10 Steps to Overcome Writer’s Block

writing top 10 by Brian ClarkFind yourself looking at a blank screen a lot lately? It happens to all of us. (I have to write proposals, catalog copy, and pitches too!)

So what do you do when you’re stuck? Here are some great tips for overcoming the dreaded writer’s block.

Join the club that knows how to defeat those obstacles and has learned to look forward, not back:

1. Acknowledge the feelings and try to get to the root of them: Are you nervous, anxious or unsure about your story? Are you scared that it won’t live up to reader’s expectations? Are you looking at the clock and–knowing you have limited time–watching the hands move around? If you’re truthful about your reservations you can recognize and move past them.

2. Forgive yourself a perfect draft: No one writes a clean first draft. It’s called a “Shitty First Draft” for a reason. Read some Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird is a must!) and learn that perfect doesn’t exist. Especially in art.

3. On a separate piece of paper drill down on your true intentions: What are you truly trying to say? Can you boil it down to an overview? Be clear about your goals and try to sort out a new way to tell that truth.

4. Build a new routine: No one says that the routine that’s worked for you in the past is always going to work. But forcing yourself to work is the only way you’re going to get there. Gillian Flynn, author of GONE GIRL, says: “I could not have written a novel if I hadn’t been a journalist first, because it taught me that there’s no muse that’s going to come down and bestow upon you the mood to write. You just have to do it. I’m definitely not precious.”

5. Embrace free writing or stream of consciousness: Give yourself permission to get off track, with the purpose of it getting you back on track. Learn about free writing and let your mind wander where ever it wants to go. Reignite your imagination. Write about dreams, memories or ramble off a stream of consciousness.

6. Set deadlines to get work to your agent, critique partner or writing group: Internal deadlines can work for some people, because we don’t want to let others down.

7. Write something, anything: Like free writing, Maya Angelou says: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

8. Solve the problem in your story: Go back and see what you’re hung up on. Do you not believe yourself? Then re-write that section again until you’re happy with it and can move on.

9. Butt in chair: Many successful writers (with deadlines) believe the only way to get things done is to tell yourself that you’re going to do it. Barbara Kingsolver says: “I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.”

10. If forcing yourself to sit at your desk doesn’t work, then take a creative break: A creative break is one where you go do something else, but keep your mind open and give ideas space. Instead of watching a movie or TV, meditate or take a walk. Don’t fill your head with someone else’s words, fill your head with your own and let the words come to through the open window of this “creative break” opportunity.

Further reading:

10 Great Writing Tips, in Quotes

85,000 Words, Written One at a Time

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17 thoughts on “10 Steps to Overcome Writer’s Block

  1. Very good stuff. I often reward myself for writing by taking a break to read good fiction. I learn a lot more about how to write a good novel by reading a good novel than I do by reading “how to write” books (although those are helpful too!)

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  2. Thank you Carly, this advice came at a good time. My agent didn’t set my deadline, but i did. And the immense pressure set in Because I know she’s on a time line to promote and sell my book too. Luckily I’m only in the revision stage, but you can still have lost the muse even when the words are only on the page. So thanks for all the reminders about how to be an artist and how to stay professional. I’m learning so much with my first book that way on how to balance bot. Namaste,

    Jenn

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  3. I find it helps to keep a running log on each book or story, even if I’m only typing in what the weather’s like that day. But I also discuss with myself issues of plot, structure, character and sometimes one day’s version of myself argues with another day’s. After venting, I find the blank page of the work isn’t so difficult to fill.

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