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Dismantling Writer's Block

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Writer's Life

How could this happen? You panic as you cast your mind back to the forethought and planning you had committed as a pathway to success. However, there’s no ‘get out of jail free’ card when you hit that brick wall. It’s the ogre under the bridge all writers must face, the clause in the agreement you sign when you pick up the quill – and other such unhelpful metaphorical examples. The bottom line is this: all writers find themselves at one time or another sitting with an open page, fidgety fingers and a ghost town within both hemispheres of the brain.



Good News, or Bad News?


For such a common problem, there must be a quick fix, right? Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to launch yourself into devising the masterful solution to your plot progression problem. However, there are some tried-and-tested ways to get your creative juices flowing in the right direction. You’d do well to read on even if you haven't hit that wall yet!



Put That Phone Away


Let ‘phone’ be a stand in for anything that distracts you in your writing space. Technology is a main culprit, so take away the temptation to turn on the TV or check your e mails. Out of sight, out of mind: put your phone and remote in a drawer or at the far end of your home. If you find that your writing space isn’t aiding your focus, consider what you have around you. Of course, if you find that it’s more people who are pulling you out of your zone, do not try shoving them in drawers. Family or roommates are unlikely to respond well to being locked out the house either. A better solution is to explain your predicament and work together to establish a time you can have peace and quiet for a few hours. Some writers find it easier to go elsewhere, like a library or café, to rid themselves of home distractions – just be sure your new setting doesn’t become a second distraction!



Step Away from the Keyboard


A reoccurring theme in these tips is based on one basic fact: a true writer thrives on tapping or scribbling down those wonderful words into meaningful sentences, and they experience joy as they reach that satisfying stop at the end. Another basic fact? Writer’s block is not fun. If you find you cannot scramble over the barricade in front of you, continuing to try is only succeeding in bringing your passion down. Never let a temporary problem impact on your relationship with writing. Sometimes closing the laptop lid and stepping away is what will keep you writing in the long run. It isn’t admitting defeat, it’s preserving what you’ll need to win.



Get Your Body Moving!


There is not a self-help article online nowadays that doesn’t eventually guilt-trip you into considering exercise, and this article isn’t the exception. Cold, hard scientific research cannot be dismissed: starting up a physical activity immediately increases the heart rate. This in turn chugs delicious oxygen around our bodies and – more importantly for our case of writer’s block – into our brains. In addition to enhancing our information processing capabilities, even a short 15 minute block of consistent movement can re-invigorate our cells. Research from UCLA revealed that exercise led to growth factors, allowing brains to strengthen and create new neuronal connections. What does this mean for the down-and-out-writer, you ask? Not only will you be giving the idea machine in your head the shake-up it needs, it will keep your brain cells healthy and strong. You might want to consider keeping up a good exercise routine after you have Superman-ed through your writer’s block with your neurological superpowers.



Step Away…But Not For Too Long!


As hard as it is to walk away from the screen, it will be even harder to return if your blockage transforms into a great, looming creature you stand no chance overcoming. Holding off too long before returning to a project will soon make turn that much-needed breather into a 'hiding spot'. Give yourself a day or two to refresh your mindset, perform a 'reset' and find a better perspective, but get back to it whilst the excitement still overshadows the intimidating task ahead. The easiest way to do this is to give yourself a fun goal to return to. Let's consider a few methods.



Something Completely Different…


Writers are never off the clock and typically hold more than a few ideas in their heads at any given moment. It is time to use this fact to your advantage! Turn a few pages or open another document and start on a new project. 'But what if I lose my drive for the original project?' I hear your say, 'I can’t abandon my original piece! ' It feels like accepting failure, but there are strong benefits in changing the channel. It is a solid way to take a break from your problem whilst not breaking away from your good writing habits. It can also kick-start your creativity as your spluttering brain finally catches an idea it can put to use. Changing gears can act as a reset button and allow you to see your original writer’s block problem from a different perspective with renewed interest. If nothing else, you will continue to be productive instead of wallowing in self-pity as a writer unable to write.



Flibbity Gibbit


An add-on to the last tip: writers have reported overcoming the inability of putting ideas together by simply talking – or rather, typing – gibberish. Make a list of funny words, create a recipe for the perfect cheese and onion gateau, plan your week in bullet points or write someone from your past a letter. Just. Write. It is also the perfect opportunity to write out-of-character, trying some new themes or techniques with pre-acceptance it will not be your best work. Understanding that you expect it to be bad allows you to have fun playing around and focus on the process instead of the outcome. You may be surprised how your mind reacts with a little fun exercise.



Make it a Jigsaw!


