My Favorite Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block
Poised with my fingers above the keys in just the right places, the blinking cursor against the expanse of white taunts me. It dares me to give it something to say. Something worth being held in print.
Are you going to give me anything to say without making me take it back? What's the point? Why are we sitting here if you’ve got nothing to say?
Sighing, I leave our empty one sided conversation.
As a writer, I’m a little bit (a whole lot) over the notion that writers block isn’t real, and if I just planned everything out I wouldn’t have to worry about writers block at all. Every time someone says that I scream internally. There are far too many reasons why our creative pipes get clogged by writers block to boil it down to a lack of planning. And yes, sometimes it’s as simple as writing through it because sometimes the reason for the block is as simple as a story string out of place. Except most of the time it isn’t at all like a story string out of place.
The reasons for writers blocks are as vast as any blank endless page and vary from writer to writer. There is always too much of life happening to everyone to think writers block could be cured by simply having planned it out ahead of time. This is not to say planning things out doesn’t work, but you can’t always plan your way around a creative blockage or out of one.
If I listed all the reasons I’ve found myself creatively blocked over the years, staring at a word doc I’ve opened and closed a hundred times in an hour we’d be here all day. The reasons for my blockage generally fall into categories of overwhelm, anxiety, impostor syndrome, burn out, societal expectations and such. You name it, I’ve been held hostage by it.
If there’s anything I learned from it is that writers block is real and unavoidable and repetitive and it’s going to rear it’s critical fugly slut self whenever it sees fit and I’m not always going to see it coming. Instead, I’ve devised a list of things that usually help me clear the way for creativity. Or at least, get her out of bed and moving around a little.
When quarantine first hit, I got the first chance in a long time to fully participate in April’s Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which meant I got to focus on just my story writing for a full thirty days and I didn’t let myself work on anything else. Suffice to say this endeavor taught me a lot about my writing limits and my needs because it burned me clean out.
Camp had me writing and going at a really exciting pace and the different things I was trying in effort to readjust my writing routine kept it interesting enough that I didn’t even have thoughts of needing a break throughout the process, the momentum was taking care of me. Except no sooner Camp ended, I crashed and burned and I was too tired to put up a fight. I spent months away from writing, and instead started and almost finished Doom Eternal, started teaching myself how to draw, even bought a sewing machine, and redecorated my workspace before being able to return to the keyboard for any of my own projects.
After a while, the refilling of the well worked but then there was still a block.
I’d sit down and I didn’t know what to write. I’d wander around my WIP’s and either want to set fire to them or add a sentence here and there and stop looking at it for another few weeks. It was knowing that I wanted to work on my projects but the words being jammed up in the pipes and not knowing what to say or where to start saying it.
Eventually (obviously) I got the words flowing again, and I don’t know what finally cleared the pipes but I figured out some ways to get here and maybe hold off the next round of writer’s block for a while.
Now, I’m not saying all of my tips are going to work for you, or that you should do them all, or in a certain order or anything like that but I’m sharing my tricks for overcoming writers block and hopefully you can find something that works, something new to try, or what not to do (if that’s your thing).
Yes, I am telling you to write even though you’re here because you feel like you can’t but hear me out. Morning pages, or journaling if you want to just call it what it is, is pressure free and it’s not really writing so much as self therapy.
For me, I use morning pages to have a meeting with myself, my inner critic, and my inner creative so we can hash out our shit and figure out what’s in the way of feeling good about our writing because lets be real, a large part of what causes writers block is not feeling good about what we’re working on.
Self -doubt is loud and comes heavy with the impostor syndrome.
Taking time out to intentionally reflect on how I feel about a project, like my Camp project that just made me feel tired thinking about it, makes it so I can work through my feelings around it and get back to working on it.
This practice also keeps me from getting stuck so often because instead of taking up head space with worries and letting my inner critic slide in the way of my progress, I air out her grievances and concerns of “that’s not good enough,” and “now you’re going to have to change the entire thing from the top” or anything else she’s going to say to stop me from being great. I let my inner creative decide what she wants to work on or not work on or what still needs hashing out and we all reflect on what part of our routine is working or not working and adjust where needed.
Hopefully, morning pages or journaling in general is part of your practice already, though whether it is or isn’t, I’m not suggesting you limit your morning reflections in this way, throw my whole method out the window if you will but there’s a reason communication is key to relationships and your relationship with your creative self can be had and worked on through journaling where there's no judgment and you can get it out of your head along with everything else so you can get back to writing about other things.
If for some reason you don’t journal or have chucked yours aside, feeling blocked is the perfect time to pull out a new notebook or dust off an old one and let go.
10/10 recommend this activity with a warm beverage or an alcoholic one.
Revisit the Graveyard
Not the actual graveyard even if that is something you enjoy for whatever reason, but I’m mostly referring to the special folder marked “hell” where you send all the drafts and half thought out things to die — go there.
Re-reading old work you forgot about or haven’t touched in a while, though its often our work that causes the block and the well to run dry, is also your personally curated source of inspiration. Despite thinking that something we write is bad in the moment, it’s usually easier to read old work once there's been some distance and for better or worse, it can help get you writing.
You’ll either keep working on the project or start a whole new branch of an idea from it, like me.
With my own drought since April, which we already talked about, I’d been wandering aimlessly with my writing trying to figure out where to land and what I could work on first that didn’t feel like I’d be asking my creative self to do too much right off the bench.
So naturally, I picked up a note book I haven’t worked in since 2017. The story spark I needed was right there and it helped get my rhythm back and dislodge the writers block. I fleshed out a lot of what had me stuck in my world building within a few days.
I needed to feel inspired, and it worked.
