Every author has battled this monster—the Writer’s Block.
You sit staring at a blank screen, wishing your brain would get its act together and return to churning out beautiful words, much as a child wishes on a falling star. The result? Nothing. Nada. A few hours, days or even weeks later, you are still looking at the same blank screen.
Writer’s block can be frustrating. At its worst, it can make you quit your writing project entirely. Read on to know the causes that create this fiend and how to conquer it effectively.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
Writing can sometimes cause overwhelming fear. As a writer, you often face questions like ‘Where do I start?’, ‘What topic should I write on next?’ or ‘Am I good enough?’ The most prominent fear is that of being judged. Whether you publish a non-fiction journal, a novel, a blog post or even a simple social media post, your work is up for criticism and/or appreciation by the world. The potential for attracting criticism freezes up the words. If you were sure your work would receive truckloads of appreciation and mountains of accolades, you’d be banging away at your keyboard from dawn to dusk—with nary a break.
If you keep rewriting and editing a piece in order to make it perfect, you will end up disrupting your creativity. More often than not, you will begin to second guess yourself. Multiple ideas would jostle for attention and confusion would reign rampant. The only obvious outcome of this state is that you close your writing session—and find it tough to approach it again the next day.
A sneak peek at your social media (let’s be honest nobody sees just one Instagram post and puts down the phone), taking a half an hour break to catch up on Netflix (you know the addiction, you can’t stop yourself from moving on to the next episode), or interruptions from your family or friends. These distractions make beating the block almost impossible.
How do you conquer Writer’s Block?
Set a writing routine for yourself. For example, promise yourself to be at your desk ready to tap the keys of your laptop every day at 9 a.m. Also to enhance this routine you could set up a ritual. For example, you make yourself a cup of coffee, water your desk plants and then begin writing. These routines and rituals help to prepare you for writing and facilitate your creativity.
When you want to take a break from writing, instead of zoning out on Netflix—paint, doodle, write a poem, create an origami figurine or even create stuff out of LEGOS. Do anything you like that requires creativity and is fun to do. Pick something that stimulates your mind, not dulls is down—as watching endless reels on Instagram would do.
Write absolutely anything. It does not have to be related to your current project. Do not restrict yourself in any way. Set a timer, perhaps twenty minutes, and jump right in. In this session, give yourself permission to write without any regard to context, spelling, grammar, or punctuation. The objective is to let the creative juices flow, so even if some boring and childish stuff comes to mind, write it.
4. Be Prompted
If writing on a random topic does not excite you, use writing prompts. Working on prompts for short stories is a great way to kick-start your creativity.
Do not be obsessed with a thrilling introduction. Start from the middle or write in pieces. Flesh out any idea you have now and insert it in your story later. The point is to start writing and not stay stuck with a blank page. If an entire scene is daunting, write a cameo—using different characters than those in your story. You can tweak it later and use it. Or you can use it in another story. You can develop that short passage into a new story. Or you can use it as a blog post or a social media post. The possibilities are endless!
6. Turn Media Off
Put the notifications on your phone on silent, switch off the TV or radio. If you can finish your research before you start writing so that you can turn off the Wi-Fi too. If dead silence bothers you, play some classical or jazz instrumental on a loop or the sound of rain. After a few minutes, your brain will stop focusing on these sounds and push them into the background along with other ambient noises.
7. Procrastinate Not
Drawing on our first tip—make a routine and do your best to follow it. Stop waiting for inspiration to strike or for the right time to write. These thoughts are just procrastination in new garb—you know that. right?
Procrastinating never helps. Morning turns to evening or a day turns to almost a week, leaving you with nothing but self-loathing for not making any progress. You deserve better. Don’t do this to yourself.
Fresh air and exercise are known to stimulate the mind. Go out for a walk with your dog; swim; practice Zumba for an hour or half; anything that gets your body moving. Alternatively, wash the dishes, or fold the laundry. The goal is to do tasks that is more of muscle memory and does not require much brain work.
Meditation helps you gain focus among chaotic ideas and activate your creative thinking muscles. Meditate at least once a day to go about the writing process calmly instead of getting overwhelmed.
10. Challenge Self
Pick a writing prompt and set a time to complete a short story. If you are usually into writing long articles challenge yourself to write a fifty-word story. Try writing poetry on any object in your room in five minutes. Write a Haiku. Make your writing fun for a while instead of making it a chore.
11. Go Analog
Sometimes all you need is a pen and a pad. So sit down with a pad and bring along some pencils, coloured pens or markers anything that gets you excited to write.
If you are unable to proceed with your own writing, take down a book from your bookshelf, open it at a random page and start copying from it—by hand. It might sound silly and weird but trust me, it works. Since your own words are frozen, stuff the words of another writer in your head. Get your fingers to shape out the words. You will soon find your words thawing and ready to start pouring out.
Self-criticism can really hamper progress at times. First drafts are never perfect; understand and accept that. While writing, keep your perfectionist hat aside and do not bother editing. Always remember this is not getting published as soon as you finish typing.
While you are unsuccessfully forcing your mind to complete your current story, try doing something different and yet productive. Think of new blog ideas and create rough outlines, or create outlines for short stories to be used later. Outlining ten or twenty ideas is much easier than detailing a single one. Who knows while creating outlines some idea might strike you for your current writing project!
Very often, the Writer’s Block sets in because you have stopped yourself from writing what you feel strongly about. Perhaps you are not sure how it would be received; maybe it is a contrary opinion; perhaps you are not too sure of your facts or maybe you feel strongly compelled to write in a genre you have never attempted before. There could be any number of reasons. Until you get that bit of writing out of your system though, you may remain suspended in the Blocked zone.
Write the things you feel compelled to write. If you are reluctant to hit Publish on it, email it to a close friend—the one who gets your thought process perfectly—and ask them for feedback. Perhaps their feedback will convince you to hit Publish after all. Else, you will at least have gotten the thing out of you and cleared the mind-space.
Writing is a creative process. Sometimes the words flow but other times it is difficult to write. The key to completing your writing projects is to have faith in yourself and not succumb to being overwhelmed by writer’s block.
Don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself that you are waiting for inspiration to arrive. Inspiration prefers to perch on the shoulder of someone who is already at their desk writing away; not of someone who is desultorily scrolling their social media feed for hours on end—watching those awful videos and sighing over other people’s holiday photos. #TrueStory.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
Even famous authors have their own ways to deal with writer’s block. Experiment with the above techniques and find out what works for you. Try to have fun and know that maintaining a routine where you show up and sit down at your desk to write is the first step towards conquering the foe.
Have any personal favourite you would like to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!