Whether you are aiming to put an entire novel to paper or blog with a 500 word limit, your piece will have differing sections in one way or another. If you have been working in a linear, start-to-finish fashion - and there’s nothing wrong with that! - you may feel like you are barred from the rest of the piece. Consider seeing your writing, not as a straight line of storytelling, but as pieces of a jigsaw you are putting together to achieve a whole image. Perhaps you cannot quite figure out how your hero gets out of a tricky hostage situation: is not yet having an ideal escape route any reason not to skip ahead to the juicy dialogue exchange two scenes on? Moving to a scene or sub-heading you have a clearer idea of works two-fold. First, it adds another piece of the puzzle and helps you understand what else you need to do. Second, productivity and pure enjoyment comes to writers who weave between waves that have their attention in that moment, up-keeping that ever-important excitement we want so much. Altering the order you write by jumping between sections allows all the 'pieces' to make it onto the table, and from there you have a smoother road to putting it all together.



Backwards Working Try


R. L. Stine (Goosebumps), Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), and J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter) - What do these successful authors have in common? Aside from being stand-out successes in their genre field, they all confessed to working backwards at one time or another. Stine has said ending scenes often came to him in dreams and his waking self was responsible for formulating a fuller story around it. Rowling admitted to having written the end to the Potter series when working on her earliest novels. Mitchell credited her characters 'not getting away from her' to penning pivotal later scenes first and working back to a sensible beginning. If your scene is hard to dictate, consider where you want your characters to be by the end, or at least a later point. From there, pave the way back in note form so your gap of uncertainty grows smaller.



Read, Read, Then Read Some More


It is the common thread that ties all writers together: we just like to read. Reading widely is how we discover our own unique voice, understand what we like, and where use other people’s ideas as a springboard. When ideas are just not spilling out the way they normally do, imagine you are ‘running dry’ of inspiration. Quench your thirst by gulping down a wide variety of writings, from novels, biographies, study articles, guides or glossy magazine pieces. If you have a favourite book, take the time to settle back into its familiarity and re-centre yourself. For anyone looking for some book ideas, check out '100 Books You Should Read' in our Challenge Central or 'You Had Me At Page 1' in the Inspiration section. Writers block is a necessary evil and it hits the best of writers just as much as the aspiring. There’s no need to beat yourself up or question your writing ability, and definitely not something you should put you off doing what you love. Try some of the above steps to get your cogs well-oiled and look forward to the feeling of success when the wheels start turning and your engine roars back to life. It’s going to happen. And it's going to feel incredible.


How could this happen? You panic as you cast your mind back to the forethought and planning you had committed as a pathway to success. However, there’s no ‘get out of jail free’ card when you hit that brick wall. It’s the ogre under the bridge all writers must face, the clause in the agreement you sign when you pick up the quill – and other such unhelpful metaphorical examples. The bottom line is this: all writers find themselves at one time or another sitting with an open page, fidgety fingers and a ghost town within both hemispheres of the brain.



Good News, or Bad News?


For such a common problem, there must be a quick fix, right? Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to launch yourself into devising the masterful solution to your plot progression problem. However, there are some tried-and-tested ways to get your creative juices flowing in the right direction. You’d do well to read on even if you haven't hit that wall yet!



Put That Phone Away


Let ‘phone’ be a stand in for anything that distracts you in your writing space. Technology is a main culprit, so take away the temptation to turn on the TV or check your e mails. Out of sight, out of mind: put your phone and remote in a drawer or at the far end of your home. If you find that your writing space isn’t aiding your focus, consider what you have around you. Of course, if you find that it’s more people who are pulling you out of your zone, do not try shoving them in drawers. Family or roommates are unlikely to respond well to being locked out the house either. A better solution is to explain your predicament and work together to establish a time you can have peace and quiet for a few hours. Some writers find it easier to go elsewhere, like a library or café, to rid themselves of home distractions – just be sure your new setting doesn’t become a second distraction!



Step Away from the Keyboard


A reoccurring theme in these tips is based on one basic fact: a true writer thrives on tapping or scribbling down those wonderful words into meaningful sentences, and they experience joy as they reach that satisfying stop at the end. Another basic fact? Writer’s block is not fun. If you find you cannot scramble over the barricade in front of you, continuing to try is only succeeding in bringing your passion down. Never let a temporary problem impact on your relationship with writing. Sometimes closing the laptop lid and stepping away is what will keep you writing in the long run. It isn’t admitting defeat, it’s preserving what you’ll need to win.



Get Your Body Moving!


