Writer’s block is the age-old nemesis of authors everywhere. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “lack of inspiration afflicting creative writers,” it is often viewed as the author’s curse (“Writers’ Block” n). The experience is both frustrating and demoralizing for those who wish to create. It can also encourage doubts regarding talent and lead to the assumption that your work is without merit. Don’t fall for these lies. Writer’s block is not an unsurpassable barrier. It can even serve a purpose on the writing journey. Through focus and specific techniques writer’s block can be overcome and channelled towards renewed creativity. Instead of thinking of it as a barricade, reimagine a door that requires the right key. Simply use the proper key and the door to creativity will open.
How do you unlock the hidden opportunity within writer’s block? The following tips may help in the writing process.
1) Give Yourself Permission to be Stuck.
Everyone eventually fails or runs into a problem. If you don’t, you’re not human. Ingenious solutions are discovered through failure and struggle. Give yourself permission to have a problem. Accept it but then move on towards success. Wallowing in self-pity won’t get you anywhere. Take a deep breath, refocus and try a new approach.
2) Run Hypothetical Situations
One of my favourite problem-solving approaches to writer’s block is to run hypothetical character scenarios. What does this entail? You select a character or character idea and place him or her into different scenarios. Any scenario will do: burning building, surprise pop quiz, a break and enter in an old haunted castle, an arranged marriage in the 1600s, running late to a superhero meeting. A hypothetical situation does two important things for your imagination: first, it encourages free play without expectations and second, without the pressure to succeed, it leads to diverse creativity. By running silly and odd ideas unconnected to a project or a deadline, you give your brain the freedom to play in a creative sandbox without limitations. This free play promotes imagination and odd ideas. There is no fear of ridicule or failure. You never know, your silly idea might lead to your next project.
3) Draw Diagrams of Potential Interactions
We all learn in different ways. Some are auditory learns. Others are kinaesthetic. If you are a visual learner, a character diagram can help to jump start your writing. In a similar method to the hypothetical situations, start a web diagram of character interactions or events. Draw out a cause and effect web linking one action to a reaction and so on. For example, you could write:
Fireman comes home to find a huge hole in his roof -> Discovers that the damage is caused by a UFO that crashed -> The alien that landed was a student driver from another planet and is apologetic -> The alien ends up joining the firehouse team and training to be a firefighter-> He uses his UFO technology to make a flying fire rescue team.
Charting out your ideas in a diagram is especially helpful for visual learners who struggle with the blank page of writer’s block and find text based brainstorming difficult.
4) Found Poem
Remember found poems from elementary school? They consisted of words located in magazines, on chewing gum wrappers, pop bottles and textbook covers. There was no rhyme or reason to the words but you had to form them into a concrete message. Use the same approach for writing. Look around you, out your office window, or in the next room and select five items. Now use those items to create a story of some kind.
The found method helps by providing you with one essential element to a story (the subjects or props) while leaving you to connect the dots. Placing odd items together and finding a linking theme is a great way to exercise your imagination and creative approach to writing. The brain naturally wants to make connections. Some scientists argue that our natural desire to seek out connections is what causes dreams and that dreams are the brain processing what has happened throughout the day. It is the brain’s desire to make narrative sense that results in our wild and wacky dreams. According to Psychology Today author Dr. Ilana Simons, when we dream “[w]e conjure images; we combine incongruent elements to evoke emotion in a more efficient way than wordier descriptions can; and we use unconscious and tangential associations rather than logic to tell a story” (para.1). Tap into that potential by looking around you. Allow your brain to make odd connections in your waking life just as it does nightly while your sleep.
5) Set a Timer and Do It.
Oftentimes procrastination is the writer’s own worst enemy. Due to fear, uncertainty, laziness or boredom, we often avoid writing for one reason or another. Writer’s block only makes procrastination worse. Sometimes you have to sit down and start writing even if your words or ideas make no sense. I find I work best when I have a deadline. The traditional procrastinator situation, where you wait till the last minute and rush to finish everything, will only hamper your writing creativity. Instead of falling into that trap, set up smaller deadlines for yourself and force yourself to write, even for a few minutes.
I recommend setting a timer for fifteen minutes. While writing may seem impossible when you’re staring at a black page, you can easily convince yourself to write just for ten or fifteen minutes. The magic behind a short time period is the frequent truth that once your start something it’s easier to continue. It may be the inertia of the writing world (or Newton’s first law of motion as a thought process), but I find once you start writing it becomes easier to keep going. The Ziegarnik effect also shows that our brains are more likely to remember tasks that haven’t been completed over those that have. The brain is hardwired to want to finish tasks. Help out your inner writer by simply starting. One word becomes one sentence, that becomes one paragraph, that soon becomes a story. Or as my father always says “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. (Note: James Clear has a helpful article titled "The Physics of Productivity" that is worth a look.)
6) Avoid Distractions
Along with procrastination, distractions can eat up a writer’s time. When you have managed to sit down and write it is vital to turn off all distractions. This includes text updates, phone calls, television and even everyday noise in the house. Find a quiet location to write be that your bedroom, an office or the local library. If at home, close the door and guard your writing time jealously. It also helps to set aside a specific time to write daily and stick to it. Successful writers block off time early in the morning before anything else can eat up their day and use that time for writing, developing drafts and outlining. Jane Austen herself had her own writing location so follow her practice and set aside a place without distractions.
7) See Writer’s Block as an Opportunity to Learn and Grow.
Lastly, see problems as an opportunity for growth. Be optimistic about your writing and when annoyed take a short break before returning to your assigned task. If you try the above tips for writer’s block, and view it as an opportunity, a frustrating time can be transformed into a productive writing experience. Good luck, and as always ...
"writer, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2018, www.oed.com/view/Entry/230757. Accessed 6 June 2018.
Simons, Ilana. “What Do Dreams Do For Us?: Five Answers to an Eternal Question.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-literary-mind/200911/what-do-dreams-do-us. Accessed 6 June 2018.