writer is but more on their self-confidence and self-esteem. Imposter Syndrome, for example, is a huge catalyst for writer’s block. The main reasons which cause writer’s block are:
When a fear of failure sets in, a feeling of not being good enough, it can be really easy to slip into writer’s block. Fear takes over to make you believe that the fears are true. Fears like, not being able to get better writing jobs, that your book won’t be published, or that no one will read your stories.
Procrastination is a common situation where you put things off for later. Falling into a procrastination cycle can quite easily turn into writer’s block if you aren’t careful. After a while, the task of writing will seem immense, so much work will have piled up that the job seems impossible. That’s when the block sets in and frustration rises.
It’s so easy to get distracted when you’re writing. Facebook is only a tab away from your document, the phone is right beside you notifying you of likes and comments. The more you get distracted, the more you lose the flow of words. Letting yourself get distracted only leads to procrastination which then leads to fear of never finishing and then, you guessed it, writer’s block.
Being a perfectionist is a wonderful character trait, but unfortunately for writers, it can get in the way of productivity. Moreso, if the perfectionism is preventing a regular stream of words, it can become frustrating. Do I need to tell you what happens with a frustrated writer? They are on the way to an uncomfortable bout of writer’s block.
Writer’s Block Can be Overcome With Some Preparation
Writer’s block can manifest in different ways. From not knowing how to finish a paragraph, to days of looking at the screen and not knowing how to start. The ultimate goal is to never let it get so bad that it paralyzes us for too long.
I know I painted a bleak picture above, but it doesn’t always have to end up the same way. There are things you can do to prepare for an eventual case of writer’s block. As well as things you can do to get yourself out of it. Since writer’s block is essentially based on your state of mind, it’s good to get to know yourself to a deeper level.
Below are some techniques which you can incorporate into your writer life. These will help to both avoid and get out of an episode of writer’s block.
Techniques to Overcome Momentary Writer’s Block while writing
You are writing a long article and suddenly you are stuck for what to say in the next paragraph. That is a common and minimal case of writer’s block. Get to know the techniques below so you can keep the writing going and not get stuck in a loop.
1. Ignore The Backspace Button
Stop editing as you write. Let’s say, for example, you are writing an article which needs a serious academic tone but you can’t think of a way to keep that going. Write it as you would say it normally and use a code to be able to find and edit later. Some writers use “in other words” or “IMOW – In My Own Words”. Sometimes just writing it out in your own words will help figure out the academic version later. If it’s not happening right there and then, you can keep writing and search for the term, “in other words” when you’re editing.
Another reason to stop using the backspace button is to not let the perfectionism monster get in the way. Let words come out however they want, you can always edit late. Don’t use the backspace button as a crutch for words that don’t make sense just yet.
2. Don’t Start at The Beginning
It’s so easy to get stuck on a piece of writing right at the start before any words are even on the page. Getting the intro perfect ion the first try is not necessary. If you can’t think of a good phrase to start a piece, then start with the middle, or even with the conclusion. It’s easier to start with a section you feel you have a better feel for or are more connected to. Use a personal anecdote that ties in with the piece you are writing. It might not make it to the final draft, but it will get your ideas flowing.
There is no rule to writing that says you have to start at A to get to Z, let yourself be free of that and write in whatever order feels comfortable. The second draft can then be put in proper order, some paragraphs might not even make it to the final draft. The process of ordering the paragraphs can inspire new ones to tie thoughts together.
3. Get rid of distractions
Stop getting distracted by things around you. Turn off the phone notifications and put it in a drawer. Don’t keep Facebook – or whichever social media you are most on – open on your computer. Close the door to the room where you work so that life doesn’t get in the way with small tasks like emptying the dishwasher when it pings that it’s done.
Try an app like Ommwriter where your screen turns into a peaceful background with inspiring music and all you can see are the words you’re writing. The keyboard clicks even have beautiful typewriter sounds.
Techniques to Overcome Momentary Writer’s Block Once It’s Set In
When all the negative factors get together and turn your writing process into a horrible quagmire of writer’s block, then it can be harder to get out of it. It’s no longer about how to finish the paragraph or how to word the intro, but more about feeling that you can’t write at all. When this happens, writer’s block is a real problem, especially if you write for a living. Thankfully there are things you can do to get yourself out of it.
