You have finally some time for writing, yet now you find yourself staring blankly at your computer screen. You scan your brain for words and come up with...nothing. Ah, the frustrating inertia of writer's block!
It happens to almost every writer at some point and many successful authors, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka, Herman Melville and Leo Tolstoy (who reportedly sometimes couldn't write for months at a time), have suffered from writer’s block. Yet it's very existence continues to be highly contested, with many authors arguing that writer's block is simply an excuse for not writing. Others say it's another name for paralyzing self-doubt and anxiety. Regardless of how you define it, how do you start writing again when you have come to a standstill? We look at some of the best strategies around to get you moving again.
Start in the middle (or end)
Agonizing over the perfect opening line? Try skipping it and moving on with the next scene or the next chapter. You can start in the middle. Or begin with the ending. There is no rule that writing has to be linear and no-one is going to notice that you wrote the easiest scenes first and left those difficult chapters for later. Indeed, many authors prefer to write the middle and ending of the story first to guide the rest of the book.
Free writing is writing whatever comes into your mind. Want to give it a try? Sit at your desk, take a deep breath and clear your mind. Set a timer. Now write! Write whatever enters your head. Don’t overthink it. Write without regard for grammar, spelling or storyline. Keep writing until the timer runs out. Okay, maybe you now have a page of gibberish but the goal of free writing is to write without censoring yourself, free from inhibitions, doubt or self-consciousness. It’s a great way to vent your writing fears, hash out any half-baked ideas and write through your doubts.
Switch up your routine
A solid writing routine is a fantastic way to achieve your writing goals but every now and then you have to allow for a little inner rebellion. Change it up by writing in a different setting (try a café, a library or your local park). If you normally write in the mornings try an evening writing session. Switch off your computer and do some writing by hand. Plot out your story with a storyboard sketch or a mind-map. Sometimes a change in your work habits can help you get a different perspective.
Creative writing prompts, writing sprints or a short-story exercise can get those creative juices flowing again. These can be related to your story: interview a character, create a backstory, refine a setting or develop the themes in your work. Or you can try your hand at a completely different project: write some poetry, enter a short-story competition or journal your thoughts.
Step away from your desk
Often the solution is as simple as going for a walk. Spending time in nature can help alleviate anxiety and connect with the world outside. Daydream a little and free up your imagination rather than trying to force those words.
Reconnect with your creative muse
Taking a break may be the best thing you can do for your overworked mind. Get to work on something creative, draw, knit, scribble, bang a drum or redesign your living room. Take your mind off writing for a while then return to your desk with fresh eyes.
Ditch the perfectionism, forget about your readers for now and write purely for yourself. Write without editing and second-guessing. Give your mind time to wander and explore random ideas. Allow yourself to write badly. No one else has to see your writing unless you want to show them and the majority of authors have drawers full of poorly written manuscripts they would rather the world didn’t see.
Show up regardless
Often the best way out is through. As writer John Rogers says ‘You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.’ Turn up at your desk and write something, anything. You don’t have to have the story completely figured out or know where it is going. Just get some words down on the page. Often there is no magic trick to inspiration other than to keep writing until your writing improves.
Make writing enjoyable
Writing a book is a choice and of all the things you could be doing with your time you have chosen to write. Aim to begin each writing session with a feeling of anticipation rather than dread. Make your writing space a welcoming productive space to spend time in. You might want to add in a ritual such as making a coffee and lighting a candle before you begin. Write the book you want to write and celebrate each milestone. Do what works for you, whether that means playing head-banging rock as you brainstorm or filling your walls with writing quotes. This is your space and your time to write.
Find the cause of the block
Writer’s block can generally be attributed to a deeper problem: fear, perfectionism or a need for approval. Take some time to get to the root of your creative blockage. Are you censoring yourself for some reason? Is it about self-judgment or rejection from others? Is this a one-time block or a recurrent problem? Stopping to examine why you came to this standstill and facing the cause of the block proactively will help you avoid future cases of writer’s block.