Overcoming Writer’s Block

There is probably nothing more frustrating for a writer than to run out of things to write about. There is that feeling of complete frustration and the fact that no matter how much we want to, there is no inspirational story waiting at the end of your fingers.

Now at some point we all have space where we have to plan the next idea or blog post and that may involve staring at a blank sheet waiting to see where it leads. When you’re inspired to write, the ideas seem to flow almost effortlessly onto the page. However when writer’s block steps in, all that stops. So how can you get the inspiration flowing again, what are the tips and tracks of the writing trade?

Writer's Block - is it real or imaginary?

Writer’s Block – is it real or imaginary?

This article looks at some of the ways that you can free your writing creativity once again, read about;

  • The History of Writer’s Block
  • Problems that May Cause Writer’s Block
  • Strategies for Changing Your Environment
  • Purposeful Writing Techniques
  • Using Community Support
  • How to Feed the Creative Monster

History of Writer’s Block

Many famous writers have been associated with the term writer’s block as far back as 1805 with writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Other writers Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird) and Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man) have all had periods of no writing.

Although gaps in writing and the inability to produce other written works has been well documented, the actual term ‘Writer’s Block’ wasn’t officially used until 1947, by the psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler. However is it just a term for distraction and/or procrastination or is it possible that your ability to write just stops overnight?

Problems That May Cause Writer’s Block

As many writers will attest to writer’s block tends to present at odd times, such as near the end of a book, halfway through a poem, and part way through a novel as well as at the start of a project. Despite all the differences there does seem to be some agreement on the common reasons that writers give for not being able to continue with their writing. These often fall into one of three main reasons.

  • Fear that your work may not be good enough
  • Perfectionism – is another worry associated with the fear of the work not being accepted
  • Tiredness and stress – writing needs a creative space in your brain

There are also other reasons that may influence how much time and interest you decide to give to writing, which is perhaps not quite the same as having a block in writing. These can include;

  • Boredom – lack of interest in the subject matter, especially if it is a commissioned piece of work and not your own creation.
  • Too many distractions – media coverage of a previous novel, interviews etc.

So even if writer’s block per se might just be psychological barrier, what are the ways that you can use to overcome it?

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

There are a number of articles and posts that have been written with suggestions for overcoming writer’s block. The one I enjoy is Agatha Christie’s cure which was to eat apples in the bath (possibly inspired by her character Ariadne Oliver). In response to these and other suggestions I have compiled a few thoughts of my own, plus advice and tips from other writers and bloggers on this topic.

Whilst I was researching and reading on the topic one of things that I noticed, that was common to nearly all the suggestions, was the idea of distracting the brain and changing the stimulus. So with that in mind here are some of the ways that I use to become refocused and more inspirational in my writing.

  • Motivational Quotes

This is a common suggestion, which is often mentioned on posts about writer’s block. The advice is often to either read or use a quotation, or include one in a blog and write around it. 20 quotes to capture the magic of writing provides a number of motivational quotes by well known people. The idea of motivational and profound insights is to inspire creativity and reboot the brain back into a creative thinking space.

CS Lewis quote

  • Engage with Nature

The relaxing sound of the ocean, the birds whistling or even the wind blowing through your hair as you walk down the road. All of these things focus your brain on other issues and cause you to focus on the present moment.

This is true mindfulness, by just noting what is happening around you and focusing on something different to your own problems and worries. It helps to relax the body which also stills the mind and gives you a break.

  • Housework

This is not one of those suggestions you will ever see in a normal article on how to overcome writer’s block. But it falls into the same category of doing something that doesn’t require a lot of thought and which can be done automatically and repetitively. The brain is occupied but isn’t being stressed by the task in hand. You also get a sense of accomplishment after completing the small tasks which can also ease some of the underlying frustrations.

  • Coffee

Not necessarily a healthy solution but why does it appear to work? Well caffeine works by replacing the adenosine in your body that makes you feel sleepy. It attaches to the brain receptors and tells the brain you are wide awake, it also increases adrenaline and makes you feel in a better mood. However once the brain realises what’s happening it also responds meaning you need even more caffeine to stay awake and you begin to feel withdrawal effects including headaches if you start reducing the caffeine intake.

  • Writing Location

The writing location is a source of inspiration in itself. Some writers like to change their writing location fairly regularly, others need a rigid structure and the same place every day. I occasionally like to change locations but can’t always work at a desk. Sometimes I need to sit on the bed or sofa with my feet up and the laptop on my knee. Whereas other writers go to their favourite coffee shop or work outside.

Whatever way you work, if writer’s block sets in then perhaps this is a good time to change and provide a new motivational corner for yourself.

  • Change the Type of Writing

I am lucky in my work because I get to undertake a number of different writing tasks during the day. Sometimes I am blogging for my own sites, other times I have papers or research projects to work on. The writing block may be in one area of my work but I can still enjoy the pleasure of writing on other topics.

By moving about the work I can give my brain a rest and still write instead on other topics, before returning to the task that was causing the difficulty. Like the housework it also gives a sense of achievement which can help in overcoming any overall sense of frustration.

