10 Ways to Avoid and Overcome Writer's Block
Game-Changing Strategies for Bringing Your Words Back to Life
Isn’t it just the hardest thing to write when you can’t find the words?
Writers Block is a form of overwhelm in the writer’s brain. You think it’s lack of ideas, but I’ve found it can also be a muddle of too many ideas, or too much self-doubt, or simply the inability to have clarity on why you’re writing at all.
If you search the Internet for “writer’s block,” you’ll discover any number of ways to combat the dreaded stall in writing momentum. Many of the ideas come from wildly successful creative people.
Writer’s block is real. It happens even to the best of writers.
My late husband, David Peckinpah, was a writer for television and film. We couldn’t afford Writer’s Block… it was that simple. A block in writing meant we couldn’t pay the bills.
For me, writing is not my main paycheck. I wish it was, but I know for sure, writing must be my true love because I look forward to it every damn day.
But sometimes I feel stalled, stuck, and out of words. I think, what the heck can I say today, that I haven’t said before?
I know I’m not alone. It happens to all writers, all creative people.
I can remember David calling from work saying, “it’s not going well today,” but then he’d arrive home with 10 new pages of a script. I’d wonder, How did he do that?
He stayed in the chair until he had an acceptable amount of work, even if it was bad. That’s what commitment is, and that’s what a professional writer does.
David had a number of techniques he used when he felt “blocked.” Some of the following strategies are his, and some are mine that I’ve developed over the years.
See if any of these resonate with you:
Meet a friend at Starbucks and tell them you’re stuck and you‘ll NEVER have a shot at being a REAL writer
You need encouragement. It’s like a golfer who just hit a bad shot… he depends on the caddie to see what he did wrong and help him shift mentally for the next shot. The caddie knows enough about what’s inside his player’s head to help him take the next shot.
One of my favorite inspirational books (and movies) is Stephen Pressfield’s, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Set in the early years of the Great Depression, it’s the story of a golfer, a troubled war veteran, who lost his swing. A caddy appears, Bagger Vance (played by Will Smith), and teaches him the secret of the authentic golf stroke which turns out also to be the secret to mastering any challenge and finding meaning in life.
“Put your eyes on Bobby Jones… Look at his practice swing, almost like he’s searchin’ for something… Then he finds it… there’s only ONE shot that’s in perfect harmony with the field… There’s a perfect shot out there tryin’ to find each and every one of us… All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us.” -Stephen Pressfield’s Legend of Bagger Vance
And that’s what a friend can do… they may not be a writer, but they know what they like to read. More importantly, if they are a good friend, they want the best for you. They can help you get out of your own way and back into why you’re writing, and what purpose you’re fulfilling by doing it.
Believe with all your heart that you are a writer and nothing will stop you, not even writer’s block
Best selling author, Jeff Goins, (You Are a Writer) tells the story of having coffee with a friend, and telling him, “I just want to be a writer.” His friend replies, “You are a writer, Jeff, you just have to write.”
And there you have it.
Are you calling yourself a writer? If not, that may be your problem. If you don’t believe you’re a writer, who will?
“When do you become a writer? When you say you are.”- Stephen Pressfield
My husband had to call himself a writer from the beginning of pursuing his career in the entertainment business or no one would have hired him.
Can you imagine the outcome if David walked into the office with the head of Disney and said he was a bartender but he had an idea for a story? Would he have been taken seriously?
But he walked in there, all right, (even though he was working as a bartender at the time) and he boldly said he had a script he had written and would like Disney to make it. (he didn’t sell that one, but he did sell this one to Disney -Man of the House with Chevy Chase and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.)
Strut it, declare it out loud… I AM A WRITER.
Then see if you can go back to your office and use writer’s block as an excuse. I promise you’ll start writing.
“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” -John Rogers, screenwriter
Have a conversation with yourself
Talking to yourself might seem a bit eccentric, but we have conversations in our minds every day. You know the little guy that sits in your ear and tells you “you’re not good enough,” or that “you shouldn’t even try.” It’s that inner chatter that can destroy your whole day and ruin your opinion about your project.
What if you controlled that chatter by asking questions and answering before that inner destroyer has the opportunity to be a project killer.
Instead, turn him into your audience.
Start out by saying, “I was just thinking about”….(your writing subject)
Here’s the conversation I had with myself for this article…
“I was just thinking about writer’s block. Most writers are afraid of it and think it’s “project death.”
BUT I DON’T! Here’s what I think… writer’s block is a common occurrence in the lives of all writers… even the best.
So, I must be among the best if I’m willing to keep writing…
Don’t stop writing because you think writer’s block is an illness that takes time to get over… there is no incubation period. In fact, the only prescription is “writing.”
Just write ugly
Allow yourself to write “bad” to get to the good. Just write it ugly. Write where you think the story should go, even if it’s the worst sentence structure ever. The idea is that you’ll go back and clean it up when you’re ready.
“The genius stuff happens in the editing process.”- Jeff Goins
My husband used to write 10 pages (or more) of a script a day, even if it was bad.
Then, when he’d return to his desk the next day, the bad stuff just got edited out, and the good stuff moved the story forward to the next 10 pages.
