I know why you’re here. You know how to write, you’re great at it, you’re altogether creative AF, and you have a gut feeling that the next big thing is burning just inside of you. But there’s one giant problem: You have writer’s block and you need to cure it.
Full disclosure guys, there is no single cure for writer’s block. Hell, if there was then my blog would not have been silent for almost a year now. But as I sit here typing, I am making the decision to set it right… at least until it comes around again (hello darkness my old friend!)
Curing writer’s block is a decision, not a spontaneous shift in the universe – unless you’re really lucky. Luckily, there are so many things you can do to begin pulling yourself out of this creative slump. This post is my return to the blogging world after a long and unproductive vacay! So today, I am trying to help myself as much as I aim to help you guys. We’re in this together. Here’s what we need to do…
Stage 1 Is Acceptance
A lot of writers out there are of the opinion that we should stop using the phrase ‘writer’s block’. They will tell us that it doesn’t exist, that it’s purely psychological. And to them I would say, in the wise words of Dumbledore, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
You have a problem. We both do. There’s no point in either of us trying to deny it. Admitting that your juices are running dry is not admitting failure or lack of creative genius. You are still Mark Twain and Mary Shelley’s edgy, three-eyed, enlightened lovechild, okay?
It’s common sense, to cure your writer’s block you need to first identify and accept it, and thereby eliminate the chance of letting yourself get away with other excuses like not having time or not having any inspiration. Because the truth is, you have nothing but time until you’re dead, and the world is full of inspiration. Case closed. So, we can agree that writers block is real, but what it most definitely is NOT, is an excuse to sit back and do nothing.
I’m not going to write today because I have writer’s block.
I am going to make an extra effort to write today because I have writer’s block.
Dragging your feet with a ‘fuck it, creativity starts Monday’ attitude won’t get you anywhere. If you are going to cure this writer’s block, then you need to have a word with yourself. Don’t shout and cuss and send yourself to bed without supper, just let yourself know that you need to start taking a few extra measures to get back on the bike, get the pedals turning, and pretty soon you’ll be doing wheelies down a hill with your arms in the air and a bestseller in your back pocket (or more realistically, a decent chapter, blog post, poem or article that you can be proud of).
Don’t be hard on yourself. Identify what it is that has changed, and then explain to yourself why none of it is a reason to give up on your abilities. Use your obstacles to your advantage. Use your frustrations as the fire you need to set about curing your writer’s block. I gave myself this same pep-talk this morning. It went a little like this:
I know you have been travelling for six months and you’re living in a campervan on the other side of the world with none of your home comforts. But, this is no excuse for not putting pen to paper.
Sure, it is harder for you to sit on your laptop for hours when the solar panel on the roof of your van is your primary source of energy. Sure, you don’t always have a steady internet connection on the road. Sure, you have a lack of routine right now and are stressed about funding your travels…
But you always have a pen and a piece of paper, or a book to read for inspiration, or the notes app on your phone to jot down your thoughts. You don’t need the internet to open Word and start freewriting or drafting a blog post. You may be lacking in routine, but you are travelling around a new country and gaining fresh experiences every day, all of which deserve to be given some creative attention! As for your lack of funds, that will never be resolved by sitting on your talents instead of trying to make use of them as potentially lucrative tools.
And at the end of it all, I had to look straight back at myself and say, you’re absolutely bloody right. Whatever your situation, I’m sure you can relate on some level, so call a meeting with yourself and see what you guys can agree on.
Make The Time
If we are going to have any chance of curing our writer’s block, we will need to set aside at least a little bit of time each day. I know, I know, you’re busy. But this could be half an hour each night in bed, slipping away during your lunch break, or passing time on your commute. There is always a way to fit it in. Clear a slot, clear your mind, try to avoid distractions, and just allow yourself to write without too much pressure.
Most importantly, if a day, a few days, or even a week passes and you haven’t made any time for your writing, this is NOT a free pass to give up entirely. Curing writer’s block is like going to the gym, if you miss a few sessions, it’s not ideal but it’s not the end of the world. The worst thing you can do is get in a strop, cancel your membership and order a Maccies. Your Joni jeans will not thank you.
Unleash The Beast
This is the bit where we start writing… something… anything… EVERYTHING.
In our initial efforts to cure writer’s block, it’s important to avoid getting overwhelmed and ending up in a state of, what I like to call, ‘Paralysis by Analysis’. This refers to overthinking every little detail, trying to run before you can walk, and causing yourself to get tunnel-vision. If there’s one thing I understand about being a writer and a creative, it’s that we have so many great ideas and projects in our heads at any given time, the hardest part is often deciding where to start. Which projects should we pour our time and energy into, and which ones are going to make us the next JK Rowling, for crying out loud?!
The trick to curing writer’s block is to not start with these big, overthought and underdeveloped ideas that have been going stale in the cupboard of your mind. Not straight away. All you need to do is write… something. Here are a few of my favourite writer’s warm up routines you can try:
Freewriting means just that. Writing entirely freely. Don’t think. You’re doing way too much of that lately. Just write. It’s a common practice amongst writers to cure a mental block and it really does work. I’ll do some right now and leave it unedited for the purpose of this post. Here goes (apologies in advance):It’s amazing what sandwiches can say about you when you think you are a little like a hummus pot and the blinds are closing at the end of a long hard day eating blueberry waffles, cross your legs and hit shuffle on the tape deck because today is just one pebble in a pond
Whilst being a great way to cure the first barrier of writer’s block, it is also an amusing insight into your current psyche. Looks like I’m hungry…
It doesn’t matter what it is, or whether it makes logical or even grammatical sense, it put’s your brain in gear, gets the cogs turning and places you in a position from which you are better prepared to write something with a little more thought. Think of it as turning on a car engine for the first time after a few cold months, it’s clunky but it’s a start.
