[Originally posted April 2013; updated Jan. 2020] Before we dive into creative blocks, I first want to address the idea of “writer’s block.”
I would argue that even though I’m writing a post about it, there’s actually no such thing as “writer’s block.”
Here’s why I object to the idea of writer’s block. If I sit down to write, I can ALWAYS write something. It might not be what I want to write, like my novel. But I can absolutely pound out some drivel or even my grocery list. My ability to write something has never been blocked.
I have, however, had to struggle through writing crap or wanting to work on my novel or a specific project…and nothing comes. This feels like a block because you’re all set to write, you want to write, and nothing comes to you. but it’s not really a block. We can still write…something.
Unfortunately, this has happened to me enough that I now have several strategies that I use to get past it, so the words for whatever I do want to work on come. It is possible to move past even the worst case of frustration with not being able to write what you want to write.
- Allow yourself to write crap, whether that’s morning pages in your journal or a response to a prompt. Write something and don’t have the expectation that it will be great. When we try to always write amazing prose, it’s too much pressure. So write that shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott would say, get it out of you, and move on.
- Give yourself some warm up time. Give yourself some warm-up time. Nobody starts running a race or a hard workout without warming up. You gotta get your muscles going, and this includes your “writing muscles.” Even when I’m sewing, I’ll often start off with some scrap fabric to stitch, especially if I haven’t sewed in a while. Don’t judge your warm-up. The purpose is to get ready to write.
- Talk it out, literally. Shut the door and start “talking” whatever it is you want to write. Have you ever heard of “Talker’s Block”? Me either. While you’re talking, record yourself. There are lots of apps out there for smartphones or your computer that can just record you. My favorite is “Dragon Recorder.” Then, once you’ve dictated whatever scene it is you’re working on, play it back and type it up.
- Work on a different story or a totally different genre. If you’re stuck on a fiction piece, write a poem, an essay, a personal narrative, a blog post, or even an email to a friend or a social media post.
- Do something boring and mundane that you don’t have to think about. I’ll do some chores like laundry or the dishes. When my body starts doing something else, my brain sometimes gets kick-started in a creative direction.
- Get up and MOVE. If it’s nice outside, I’ll take a small walk, but if it’s snowy, I’ll just walk around the house or jump on the treadmill for a while. This is one of the best strategies for me.
- Take a break EVERY 90 minutes or so for 10-15 minutes. When I first started doing this, I was surprised at how much it helped me to keep going. I usually do one of the activities from above, things I don’t really have to think about like a chore or a brief walk to give my creative muscles a bit of a rest.
What do you do? Share you favorite strategy in the comments below!