If I’m honest it’s a move that works on me almost all of the time but I forget to actually do it and instead stare at my notebooks and curse them from afar. Or maybe I know it works and that's why I put it off, because I’m not really ready to let myself come back? I’m not sure.
Take my advice and don’t be like me, re-read the old things even the ones that make you cringe, until you find something that doesn’t. Trust me, the inspiration and magical motivation you're waiting for is in there.
Fan Fiction is Freeing
Admittedly this is only something I’ve recently started to do because I used to be against writing fan fiction, just because I didn’t want to get caught up in always writing fan fiction and never creating my own worlds to write in. To me, I though it would become a comfort zone and I didn’t want to risk getting sucked in and stuck there.
Also, depending on the fandom, some fan fiction can get a little weird.
It goes without saying (I hope) that everything you write won’t be published or even seen by anyone other than you. It’s just not realistic. Here is me reminding you that this is okay. In the age of hustle and monetize everything, everything we write or create doesn’t have to be for public consumption. It’s okay to write for fun and just for yourself, isn’t that how we all got into writing in the first place?
Fan Fiction is pressure free writing. The worlds and characters have been fleshed out for you, handed to you and now you can play with them on your page as you wish. The pressure is removed with fan fiction because it allows you to write something you know no one has to see, and if they do, there's another fan that probably agrees with whatever you’ve written anyway.
It’s also a great way to brainstorm some creative ideas you have for your own story but in an already developed world.
Lets face it, there's always that one scene in something we’ve seen or read that could have gone better, or at least, more to our liking. Why not write and see how it goes? It’s not your story or your characters anyway, you’re just borrowing them. Or put your story and your characters into someone else's world and see how they survive.
It doesn’t matter what fandom you pick or how you go about it, fan-fic gives you somewhere to play and something to finish, which is an underrated feeling when it comes to getting out of the writing desert.
Also if you have or know of any fan-fiction of The Vampire Diaries, link it to me in the comments, I need it.
Change of Perspective
If you usually type everything out, use this an an excuse to grab a new notebook and pen. If you usually do things by hand, try typing it out instead. For me, I’ve learned to allow myself to flow between both and not restrict my creativity in whichever method she needs.
It’s not often that my writer’s block is so easily cured by just switching back to writing in my notebook, but there is an alleviation of the weight of the idea of permanence that sometimes stands between me and typing out everything that I’m thinking.
There is also something that opens between the mind and the hand and creativity when physically writing things out that helps clear the path of writers block. This is why I enjoy the morning pages as a writing reflection so much. It clears the path first thing and holds off writers block for a little longer.
Depending on how much “normal” has returned where you live, I also vote for a change of scenery. Writing in a park, outdoor seating at your local restaurant, staying at an AirBnB for a few days (if you can afford to splurge), or even just taking a walk can make a difference in helping you free up some mental space.
It’s harder to focus on being creative when you’re thinking about other life things at the very front of your mind. For me, long walks with my dog can do the trick…on some days. If nothing else, the dog is happy.
The most recent change of perspective I’ve given myself is redecorating my work space. The place where we work and spend so much of our time should be somewhere we can unfold the parts of ourselves we need for writing and it’s a fun creative project that brings in some fresh motivation and inspiration and doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive.
Even just rearranging what you have and buying a new pencil holder can do the trick. The first thing I did was re-wrap my desk with contact paper in the color I wish my desk came in the first time. It brightened up the space, made it look new and made me want to sit at it work if only to break in the feeling of it being "new".
Exercise Your Creativity Somewhere Else
There are so many reasons why we become blocked as writers but writing takes creative energy and it's important to respect your creativity by not restricting it’s desire to expand and here's the thing, writer’s block is exactly that.. WRITER’S block.
The rest of my creative ventures are wide open and waiting and sometimes it’s why I can’t write anymore. I need a different kind of creative release, a project I can easily finish and feel accomplished in before wading back into longer projects.
While the fan fiction I mentioned is one way to satisfy our need to feel accomplished in our writing, sometimes it’s enough to just feel the sense of accomplishment in just finishing any creative project. For me, I spread it out over a few things like;
making a new recipe
playing video games
I’m not saying I’m great at any of theses creative things but they’re fun, refreshing, no pressure and lets me flex a different part of my creative muscle. I can let my writing projects fall to the back of my mind while I sew a tote bag, or slay demons in Doom Eternal, or flex my interior design skills with the Sims 4.
Doing something simple start to finish gives me the “I just finished something” juice I need to get back into a project that's got me down or has a finish line much further away.
So if you’ve been thinking of buying some canvases from Michael's or sewing your own face mask to save some money— take your writers block as a sign to stretch your creativity into something new for a little bit and come back to your work when its finished.
Now, do I notice I’ve given you a bunch of tips about writers block that are all arranged around you doing some kind of writing or creative work? Yes. Are you like, “I can’t write anything in the first place so what the fuck are you talking about?” Probably, and that’s valid.
While I can fully relate to the feeling of just wanting to sink into not writing and not creating and waiting for inspiration to strike, or worse you’re waiting to feel “ready” to create again — I know giving in to the idea of giving up on writing completely is the wrong way to work through writers block. This is not to say my suggestions are the “right” ways to combat writer’s block, these are just the methods I’ve found most effective.
If you need to sit around and binge Netflix and bad hallmark movies, go for it. Binge your entire watch list like it's going to expire. That's fine, I'm here for it. Take all the time you need before you can come back. Just make sure you do make your way back.
If you stop writing completely your inner critic and the elusive writers block wins and someone somewhere is going to be missing out on what you have to say.
Are you going to let writers block get in the way of you and hitting publish and sharing your work with the rest of us? I hope not.
If you try any of these tips, find them helpful, or have some of your own that help you get through your writers block please feel free drop it in the comments below, I’d love some new ideas to fall back on later.