When Writer’s Block Rears its Ugly Head

When Writer’s Block Rears its Ugly Head

A large black wolf with glowing eyes staring down small girl in a red coat

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You’re like Little Red Riding Hood, skipping through the forest, writing away, minding your own business when you feel it.

Something is watching you.

You look around slowly but no one is there. You squint into the trees but see nothing.

You shrug it off, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. You continue writing.

Then you hear a twig snap.

You spin around and catch the end of a tail disappear behind a tree.

You gasp. Your heart quickens. Your eyes widen and you begin to tremble. You’re being hunted.

You’re defenseless. How can anyone stop something so large and terrible?

You turn slowly back to your path, only to come eye-to-eye with a hungry beast.

Writer’s block is much more than not being able to think of the word. It’s more than just being unmotivated. It’s a big bad wolf ready to chomp on your tender motivation and willpower.

You may have the habit of writing every day, in the same uncluttered place, at the same time. You may think that your writing castle is impenetrable. But you clicked on this article, didn’t you? Maybe your habit fortress is really just a straw house the wolf of writer’s block just blew down.

Maybe you’re working on something you just can’t put your heart into. You can’t give the piece your undivided attention. Maybe there’s something else going on.

Writer’s block can affect anyone, any age, and at any time. You may be able to escape it for some time but it will find you at one point or another. So what can you do? Read on for ways to combat writer’s block and build your defenses against it.

Build your habit. As I mentioned before, having a specific time and place that you write every day is your number one defense against writer’s block. Like James Clear states in his book Atomic Habits, you have to make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Having a non-judgemental attitude toward your writing moves the mental blocks out of the way. Keeping the appointment with yourself is akin to paying yourself first on payday. Like putting away ten percent of your paycheck into savings or retirement account, writing every day can help you invest in yourself.

If you do experience writer’s block, write about it. It may seem counter-intuitive, but writing about what’s bothering you or writing whatever comes into your head can help you get over that hump by taking action. This also works with procrastination. If you find yourself getting more and more distracted each time you sit down to write, ask yourself why. Why am I procrastinating? What am I feeling? Why can’t I concentrate? Answering these questions will help you put words (even if they have nothing to do with your current work) on the page.

Close your laptop and do something else. Have a hobby you can do instead? Pursuing something else that’s still creative can help you unblock yourself. Painting or knitting can help your unconscious mind work on your writing while you keep your hands busy. It couldn’t hurt to keep a notebook and pen nearby in case your block comes down with a flood of inspiration. Or make this time an opportunity to get other things done. Haven’t cleared off your desk in a while? Need to reorganize your file cabinet or bookshelf? Mow the lawn? Getting a few chores done can help settle your mind and let you think about your topic unconsciously. Getting in some movement like a walk or run, lifting some weights, or my personal favorite, swimming laps in the pool.

Giving it a name gives it power. Not so much a technique but a good idea. Focusing on what you don’t want is still focusing on it. Have you ever tried to not think of something? Like trying not to think of an elephant? It gets very difficult to not think about it. Calling an off day or a funk a “writer’s block” causes it to grow and get uglier. Admit that you’re having a funky day and leave it at that. Don’t give it any power.

Change your environment. Always write in the same place? Usually, that’s a good thing, but like an insomniac trying to break his sleepless habits, get out of bed or your office and get to a library, coffee shop or see if there are any coworking spaces in your town. Switching up your environment can be just enough of a push to get you back to writing. Ever hear of the romance novelist with writer’s block? She went and got her tires changed and while she was at the tire store cranked out 5,000 words. She thought her writer’s block was over but soon realized it was actually the tire shop that helped her write. She asked her friends and family if any of them needed their tires changed or rotated and offered to take their cars in for them. Eventually, she ran out of people who needed tires. So she mustered her courage and just asked the tire place if she could borrow a table for a couple of hours to write. The tire shop employees were more than happy to help her out, even getting her a little “reserved” sign for the table where she usually sat. You never know what changing your environment will do. Couldn’t hurt to try.

Reading. The number one writer’s block buster! Reading something new or rereading an old favorite will give you inspiration and motivation to carry on with your craft. Reading a book like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic where she emphasizes there is no such thing as writer’s block will help you change your perspective on your whole situation. Listening to an audiobook works too if you want to combine doing a hobby like knitting with your reading.

Meditation. Rather than trying to drum up words, how about getting some insight into what your brain is doing? Sitting quietly for a few minutes with your eyes closed and focusing on your breathing can bring a sense of relaxation. As you meditate, notice where your mind wanders off to. Gently, lovingly bring it back to your breath, but take notice. It can give you valuable insight into what could be the source of your block. Knowing what’s wrong can be the first step in solving the problem. Knowing the source of your fear or block can possibly shine a light on a solution.

Phone a friend. Got a friend or family member with a sympathetic ear? Call them up and let them give you a different perspective. Let them tell you about their problems or their small wins. Getting out of your head and catching up with a friend can be beneficial in more ways than just unblocking your creativity. Skip the phone call and meet in person over coffee. Getting in touch with a friend and having a successful social interaction has been proven to help release dopamine.

Pay it forward. Get lost in doing something selfless for someone else. Offer to run an errand for an elderly neighbor, watch someone’s pet, or pick up groceries for a new mother. There are people all around you that could use their daily burden lightened. Paying it forward is always a rewarding experience.

Take yourself on a date. An artist’s date to be exact. What is an artist’s date? Taking yourself to someplace you know you’d love. Julia Cameron wrote about the practice of artist’s dates in her book The Artist’s Way. Taking yourself to an art or science museum, to a new movie you’d like to see, or to the corner store to get some stickers and Silly Putty™. An artist’s date is about getting in touch with your inner child, inner artist or inner idiot, so you can set them free (careful with that last one).

Getting out from under a writer’s block can be difficult, no one is saying otherwise. But these are the times when you really earn your merit as a writer. It’s not the times where the words are flowing freely, it’s when you are struggling sentence after sentence to get something done. We’ve all heard about smooth seas and skilled sailors, no one wants a sailor that has only sailed on glass-like smoothness. They want the grizzled, salty old sea dog that will get them to the harbor safely, again and again. Try one of these methods and get back to your writing with renewed vigor.

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Margaret Lewis

Margaret Lewis

Margaret is a South Carolina-based freelance writer. She enjoys reading self-help books, creating art, and spending time outside with her dogs and husband.