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5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

1 Mar

Writers love to discuss writer’s block. Is it real or is it just fear? Is it a symptom of being creatively drained or of being undisciplined? Regardless of which side of the discussion you side with, there is one truth:  Whether you’re an avid journaler, a dedicated letter writer or a professional writer, we all get stuck once in a while. No matter how hard you try, sometimes those blinking cursors and blank pages stop us in our tracks. Next time you get stuck, try one (or all!) of these five tricks to overcome your block.

Tips for Writer's Block by Maggie Marton on EuropeanPaper.com

Obsess … With a Timer

It’s okay to fret about being stuck. It’s normal and healthy – as long as you don’t let it derail you completely. So spend a few minutes obsessing, but set a timer to keep you focused. Set the timer for nine minutes. Spend that time doing nothing but obsessing. Think about why you’re stuck. Is it the project? Do you have other, perhaps more important, tasks that you should do first? Let your mind wander. When that timer goes off, use one minute to refocus. Take a couple deep breaths, open a new window or flip to a new page, and start writing.

Dig Into Your Past (and Present and Future)

If you just can’t think of anything to write, start with your past. If you’re working on a daily journal entry, try to remember the names of your elementary school teachers and how they made you feel. If you’re struggling with a piece of fiction, start with the worst day you can possibly remember from when you were a child. Describe the people, the smells, the scenery. Apply those same principles to the present (how did I feel this morning during my commute?) and to the future (what is the best thing that could happen to me in the next five years?).

List, List, List

This is my go-to strategy anytime I feel stuck. Start a list. List anything: groceries, your friends’ names from junior high, things you’re grateful for, goals for the year, things you’d buy if you had a bottomless bank account. Get creative with your lists! Try your favorite books in alphabetical order or aim to list 101 of something.

Create Sentence “Starts”

On a sticky note or the back page of your journal, draft a handful of sentence “starts” that you can refer to when you get stuck. Some good options:

  • Nothing makes me happier than …
  • If I could change one thing about my family …
  • If I found a $50 bill on the sidewalk, I would …

Make a list of 10 to 20 that you can refer to whenever you feel blocked. Use it to start a journal entry or a piece of fiction.

Walk Away

This last-resort trick is for when you’ve tried everything but nothing’s working. Stand up, turn around, and walk away. Take your dog around the block. Make a cup of tea. Watch a daytime talk show. Sometimes the pressure can be too great, and when you’re focused on the fact that you’re stuck, it can be really difficult to find a way to get unstuck. Let your smarty-pants subconscious do the work for a while. The important thing here is to stay away from tasks that will keep you away from your work. Pick something short and something mindless (that laundry’s not going to fold itself) so that you don’t divert all your brainpower away from your writing. After a short break, do some stretches, take a couple deep breaths, and then get back to it.

Everyone gets stuck. In any creative project, it’s only normal. The difference between being successful and unsuccessful is to let a little block stop your progress!

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 Meet the Writer: Maggie Marton is a freelance writer who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband and their three darling dogs. View more of Maggie’s work at MaggieMarton.com

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One Response to “5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block”

  1. Jerrold Mundis March 5, 2012 at 7:15 AM #

    I’m in favor of any technique any writer uses that helps him or her past block, and these have clearly helped you.

    I’ve been breaking writer’s block for more than 25 years in a one-time consultation for people ranging from full-time professional writers, including one who’s had ten books in a row on the New York Times bestseller list, and another who is a Pulitzer prize winner, to part-time writers, graduate students, and aspirant writers.

    I identify six major forms of block (these also apply to other creative artists as well as writers, such as composers, photographers, and painters — but not to actors — and, actually, can apply to great numbers of people for great numbers of projects or undertakings). They are:

    1. Paralysis

    2. Avoidance behavior

    3. Last-minute crisis writing

    4. Inability to finish

    5. Inability to select from among projectsfinish

    6. Block specific (able to work on other material).

    I can’t summarize a four-hour session filled with concept and technique here, but here, without going into detail about them or discussing the many subtle ways they can play out, are what I call “The Three Big Killers” in block:

    1. Perfectionism — which is a form of all-or-nothing thinking, triumph or catastrophe, with nothing possible in between.

    2. Fear — which is a product of the first and second Big Killers, but which can be identified as a separate entity. All fear in writer’s block, regardless of where it starts, can be boiled down to the simple statement: “That I can’t do it.” And what is the “it” that I can’t do? The simple act of putting words on paper. Period. Nothing more. Nothing less. The simple act of putting words on paper. No more magical an act than painting a board or throwing a board. (Find an equivalent analog for whatever task or project *you* have in mind or are facing.

    3. The Baggage Train — these are all the things we wish to *accomplish* with our writing, such as I want to be rich, I want to be admired, I want to make them laugh and cry, I want to save the whales, I want to bring peace to the middle-east, etc., but which are not the *act* of writing itself. The problem arises because, while it looks like I’m trying to write, and I *think* I’m trying to write, I’m not: I’m trying to get rich, save the whales, get my ex-wife and all my ex-lovers to say ‘Boy, I really should have stayed with him. Look how sensitive and insightful he is,’ etc. The key is to disconnect the baggage train from the locomotive, which is writing, which is the simple act of putting words on paper, so that thing get out of the station.

    Any single one of these Killers operating in you with sufficient strength, and you’ll be blocked ; any two present at the same time, and you don’t have a chance.

    I hope that is of some help. (Incidentally, I am not invulnerable to block myself. In fact, I have a *huge* potential case of it. The difference is, I know what to do about it. Actually, I break writer’s block several times a day for myself. If I didn’t, I would be paralyzed.)

    Be well,
    Jerrold Mundis

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