Sit for twenty minutes and write a couple of pages. You never know, there might just be a book in there!
- Write Down Your Dreams
That’s right, cure writer’s block in your sleep.It might sound like a cliché, but at the end of the day, you believe in yourself, don’t you? You trust that the recesses of your brain are dripping with liquid gold. Well, your dreams are you. Entirely your own. Just like your writing. You’re not going to dream up a flawless plot containing glorious three-dimensional character arcs that you can wake up and transcribe perfectly into a screenplay and BAM, you knock The Shawshank Redemption from the IMDB top spot. But just like freewriting, it is a place to start, and one that is completely unique to you and your innermost thoughts.
You might have dreamt that you were stuck in a broken elevator with another version of yourself, or that you accidentally created a corn kernel monster in your microwave whilst trying to make popcorn, or that all of humanity could suddenly only communicate through one massive, worldwide game of Chinese whispers. All of these might make interesting short stories, flash fiction, or with enough development, maybe even novels with strong threads of social commentary (I’m not sure how much the kernel monster reflects the current economic or socio-political state of the globe, but it would be fun to run with it and see where it went)
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going for a nap…
This is my personal favourite, and the one I frequently find to be most effective in curing my writer’s block. Plug yourself in, block shit out, and get those words down.
Music is an excellent way to stir the imagination. So much of the narrative content that we consume everyday on television or on our phones, on games, or podacasts, all of it uses music to guide the emotions of its audience. As a result, we have become conditioned to derive mood, setting, movement, meaning and atmosphere, from completely abstract sounds produced from wood and wind and bits of string. It’s quite fascinating really where the brain will go when you allow it to get lost in a piece of music.Take that idea you had that has grown stagnant recently, add a soundtrack, and mull it over in your mind. It will help you visualise more easily what exactly it is that you want to achieve. Let your characters come to life as the music takes hold. Let a pivotal plot twist unfold to the crescendo of the beat. Let your writer’s block be cured by the melodic waves of genius that a simple bit of music could inspire!
These are just a few of many places from which to start. You can also try prompts, exercise, and of course, do lots of reading. Like I said, there is no one-size-fits-all cure for writer’s block. Find what works for you and do it even when you don’t necessarily feel like it.
The most important thing to remember is not to strive for perfection in these early stages, you’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment. Pages and pages of unconnected scribbles like a messy pot of alphabetti spaghetti, is better than a big shiny, streamlined bowl of nothing.
Harness the Beast
So, you’ve started writing a load of shit. Some good shit, some bad shit, and probably some ugly shit. This is the part where we trim the fat and start to give our creative genius some meaningful direction. By now you are well on your way to curing your writer’s block, but you have some decisions to make. Some ideas you must send home, and some are going to progress to bootcamp or even the judge’s houses.
All your ideas are now like planets floating in space, and one of them may have just the right conditions to support life. Scour your scribbles and expand on them, work them, combine them, experiment with them, and just have fun with them. The secret to curing writer’s block in the most organic way, is getting back to a place where writing is fun, and not just another painful chore or intimidating task.
You have half an idea here, half an idea there, some character profiles with potential, or some interesting and original thoughts on form, structure or medium that you’ve been wanting to put into practice. Take your favourite ideas and think about how they might work together, how you can evolve them and take them forward, and keep doing this until something clicks. It might take time, but you will get there.
When your ideas are planets in infinite space, the possibilities are endless.
Find Beauty In The Beast
By this point you are cured of your writer’s block, you have hopefully learned more about yourself as a writer, and you have a honed project underway. The key to staying cured of writer’s block for the long term is keep your teeth well and truly sunk into your chosen project. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to this place. You can spend months freewriting, brainstorming, drafting, re-drafting, scrapping, re-writing and re-scrapping ideas. But if you keep at it, the day will come when you will think, I’ve got something here.
That’s when you really fall in love with writing again. Then it won’t be a chore to get started, you’ll be itching to continue with it, you’ll take pride in it and feel excited about where it might go. This is where we all want to be. Cured of writer’s block and onto something great. Something that we can finish and publish and eventually look back on during our next inevitable bout of writer’s block, to remind ourselves just how bloody clever we really are! Afterall, that’s where the cure for writer’s block has been hiding this whole time, it’s all right there, in your clever little bonce.
I hope these tips will be enough to light a little fire beneath you and set you on course for a flurry of productivity. And as I said, this post has been as much a note to myself as at is a resource for you. I am hereby re-igniting my fire and returning to the blogging world. I will be back to posting creative writing and artwork, and I plan to begin writing about my travels so expect some travel blogging too.
I invite you to sit around the fire that I shall try tirelessly to sustain. I hope it will dance and reach heights, I know it will struggle, and occasionally it will go out. It could rage and it might even sting from time to time. But there will be moments in-between when I hope it will be just warm enough to brew a cup of tea, and light up an afternoon.