These are the simple and easy ways you might have heard of to get rid of writer’s block:
- Go for a walk
- Take a shower
- Have a coffee
- Wash the dishes
- Talk to a friend
- Yell and curse
Doing any of these things might help if your writer’s block is not too bad. The basic idea is that they get you out of your own head at least for a little while. If these don’t work, then you need stronger medicine. Here are some techniques to implement in your daily writer life so a bad case of writer’s block can be taken care of at the root.
1. Start a Freewriting Practice
Freewriting is the practice of just getting words out without rules or expectations. The way you freewrite depends on what makes you feel comfortable and at peace. Some writers do morning pages inspired by Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way. Other writers keep a journal where they can simply write anything that comes into their mind at any moment of the day. Many writers use freewriting to get out of a rut while they are writing a novel or articles for work.
You don’t even need to read what you have written during a freewriting practice. The idea is not to create masterpieces, but to keep the writing flowing no matter what.
2. Set a Routine
Freewriting can be turned into a routine with morning pages practice. Other ways to set a routine is to separate some section of the day as the writing time. Choose a time when you know that life is less likely to get in the way. For example, early in the morning or while everyone is out of the house. If you work at home, let everyone know about the routine and that you’d appreciate them to respect your time.
After a while, having a routine will set your brain to know that you have to write at that time. This doesn’t mean that you have to write for work every time. You can also journal or maybe write a poem. The idea is to create expectation and a sense of importance.
Ironically though, if you have been using a routine for a while and writer’s block has come knocking anyway, then it’s time to change the routine.
3. Have Different Writing Spaces
Some writers love writing in the same spot every time, sometimes for years on end. Setting up a wonderfully comfortable and beautiful space for yourself can be really inspiring and help you get writing every time. But for some people, that monotony creates a sense of despair. If you fit in the second category then you need to switch it up as often as you need. Go to different coffee shops, libraries, and co-working spaces. All you need is your laptop and maybe a laptop stand if you want to feel more ergonomic.
Choose a writing companion, like a figurine or small toy. I write in coffee shops and always take my Chewbacca figurine. He stands next to my laptop and cheers me along.
4. Use Timers
Don’t write for hours without any breaks. If you are on a roll and you can’t stop, then, by all means, keep going, but as soon as you feel like your neck is hurting or you need to take a breather, step away from the computer. If you find yourself constantly going off in tangents with your writing because you don’t feel like you should stop, it might be a good idea to start using a timer.
There are a few positive reasons why you should use a timer. If it goes off and you don’t feel like you are done, stop anyway. You will have a thought fresh in your mind and while you make some coffee you can elaborate on it a little more. When you sit back down, the idea will be clearer. If you are not progressing as you’d like and the timer goes off, you will feel a sense of relief. You get another chance at the next session.
Don’t take breaks which are too long, especially if you have a set writing time. Take five to ten-minute breaks, enough to get some air and a drink.
5. Never Stop Writing
Writer’s block makes us believe that we can’t write. That is why the best medicine for it, is to write. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it really is true. How can you cut writer’s block at the root then? Never stop writing, ever. Write babble if you have to, it doesn’t matter. Do stream of consciousness writing, write with your eyes closed, write with markers on drawing paper, write lists, write silly poems. Don’t let writer’s block tell you that you aren’t good enough!
6. Go To Therapy
Last but not least, consider going to therapy. Writer’s block loves to prey on writer’s who have low self-esteem. As soon as we let writer’s block take over, it can be really difficult to get out and no matter what we do, the root of the problem is still there. Going to therapy can not only help a writer solve their deepest fears and traumas, but it can also give them more ideas to write about.
Writer’s block really is a thorn on the side for any writer, professional, amateur or hobbyist. It can affect novelists, content writers, and even copywriters. The trick is to know the triggers and avoid the usual suspects. Always be prepared and attack the problem head-on. Try not to fall into a cycle of procrastination and distractions. Like I said above, and what many writers will tell you, the best and most effective way to get rid of writer’s block is to keep writing. Good luck!
Featured image via Photoroyalty / shutterstock.com