If you are a writer, it’s almost a certainty that at one point in your writing life, you experienced what’s called “writer’s block.” I say “what’s called,” and I quote it because I am not 100% certain that writer’s block, per se, is a phenomenon exclusively dedicated to writers.
Let me back up a bit and explain what I am talking about. I’ve been in writer’s block hell more than once, and this is how it has manifested for me: all day, I’d run around doing my things, my work, my chores, and so on, but never stop thinking about writing. I feel excited about it; I think of new plot lines, new scenes, new characters, and settings. During my commute, I read books on writing or my favorite authors and observed how they worked their craft.
Writer’s Block: The Black Hole
The whole day is a preamble for my evening writing. Then I finally get home, chat with my wife about our day, eat, take a shower, put my child to bed, drink some tea or a glass of wine, and eventually sit down at my desk. Turn on the computer, fix the keyboard, fire up my writing software, and Bam! That’s when it starts. A feeling of emptiness, a deep black hole inside my brain and body, a twirling sand trap in which I am slowly sinking, deeper and deeper. The sand fetters my feet, then my arms, and eventually covers my face, fills my nostrils and mouth, and suffocates me.
My fingers feel stiff. I type a sentence. I can’t write another one; I have to read the first one first. I read it. It sounds stupid, puerile, idiotic. I delete it. I write a line of dialogue, ending it with XYZ said. Now I read the name of the protagonist. It sounds childish and dumb. Now I think I have to go back and change the name throughout the entire manuscript. Now I am panicked. What if everything else sucks as well? Do I have to change everything? What do I do???
An hour later, I am still staring at the screen, just three shy words crawling in front of the blinking cursor, mocking me with his joyous flicker. So, I turn everything off, and I go away, and that’s when it happens… the worst thing ever. I say to myself: “it’s ok, I probably didn’t feel it today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
That is doom, with capital “F” because the truth is this: tomorrow is never easier. Tomorrow you carry on the weight of the doubts of today. Tomorrow you won’t forget the panic you set in today. Tomorrow it will be worse. And just saying that “I didn’t feel like it” is a defense mechanism. It’s a way for me to be at peace with myself. It’s a lie. I lie to myself, trying to sugarcoat my lack of willpower.
Everyday Writer’s Block
And we do this in all aspects of life, don’t we? Have you had one of those days in the office where you don’t feel like doing anything? And you roam around the office, dragging folders and files around, looking busy, making copies of blank papers, and faxing doodles to non-existent numbers? No, it’s just me? Ok… But you did experience something similar to that. And at the end of the day, you had a friend or family member close, and you said: “You know, today I just didn’t feel like doing shit.” And you feel good. You feel redeemed. You didn’t lose the day. You didn’t feel it. You’ll pick it up tomorrow, you say, forgetting you now have a pile of stuff to catch up with.
So, let me return to my point: writer’s block is not a writer’s block; it’s just a human block. It’s a part of our being; we carry procrastination baggage everywhere. It’s almost the same as leaving the dirty dish on the table because it’s easier to wash it tomorrow. It’s not writer’s block; it’s just you being lazy!
Ok, so what can you do about it? I created my plan of breaking out of this deadly locked-out state. I needed a way to free my mind and body from this lazy glue that covers me like a death cloud and slows down every bit of my being. I found that the secret is to 1) change focus and 2) do it fast.
Change Focus Quick
I firmly believe that as a writer, you should never work on only one project. Of course, you may have your “big” project, the book, the novel, or what have you. But alongside that project, you should always keep writing other things. You should constantly flex your writing brain by reaching out into different genres, non-fiction, or even poetry.
Here is how I do it: I have an ongoing Word file to do my writing exercises. I don’t even separate it in any way because it’s just a dump of writing bits with the sole purpose of firing up my brain.
When you feel like you don’t “feel like it,” don’t argue with that feeling. It’s hard-wired into your brain. The more you fight it, the deeper you will go. Instead, change focus. Stop the work you’re doing and turn yourself into a different project. Open up the ongoing file and write a page-long sentence. Do not stop until you fill in a page. Do not put a period until you reach the end.
Do you need writing prompts? Ideally, I’d like you to think of something yourself; for example, go back to your entire day. Start from the morning and do a fast-forward in your head. Did anything capture you during the day? A person, a place, an event, a sound, anything? Make the story about that. Use a writing prompt if you are stuck and don’t know what to write about. You can search the web, and you’ll find many sites offering writing prompts.
After you finish this page, please don’t waste time reading it. Go to the next page and write one page in a genre you hate. For example, if you are a Sci-Fi author, try to write a romance page. Or even better, dwell into erotica or murder mystery. Anything that you are 100 percent not comfortable writing. Guess what: nobody cares what you write because nobody will read it, probably not even you.
These exercises force your hand to answer your brain. You are putting words on paper. You are generating content. Second, it causes your brain to go outside of the comfort zone. Just as lifting fifteen pounds every day will get reach a plateau, so will the creative side of your brain. Sometimes it needs a jolt of something different. Sometimes, writing into a genre that you genuinely dislike may remind you how much you like your genre. Now you are again excited about getting back to your project.
Regardless of the type of exercise you use, try to make it to 1000 words. It’s not a lot, but just enough to get you going.
One other method that I’ve used successfully is to turn to outline. Outlining a novel is organizing your thoughts about the story and creating connections and relationships between its parts. Often, simply doing an outline for a book based on a new seed of an idea is enough to reopen the floods on your creative juices.
Now, if you want to tackle a much more advanced technique, read my thoughts about the Morning Pages. That’s like the nuclear option!
Do It Fast
Whenever you feel the block taking over, don’t try to fight it. You will only dig a deeper hole. Change focus right away and stay away from your project for those 1000 words. Then try to get back to it. If you still can’t, you have two options: do it all over again or start from the beginning. I hope you will excuse me for being coy, but the reality is this: your block is a mental state that you accept. If you accept it, soon it will become a part of who you are. Don’t let that happen. Act fast, act now.
Change your focus and reframe yourself. Do it as many times as it takes until you feel you climbed back out of the sand.
Keep at it!
In reality, depending on the severity, it may take a few days, but I guarantee that if you keep at it and do not let yourself trapped into the downward spiral, you will overcome the block, and you will be back at writing in no time.
And let me share a little secret with you: this post was my changing focus. I find that non-fiction is a great way to shift focus completely. If you are a blogger, you can use that to your advantage. Write some posts, post some comments. Keep writing something different every time. You will not only pull yourself out of the blackness of the block, but at the same time, you will improve your writing craft, and you will flex those tiny brain cells and take your creativity to new levels.
What’s Your Writer’s Block Story?
Do you have any writer’s block horror stories? What happened, how did it manifest? What did you do to get out of it? Did you get out of it? Use the comment box below to share your story or thoughts with us and help the community! Also, remember to check these habits of famous writers to learn how they deal with the same problems.
Other Writer’s Block Resources
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What is your experience with writer’s block?
- What are some practical tricks you use to get out of writer’s block?
- Have you ever wholly abandoned a story due to writer’s block?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!