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” — Maya Angelou
Stop thinking you have to write your story in order
Ever had a moment of brilliance in the shower? Of course, you did. All writers have those great lines or character developments that pop up through the steam in a hot shower… and they are typically OUT OF ORDER. You may not be involved in that chapter at all, but you just thought of the greatest line for one of your characters!
Happens all the time, doesn’t it?
You’re the writer. You’re allowed to write your story in any order you choose. If you hop out of the shower and have the perfect Chapter 7 in your head even though you’re still writing Chapter 3, go ahead and write it. It will all make sense once you get there, and hone it in the rewrite.
This trick is one of the best antidotes to writer’s block there is. My husband used it all the time when he felt stalled by the characters or storyline.
It helps if you work from an outline, so you know where the story is headed.
“It would be easy to say oh, I have writers’ block, oh I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” -Barbara Kingsolver, author, The Poisonwood Bible
Read your work out loud to someone
David and I read his scripts out loud several days a week. We’d usually start after the kids were in bed, and then sit on the back patio and read what he wrote that day.
It’s surprising what new ideas can evolve when you hear the words spoken. Your characters come alive! Your ideas find new ways to turn! You may feel stuck, but words have a life of their own, and reading out loud is a game changer.
Once you hear the rhythm and feel the emotion of what you’ve already written, you’re wide open to your creative mind coming up with “what’s next.”
Kick self-doubt to the curb
Writer’s block is often a lack of confidence. We begin to question if we’re good enough or if anyone will ever want to read our stuff. Remember, no one has ever told your story from your point of view. Don’t ask how good your writing is, ask what motivated you to write your story. Ask why.
Here’s where visualizing might help. Imagine yourself being interviewed. You wouldn’t be interviewed unless you’d written your book or article. You wouldn’t be able to answer unless you wrote something meaningful. What kind of questions are they asking you?
That’s exactly what I visualized in my life, and here’s what happened…
My daughter’s birth ignited my stalled desire to write. She was born with a facial defect and I wanted to give her a fairy tale, one that would inspire her to be the hero of her story. It was also a tool I intended to use when she started school, to help young students see the beauty in imperfection.
I didn’t have time to let writer’s block keep me from writing. I wanted it for her first day of kindergarten.
And… On Julianne’s first day at school, she confidently walked into the classroom with her very own book, Rosey… the Imperfect Angel. She was proud of herself. She even shared pictures of how she looked when she was born.
The young students were in awe and it changed the way they saw her, but more importantly, it changed the way she saw herself.
My daughter and I appeared on talk shows, and went into schools with my best friend, actress Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie), to raise awareness. Melissa willingly gave her commitment and time to help me pave the way for my child and others like her, and I’m so grateful.
And you see… my visualizations came true…
And so can yours.
Rewrite an old blog or story to get your creativity flowing
Read the comments you received on one of your old blogs or stories. The overall theme of your work inspired a reader’s response, and it touched them deeply enough to want to say something to you. Then, find new ways to tell your reader what you want them to know.
This particular article is one of those rewritten blogs, implementing some NEW ideas.
“But, aren’t you just copying your own stuff?”
NO! You’re a whole new person since you last wrote the piece. Even one year of life gives you a new perspective on your old experiences… and you’re likely a better writer.
When I look at my stuff from two years ago, I cringe. Yep… cringe. I welcome the opportunity to re-tell my stories as the writer I am today.
There’s a saying… there are no new stories, just old ones retold. There are plenty of ways of telling your story again and again with new inspiration.
Be another writer’s encourager… it bounces right back to you
Meet with a fellow author and ask what they are working on. Ask if you can give them ideas and inspiration for their work. Interaction with other writers opens the floodgates of creativity and often re-charges your own project.
One rule here is to stick with THEIR work. This is time set aside as a gift to them. When you’re focussed on their story, I promise your creativity will be nudged, and you’ll give them great ideas that will, in turn, break the cycle of your own writer’s block.
How can you be blocked when you’ve just helped someone else with their story?
The words are in you… just nudge them along with a little kindness for someone else.
What if Oprah chose YOU
Think about this, imagine if you were told you had one week to finish your book because Oprah was going to interview you as the next author for her book club… would you use Writer’s Block as a polite excuse?
NO! You’d forge ahead.
Give yourself that kind of mental urgency by implementing any of these techniques to get it done.
That’s when you “Turn Pro.”
“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads. At last, we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny.”―Steven Pressfield, author “Turning Pro” and “The War of Art”
Your story is waiting for you to turn pro and break through whatever block you’re feeling right now. Don’t allow it to take up residence in your head for too long, because writing is where your heart is, even though sometimes, it can be the hardest damn thing in the world.
Never fear writer’s block. It’s there for a reason. Your mind just got stuck and needs to take a leap of faith. It’s telling you it’s time to turn pro!
What would a professional writer do? Keep writing.
Declare your commitment today- “You are a writer… you just have to write.” (thank you Jeff Goins)
If you're feeling stuck and need a boost with your creativity… I have a complimentary sample for you. A short ebook on how to establish some simple habits to set your creativity on fire: How to Develop the Creative Mindset.
**Previously published on Medium-The Writing Cooperative**