Breaking Down Writer’s Block
As a writer, sometimes you’re blessed with an inspirational streak where you can put thousands of words down without coming up once for air. Other times, you struggle to put five-word sentences together. That’s right: it’s writer’s block. When you hit a wall in your writing, it’s tempting to just give up the ghost on the whole project, but if you’ve already put in the effort to write down some of your thoughts, it seems a shame to let that work go to waste. Writer’s block is a common problem, but luckily, like any good problem, it’s one that can be solved.
Go Out of Order
No matter what we write—novels, magazine articles, academic papers—as writers, we have it in our heads that we must go from Point A to Point B to Point C in that order, but there’s nothing actually holding us to that. Remember that your audience only sees your final product; they’ll have no idea what journey you took to get there.
Struggling to finish a scene in your book but have another scene later on that you’re excited to get to? Write that one first. Can’t figure out the thesis on your college essay even though you know the arguments you want to make? Write your body paragraphs and then tackle your thesis when you have a better idea of the shape of your paper. Don’t know how to introduce an interviewee in your exclusive article but have a ton of great content to write up from the actual discussion? Well . . . you get the idea. If writer’s block is the result of getting stuck on what you can’t write, focus instead on what you can.
Let Your Mind Wander
I believe firmly that you can always have too much of a good thing, and that includes intense focus. Sometimes, the simple answer to writer’s block is to let yourself be distracted for a while. What works even better, however, is what I like to call “conscious breaks.” With a conscious break, you let your eyes and mind rest, while still keeping a soft focus on your writing goal.
Whether you watch an episode of a tv show, play a game, read a book, or simply daydream, letting your mind wander can open you to new ideas and writing solutions. This goes double if you consume other media with your own writing in mind. When you take a conscious break, examine how your own writing can be improved by examining the results of the work of other authors. Who knows? The key to finishing that sentence you’ve been stuck on for the last half hour may be to listen to Walter White monologue about meth for a while.
Your body and mind are part of the same machine. It stands to reason, therefore, that maintaining one part of the machine will help in the maintenance of the other, does it not?
Physical activity can help get your blood flowing in the right way to support your creative thinking process, but you need to make sure that it’s the right kind of physical activity. Exercise is a necessary part of keeping up with your body’s health, but when you’re trying to write, you want to be in the right state of mind. Avoid physical activity that pumps your body full of stress hormones like adrenaline; instead, try a few minutes yoga or tai chi to relax your mind and get those creative juices flowing.
And Now for Something Completely Different
Writing out of order is a great way to jumpstart the writing process, but sometimes you get stuck on an entire project. If you really find yourself struggling to make any progress on your current writing assignment, consider writing something completely different.
“But what if I can’t think of anything to write?” you ask. “What if that’s the form of my writer’s block in the first place?” To that I say, “No problem.” There’s a simple answer here: copy something else. Of course you should never publish plagiarized work, but the simple act of typing or penning words can lead to the right frame of mind to start producing your own work. I promise you the ghost of Charles Dickens won’t be angry if you retype the first page of A Tale of Two Cities as a way to warm up your own creative juices. Just be sure you don’t try to pass someone else’s work off as your own.
Energize – But Smartly
I will be frank with you: I’m not a coffee drinker. I grew up watching my caffeine-addicted mother and decided I wanted no part of that life. I can still acknowledge, however, that many people depend on coffee, tea, and other sources of caffeine to make it through their days. If you fall into this category, sacrificing caffeine for your writing won’t be doing you any favors, but neither will overindulging and overwhelming your brain.
If you need caffeine to fuel your creative fire, develop an intake schedule that works for you. A cup of coffee or strong tea about once every half hour should be enough to keep your fire fanned while not energizing your brain to the point of hopeless distraction.
Come Back Later
Worse comes to worse, the right answer may be to take a longer break from your project. The relationship you have with your writing should be as intimate as any romantic one, and sometimes you just need your space!
Writer’s block is a mental wall, but no wall lasts forever. With time, all walls crumble—faster if someone is making a concerted effort to break them down. Writer’s block sucks, for sure, but it’s not permanent. Take a project vacation and come back when you’re ready. You’ll know when the time is right.