If you're like most writers, there have been at least one or two (thousand!) times when you are bona fide, stone cold, no-way-out stuck. You're staring a hole through a blank page, knowing it is your job to fill it with something intelligent, elegant, dramatic, thematic, let's not forget relatable, and....yeah, that's not going to happen.
Sometimes that tenacious mental fog we call writer's block strikes when we are well into a chapter or scene. Other times, it settles in before we've even started. Or it hits just as we are approaching the finish line and feel like our laces have been suddenly tied together and we just can't figure out how the @*%$! to end this thing!
The first thing to recognize is that writer's block is not something happening to you, but rather something happening inside of you. Which is actually super empowering because that makes it something you can ultimately get control of. Or let pass with time. Or work through. Or let work out all by itself. We have options, you know.
Writer's block happens to every writer at some point, so we are in very good company. It only becomes insurmountable (or so it seems) when we find ourselves in a time crunch or if we get emotional about it. (Thank goodness that never happens, right?) Then it can make us want to throw our laptop through a window, open or closed.
So, let's talk about how to deal with it head-on it when it comes.
In The Treatment of Creative Blocks, clinical psychologists Michael Barrios and Jerome Singer reported their research on writer’s block, which deduced four broad causes:
Excessive and harsh self-criticism (a manifestation of perfectionism)
Fear of how one compares to other writers (a different manifestation of perfectionism)
Lack of external motivation (like attention and praise)
Lack of internal motivation (from a lack of self-belief to passion for the story itself)
Now to be fair, if the primary cause of one's block is deep and disruptive enough, rooted in personal history, past or present trauma, mental health, or cognitive function, the suggestions that follow might not suffice without also consulting a therapist or medical professional. Been there, done that, nothing to feel weird about. Regardless of your background or situation, however, I'll bet the farm that one or more of these techniques will help you bust through whatever is in the way.
Due to the fact that writer's block can almost always be sourced back to a bio-chemical need or a head game requiring a mental "referee" to break up fights and get players back on the field, I've separated the following writer's block busters into two buckets:
Brain Breaks and Dig-Ins.
Sometimes the solution is to temporarily step away from the project you're working on and reset yourself mentally, recharge your batteries, take your thinking down a different creative road. My five faves include:
Getting some sleep. (You're not necessarily a terrible writer who should give up now, "what was I even thinking?" You might just need a nap.)
Exercising, preferably outside. (Fresh air + blood flow + endorphin rush = brand new you.)
Watching a show or playing a game. (Careful with this one, it could become a substitute for actually writing. But yeah, it can work, maybe even inspire you with a couple of ideas.)
Engaging with actual human beings. (Not just the characters in your head.)
Picking an object, person, or location in your field of vision and “freewrite” about it. (Describe it in detail or share how you feel about it, quickly, without second-guessing or editing as you go.)
Other times, the answer is absolutely not to get up and switch gears, but rather to hang in there, roll up your sleeves, and look at your story from a different angle. My five faves include:
Mastering the habit of writing regularly. (Not just when you feel like it or “when the muse hits". Stay limber, keep the juices flowing. Discipline your process.)
Vomiting your ideas on the page without editing yourself in-process. (You can fix it later, that's what second drafts are for.)
Going back to your outline. (Maybe you just need to remind yourself what your story is, or you need to develop your characters and plot more thoroughly.)
Closing your eyes and visualize the scene. (Sometimes we don't need to think it, we need to see it playing out right in front of us.)
Getting rid of whatever is distracting you. (Phone, YouTube, TV, music - you know your addictions.)
Oh, and there's one more bonus hack which might just be the most effective of all: set a deadline. When I wrote for comics fresh out of film school, I had to pump out an episode each and every month. Final draft, thirty to forty pages, without question. You know how often I got writer's block? Almost never. Crazy what a deadline can do.
I would love to hear which one of these Writer's Block Busters helped you unlock your brain, creative flow, and story! Or maybe you've discovered a hack not listed above that works for you. If so, please share.
In the meantime, happy writing! And if you'd like to learn how WriterJump can take you even further down the road, check out the links below.