There is not a self-help article online nowadays that doesn’t eventually guilt-trip you into considering exercise, and this article isn’t the exception. Cold, hard scientific research cannot be dismissed: starting up a physical activity immediately increases the heart rate. This in turn chugs delicious oxygen around our bodies and – more importantly for our case of writer’s block – into our brains. In addition to enhancing our information processing capabilities, even a short 15 minute block of consistent movement can re-invigorate our cells. Research from UCLA revealed that exercise led to growth factors, allowing brains to strengthen and create new neuronal connections. What does this mean for the down-and-out-writer, you ask? Not only will you be giving the idea machine in your head the shake-up it needs, it will keep your brain cells healthy and strong. You might want to consider keeping up a good exercise routine after you have Superman-ed through your writer’s block with your neurological superpowers.



Step Away…But Not For Too Long!


As hard as it is to walk away from the screen, it will be even harder to return if your blockage transforms into a great, looming creature you stand no chance overcoming. Holding off too long before returning to a project will soon make turn that much-needed breather into a 'hiding spot'. Give yourself a day or two to refresh your mindset, perform a 'reset' and find a better perspective, but get back to it whilst the excitement still overshadows the intimidating task ahead. The easiest way to do this is to give yourself a fun goal to return to. Let's consider a few methods.



Something Completely Different…


Writers are never off the clock and typically hold more than a few ideas in their heads at any given moment. It is time to use this fact to your advantage! Turn a few pages or open another document and start on a new project. 'But what if I lose my drive for the original project?' I hear your say, 'I can’t abandon my original piece! ' It feels like accepting failure, but there are strong benefits in changing the channel. It is a solid way to take a break from your problem whilst not breaking away from your good writing habits. It can also kick-start your creativity as your spluttering brain finally catches an idea it can put to use. Changing gears can act as a reset button and allow you to see your original writer’s block problem from a different perspective with renewed interest. If nothing else, you will continue to be productive instead of wallowing in self-pity as a writer unable to write.



Flibbity Gibbit


An add-on to the last tip: writers have reported overcoming the inability of putting ideas together by simply talking – or rather, typing – gibberish. Make a list of funny words, create a recipe for the perfect cheese and onion gateau, plan your week in bullet points or write someone from your past a letter. Just. Write. It is also the perfect opportunity to write out-of-character, trying some new themes or techniques with pre-acceptance it will not be your best work. Understanding that you expect it to be bad allows you to have fun playing around and focus on the process instead of the outcome. You may be surprised how your mind reacts with a little fun exercise.



Make it a Jigsaw!


Whether you are aiming to put an entire novel to paper or blog with a 500 word limit, your piece will have differing sections in one way or another. If you have been working in a linear, start-to-finish fashion - and there’s nothing wrong with that! - you may feel like you are barred from the rest of the piece. Consider seeing your writing, not as a straight line of storytelling, but as pieces of a jigsaw you are putting together to achieve a whole image. Perhaps you cannot quite figure out how your hero gets out of a tricky hostage situation: is not yet having an ideal escape route any reason not to skip ahead to the juicy dialogue exchange two scenes on? Moving to a scene or sub-heading you have a clearer idea of works two-fold. First, it adds another piece of the puzzle and helps you understand what else you need to do. Second, productivity and pure enjoyment comes to writers who weave between waves that have their attention in that moment, up-keeping that ever-important excitement we want so much. Altering the order you write by jumping between sections allows all the 'pieces' to make it onto the table, and from there you have a smoother road to putting it all together.



Backwards Working Try


R. L. Stine (Goosebumps), Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), and J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter) - What do these successful authors have in common? Aside from being stand-out successes in their genre field, they all confessed to working backwards at one time or another. Stine has said ending scenes often came to him in dreams and his waking self was responsible for formulating a fuller story around it. Rowling admitted to having written the end to the Potter series when working on her earliest novels. Mitchell credited her characters 'not getting away from her' to penning pivotal later scenes first and working back to a sensible beginning. If your scene is hard to dictate, consider where you want your characters to be by the end, or at least a later point. From there, pave the way back in note form so your gap of uncertainty grows smaller.



Read, Read, Then Read Some More


It is the common thread that ties all writers together: we just like to read. Reading widely is how we discover our own unique voice, understand what we like, and where use other people’s ideas as a springboard. When ideas are just not spilling out the way they normally do, imagine you are ‘running dry’ of inspiration. Quench your thirst by gulping down a wide variety of writings, from novels, biographies, study articles, guides or glossy magazine pieces. If you have a favourite book, take the time to settle back into its familiarity and re-centre yourself. For anyone looking for some book ideas, check out '100 Books You Should Read' in our Challenge Central or 'You Had Me At Page 1' in the Inspiration section. Writers block is a necessary evil and it hits the best of writers just as much as the aspiring. There’s no need to beat yourself up or question your writing ability, and definitely not something you should put you off doing what you love. Try some of the above steps to get your cogs well-oiled and look forward to the feeling of success when the wheels start turning and your engine roars back to life. It’s going to happen. And it's going to feel incredible.


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