Purposeful Writing

One of the problems associated with this list of suggestions (above) is that many of the ideas can equally be used as different forms of procrastination and avoidance. Therefore there needs to be a purposeful approach to trying to restart your writing, especially if you are paid to write and need to complete work to a deadline.

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image found on Pinterest

Even if you can’t write about the topic in hand you can focus on other types of writing. The following approach has been adopted by some writers.

  1. Sit down at a desk (or other place) with a timer
  2. Set the timer for 30 minutes and when it starts just write about anything – including why you feel you cannot write
  3. Give yourself permission to sit and stare at the screen or paper and write nothing if that is what you feel like doing.
  4. After 30 minutes leave your work and take a break for 15 minutes, move around and go somewhere else.

 

Community Support

Sometimes writing can be a lonely and isolated job and that in itself can lead to stress and the inability to think creatively. One option is to link in with online groups or actual real people, that are working in the same area of work.

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Image found on disastermedics.org

An example of a forum or group support can be seen here at the wealthy affiliate discussion group on writer’s block. Members can share how they feel and even by engaging in this type of discussion you are writing and communicating again, which may help to start the writing and creating process once again.

Feed the Creative Monster Inside You

This article has looked at some of the ways in which writer’s block affects writers and the techniques that are often used by many writers to deal with it. However it is important to acknowledge that creativity like everything else needs to be fed and nourished. The better you can do this the more likely your ideas are to keep flowing.

So what do you need to do, well here is a list of some of the things that I find that I need to do to ensure the ideas are kept nourished.

photo of a flower

Expand your creative horizons – take up a new hobby or make time for an old interest

  1. Resting well including eating properly and taking plenty of breaks.
  2. Mindfulness – recognising and knowing when your brain needs a break and allowing it to take one.
  3. Replenishing your creative wonder–  by being exposed to new creations and alternative art forms
  4. Working on other types of projects – this stops boredom and also allows your brain to think over plot lines and other pieces of work in the background whilst working on something completely different.
  5. Writing about your own experiences – even if that is describing your present state and why you can’t write. These don’t have to be for an audience but you may decide to share your difficulties in a  blog post or on a forum site.
  6. Engaging in other creative past times– whether it is photography, or designing logos, changing your blog site appearance or knitting.
  7. Read what are other writers are writing about and see does that trigger other ideas for your own work.

These are some of the ideas that work for me, but what about yourself? How do you get out of the writer’s block or is it something you’ve never encountered? And if not what do you do to avoid getting into that state, is it anything mentioned above?

8 thoughts on “Overcoming Writer’s Block

  1. Riaz Shah

    Hey Marie,
    I’m having writer’s block as we speak and I’m not particularly happy about it. I tried working hard but the harder I work, the less creative I feel.

    Perhaps you’re right, taking a break must be what I need. Time to get out and have some time to myself and observe what they world has to offer!

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Riaz I’m sorry about the writer’s block and it is challenging place to be. A complete break is often very good, I personally have got into the habit of making sure I regularly walk the dog or muck out the horses (you might not want that one) but doing something physical that does’t require much thought often allows creative thoughts to flow – most of my blog thoughts come when I have a shovel rather than a pen in my hand!!

  2. Zoly

    Thanks for pointing me to this great article. I have read some notivational quotes today just before start writing, to prevent a blockage as every time i had one, and it worked. I will use more of these tips when i will have again a writer block.
    Thank you again!

    Reply
  3. Darren

    This is a great post that offers some very good tips on getting the creative juices flowing and overcoming writer’s block. I think engaging with nature is one of the best ones for clearing the mind and freeing up any stress you might have. You have offered up some rather unique ways to fire up the mind again. Just making yourself write something is one that pretty much words every time. Sometimes writer’s block can just be a matter of warming up for it, like we might stretch before playing sport or exercising. The brain needs to be woken up and warmed up too. Coffee is great for that. Enjoyed your post. Very well written with some excellent ideas.

    Reply
    1. admin

      Hi Darren thanks for your comments and yes I agree about needing to warm the brain up it sometimes does need a helping hand!. The more you write the easier it is as well, it becomes a habit then and you find that you almost have to write.

      I sometimes find that having a mix of different types of writing helps as well, because the brain can get over tired and a change can be as good as a break.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article – and feel free to share with others if you think they might benefit from the ideas, thanks, Marie

  4. Andres Santos

    Nice article. I think writer’s block hits us all at one point. It’s how you overcome it that’s important. You gave some really good tips on how to overcome it here. One thing that I do when I’m in a crunch to get an article posted on my blog and have nothing is do some content curation. There is nothing wrong with sharing someone else’s content. It’s actually helped come up with ideas also.

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi I agree content curation is very important on social media (retweeting and sharing) as well as your blog site. It also shows that you are knowledgeable about your subject area as well as giving yourself ideas about current topics that are interesting to your audience.

      I also use different software programmes to store material that could be used in other posts

      Managing Research Material

      as well as revamping and updating older posts as another way to improve content.

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