Writer’s block happens to the best of writers. It can feel incredibly debilitating at times, lasting for days or weeks. Or it could only last a couple of hours. Writer’s block is nothing to be ashamed of, but there are steps you can take to fight back against it. All a writer wants to do is write; it is more than a job or a craft, it is a need, a compulsion. When that is taken away from them, it can be so difficult.
Why does writer’s block happen? Sometimes it’s just good, old-fashioned lack of inspiration. Other times it’s fear: fear that the author’s work isn’t good enough or that people won’t enjoy it.
I always like to remember this quote from Hilary Mantel (author of Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, Beyond Black, and more) from The Guardian, “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
There’s no one right writer’s block cure. Here are some ways to defend yourself against writer’s block.
Read a book to beat writer’s block
Revert to an old favorite. Allow yourself to settle in, cozy up, and lose yourself in another’s words. This doesn’t need to be technical—you don’t need to be focused on how the writer formulates sentences or crafts syntax or designs characters. Simply allow yourself to be immersed in another world, one not dependent upon you. Sometimes all you need is a little relaxation to jumpstart your brain. Writer’s blocks shouldn’t be punished. Allow yourself small pleasures during this time.
Go for a walk
Go outside. Go to the park and let the sounds of nature fill you instead of that nagging voice telling you your writing isn’t good enough. Walk through the city and let the sound of car horns, people, and everyday chatter be your background music.
Read poetry—out loud
Poetry is beauty in word form. Find a poem, whether you understand its meaning or not, and read it out loud. Let the ebb and flow of the poem enchant you. Much like rereading your favorite novel, this is a time to simply enjoy the power of words, not focus on how they’re crafted.
Freewrite—no matter how ridiculous
Erica Jong, in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career, said “All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” If you’re stuck in a moment of writer’s block, trying getting anything and everything on the page. No matter if it doesn’t make sense or is gibberish or is just poor writing. Sometimes you just need to get all that excess stuff out. This is exactly what drafts are for. Don’t let the fear of writing something “bad” keep you from writing at all.
Get your mind completely off the problem. There’s no better way to do this than exercise. You’ll be so focused on the runner’s cramp if your side or the burn in your biceps as you curl twenty-pound weights that your manuscript will be the last thing on your mind. If you get your blood flowing, maybe the ideas will next.
Listen to music
What’s that saying? “Headphones in, music on, world out”? It’s true! Sometimes to drown out the worry that your manuscript, poem, or blog will never be written is to tune it out with some tunes. Sit back, relax, and listen to your favorite artist. Slow or fast, loud or soft, it doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to. Just pick something that can soothe you, and that writer’s block will be over before you know it.
Poet Charles Bukowski once said, in The Last Night of the Earth Poems, “writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” Maybe that’s what I’m doing with this blog post. Maybe that’s what you should do, should none of these suggestions work: write about it. Get all your frustrations out in the best way possible.
Have a better idea on how to overcome writer’s block? Leave it in the comments below.