7 Ways to Counteract Writer’s Block

Today’s guest post is by Max Chi.

Most of us writers have experienced writer’s block at one time or another. If you’ve had writer’s block, you’re in good company. Writers from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Mark Twain to Stephen King have gone through it. It’s not just limited to writers: illustrator Ashley Goldberg, photographer Matthias Heiderich, and multidisciplinary artist Aris Moore, among many others, have suffered bouts of creative block.

It can be frustrating, worrying, and frightening all at the same time. You find it hard to come up with ideas for a new project or paths to continuing the work you’ve been doing. You realize you’ve been staring fruitlessly at a blank screen or piece of paper and wasting precious time and energy.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid getting into this state. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Try freewriting exercises

Most accomplished writers agree that a good way to develop your writing skills is to write a lot. Research finds that the brain is a little like a muscle in how it responds to stimuli. By exercising specific muscles, you make those muscles stronger, and by exercising specific mental skills, you become better at those skills. Writing on a frequent basis helps you develop your writing skill and you are then less likely to encounter periods when you are at a loss for words.

Freewriting exercises improve your ability to write on demand. One popular exercise is to designate a set period of time every day just to write. The intent here isn’t to produce a work for publication or to post on your blog. It’s to write something only for your personal consumption.

Author and journalist Julia Cameron uses a technique called “Morning Pages”: every morning she starts the day by filling up three pages with whatever comes to mind.

This stream-of-consciousness writing clears your head of whatever is holding you back and gets your creativity flowing in preparation for a productive day. It also gets you in the practice of being able to write on demand.

Over time, your mind gets into the habit of writing. Soon, you are able to produce the words and sentences whenever you need to, and your productivity increases throughout the day.

Since three pages is approximately 750 words, this technique is sometimes called “750 Words.” There’s an app called 750words that helps you develop this practice. If 750 words seems too daunting at first, you can start with a shorter interval, such as writing as much as you can for ten minutes, and work up.

  1. Try creativity exercises

Regular creativity exercises stimulate your creative side, so you’re less likely to find yourself at a loss for ideas. There are many exercises you can try. Here are a few:

  1. Find an image or photograph, maybe online, that you haven’t seen before, and invent a story behind it. Who are the people? What was the situation? What events led up to the picture being taken?
  2. Read a short story, then rewrite it so the plot goes differently. Modify the events or dialogue or add or change characters. Alternatively, take a comedic story and rewrite it as non-comedic or vice versa. Or take an epic poem and rewrite it as a news story.
  3. Read a story or article and then summarize it in 100 words or less. This improves your ability to get to the heart of the issues and hit the main points clearly and concisely.
  4. A large part of creativity is finding connections between seemingly unrelated things. On a sheet of paper, write a list of things in four different categories:
    1. people (e.g. mother, architect, cowboy);
    2. places (e.g. restaurant, street, apartment);
    3. objects (e.g. pencil, motorcycle, desk); and
    4. concepts (e.g. happiness, hope, faith)

Pick two things at random from different categories and try to connect them. Write a fictional story, describe an experience from your own life or someone else’s, or write some thoughts about how they could be related.

  1. Stay fueled and hydrated

Your brain runs on food energy and water, and it’s important to maintain adequate levels of both. Don’t expect to be at your best if you haven’t had a good meal in more than a few hours.

Likewise, research has found that taking in enough water makes a person 14 percent more productive and better able to focus on tasks. You can be dehydrated even before you feel thirsty. The Mayo Clinic recommends men drink thirteen glasses of water and women have nine glasses daily for optimal productivity.  Go easy on the coffee, tea, and sugary drinks and substitute some water instead.

  1. Work in short bursts

Writing a book or long story is a big task. The Pomodoro Technique is based on breaking up big tasks into smaller bites by working in short intervals, while maintaining motivation, increasing focus, and minimizing distractions.

With this technique, you work for a timed interval, such as 25 minutes. When the time is up, you take a short break—for example, five minutes. You then work for another 25 minutes, and then take another short break. After the fourth work-break cycle, you take a longer break, for 15-30 minutes, or however long it takes to get recharged. The enforced breaks help you to stay fresh and focused and remind you to look up from your screen or writing tablet periodically.

The technique is based on the realization that regular breaks are essential for productivity. The periodic breaks enable you to take a rest, maintain your motivation, and come up with ideas for the next work session. By working in shorter sprints, you avoid those marathon work sessions that can often cause you to run out of ideas and creative energy.

  1. Approach writing like a job

Try thinking of writing as a job you do rather than an art. You may have become a writer partly because you wanted the freedom from a 9-5 job. But, by writing at the same time every day, you can tune your brain to become accustomed to turning out prose on schedule. William Faulkner famously said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”

Stephen King, known as a prolific author, once compared writing to physical work. We’re not artists, he said; we’re more like craftsmen or laborers, except we use words and paragraphs instead of tools and bricks. We create stories, articles, and books, just as workers build walls and houses.

  1. Just write

It’s in our nature as writers to be critical of ourselves. Sometimes, though, that tendency can be counterproductive. Sometimes it’s best to put words to paper and withhold judgment for the moment. Turn your internal editor off and just brainstorm.

Author Anna Quindlin wrote, “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” So just put the words on the page. If the Muse doesn’t strike you that day, at least you’ve put in the work.

Since you never know exactly when the perfect idea or wording is going to come to you, writer Joe Bunting suggests always keeping a pen and writing pad, or your smartphone, handy, so if inspiration strikes when you’re not at your desk, you can write quickly before it gets away from you.

  1. Precede each writing session with brief physical exercise

Although writing is usually a sedentary occupation, research indicates a short exercise session can help people perform better at creative tasks. In a study, subjects performed better on tests of creativity when the tests were preceded by short, intense physical exercise.

To keep your creativity up, turn off your phone and go for a hike in the woods. A study found people performed significantly better on a creativity test after a nature hike.

There you have it, some suggestions for avoiding the dreaded writer’s block. By taking measures to prevent creative slowdown, you can maintain or improve your productivity and keep up your enjoyment of writing.

Max Chi is a freelance writer specializing in technology, personal health, and business-to-business content creation and blog posting. His background includes graduate degrees in science and technology, and professional certifications in information technology and web content writing. Connect with him at webfortunemedia.com

10 Responses to “7 Ways to Counteract Writer’s Block”

  1. Priscilla Bettis April 23, 2018 at 3:09 am #

    Thanks for these tips. I’ll add one. I remind myself that even Hemingway said the first draft of anything is crap. That helps me just to get SOMEthing on the page!

    • Max Chi April 23, 2018 at 5:34 pm #

      Good suggestion! Sometimes it’s best just to get started writing, and then build on that momentum.

  2. Sue MacDonald April 23, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    This advice is so right. Excellent suggestions.

    • Max Chi April 23, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

      Thanks, hope you find them useful.

  3. Dana McNeely April 23, 2018 at 9:28 pm #

    Thanks for the ideas. I know I’ll try the one about changing what happens in a short story.

    • Max Chi April 24, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

      That’s a nice way to get the creativity flowing. Another idea is to rewrite part of the story from the perspective of one of the characters.

  4. sue April 24, 2018 at 11:04 am #

    Excellent material. I’m going to post this beside my computer and use something from it every day. Thanks so much.

  5. Max Chi April 24, 2018 at 5:45 pm #

    Thank you! Glad it’s helpful.

  6. Bryan Fagan April 25, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    I’ve been lucky. I do not seem to have this problem and it’s due to the fact that I’m always doing several of the things you pointed out. I have always done that and it works. Looks like I’m a pretty good example of how to avoid writer’s block. 🙂

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