One thing I get asked the most for is how to beat writer’s block. Unfortunately, it tends to have a complicated answer (at least it does one it comes from me). I think the best approach to writer’s block is going to depend a lot on your style, writing process, and the type of block you have. What I’d suggest if you have absolutely no idea what comes next in your story is going to be different than if you do know what comes next but can’t figure out how to get there.
But either way, writer’s block is essentially a mental block, so I put together my top seven tips to give your brain a break and find your way back to your work in progress. Try them individually, or mix and match to find the formula that works best to reignite your story!
1) Take a break
I think a lot of writer’s block related problems stem from being too close to your work. Time away can give you some distance and perspective.
I recommend watching TV, reading a book, spending time with friends and family, or do whatever you need to do to take your mind off your story. These activities not only give your mind something else to focus on, they may also give you some unexpected inspiration.
2) Go outside
Take a walk, spend the day in a park, or just take an hour to sit outside without your phone/computer/device. Studies have shown nature can help your mentality. This article from UC Berkeley speaks specifically to how nature can help with creativity in point #3. It even explains the science behind it, if that’s your kind of thing. The bottom line is that nature can help your brain recover from mental fatigue and a handful of other problems that tend to play a role in writer’s block.
3) Take the pressure off and free write
I suggest doing this with pen and paper–especially if you’re typing the book you’re writing. There’s something organic about writing by hand that seems to stimulate creativity–at least it does for me. Look at where you are in your story then try taking ten to fifteen minutes to imagine a different direction your project could go in and write about it. Then when that time is up, think of another new direction. Nothing is off limits and the more outlandish the better. If a direction seems so absurd to the point that you’re sure you absolutely won’t use it, write it down anyway! If it crosses your mind you should take the time to explore it. Even if the absurdity doesn’t make it into your book, you never know it might unlock in your mind.
Do this for as long as you need, but I would suggest at least an hour. When you’re finished, see if there are any ideas you like, or if there are a few you might want to combine.
4) Talk it out
If you know a fellow writer, critique partner, or friend who gets your work, give them a call and tell them where you’re at. I can’t tell you how many times one of my crit partners or my sister has solved my problems by either asking a question I hadn’t thought of or throwing out a “what if X happens?” type of question. I often spend more time explaining why I’m stuck than they spend fixing my issue. The power of a fresh perspective is real!
But! You have to be careful with this one! Make sure you’re talking to people who get your writing and get what you’re trying to do. You might have a friend who is a GREAT writer, but if they don’t get you and your stories they may end up making your problems worse. You need someone who will get you writing again and not feed into your block.
5) Give yourself permission to be incomplete and imperfect
In fact, give yourself permission to be down right terrible. One cause of writer’s block is often a need to get the story right. Sometimes it can be debilitating if you aren’t 100% sure what you’re writing is the right thing to write, or if you’re afraid you’re not conveying exactly what you’re trying to convey. This is your internal editor holding you back. It can be tough, but I recommend doing everything you can to push forward.
Tell yourself that it’s okay if what you’re writing is bad. It’s okay if what you’re writing is half developed. It’s okay if you skip scenes or chapters entirely. I’ve found that sometimes, you may also have to finish your story before you fully realize how to make the connection you’re looking for. If it helps, I have a critique partner who is famous for sending us pages with
If it helps, I also have a critique partner who is famous for sending pages with [insert exciting action scene here]. Sometimes, you just have to get from A to B. So do whatever you have to to keep writing. “Good” can come later. “Written” has to come first.
6) Work on another project for a little while
This is something that helps me A LOT. So much so that I almost always have two projects going at the same time. I’ve found that walking away from project #1 and putting my full focus on project #2 is one of the best ways to clear my brain of whatever issues were weighing project #1 down. Ninty percent of the time when I go back to my first project, I have a fresh perspective and a clearer head, and the problems practically resolve themselves.
I’ve operated this way since I was in grad school, but I’d never known anyone else to work this way until 2012 when I found this article detailing how Joss Whedon took a break from editing The Avengers to film Much Adu About Nothing. He calls it a creative shift.
7) Take a look at your writing process
If writer’s block is a recurring problem or a serious obstruction for you on a regular basis, then you might want to take a look at your process. It’s possible your problem is in your approach, not your work in progress.
I used to get seriously blocked–to the point that I wouldn’t write for months. But that really doesn’t happen to me anymore. I learned that I don’t do well when I have to think about the story and write the story at the same time. If I didn’t know what should happen next, I’d get stuck and stop writing. So now I plan everything before I write so I always know what happens next. It’s not a flawless system, but it’s enough to keep me going. If you notice a pattern or frequency in your blocks, take the time to understand the deeper process issue. Once you do, you can work to modify your process and avoid putting yourself in that situation.
I hope one of these strategies (or some combination of them) gets you going!
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Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with writer’s block? What helped you beat it? I want to hear about it in the comments! Or if you’re still struggling, share that too! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.