— Your Writing Prompt —
How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?
We all have days when, as Kurt Vonnegut eloquently put it — “you feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
When Dr. Seuss got writer’s block, he would try on a different silly hat and imagine what kind of character would wear that hat, before angling that perspective at his problem.
Before the 1940s, writer’s block didn’t exist, heck, there wasn’t even a word for it.
Has this ever happened to you? Tell us how you cure your Blank Page Syndrome. What hammers do you hold in your toolkit for crushing your creative gremlins?
The writing prompt: Over to you…
- What do you do when the muse refuses to show up?
- What quirks get you into the sacred realm of flowing inspiration? Do you have any creative routines?
- How do you slay the beasts of distraction, drown out the noise of self-doubt?
- Who have you borrowed wisdom from to get back on track?
Keep reading to see what you can win and for inspiration straight from the pens of 15 literary geniuses.
A note from the founder at Litographs
We’re rallying writers around the world to ask for support in launching our latest project on Kickstarter. We’ve always wanted to print your words, and now each and every backer will be able to wear their own unique text on a fully customized scarf or t-shirt.
When all is said and done with this writing prompt, we’ll select one winner from the most creative responses and send one of our first custom scarves or t-shirts — filled with any text you wish (up to 40,000 words). So whether you would love to see your own writing in print (you can export your Medium archive too)— we will handcraft you a truly one-of-a-kind scarf or t-shirt. You can even customize the color, style and size of your text.
We can’t wait to read your responses!
– Danny Fein, Founder at Litographs
“No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down… The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice? Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure. Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better. Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world.”
— Seth Godin on writing like you talk
“They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.”
— Aaron Koblin on saving thoughts
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
— Ira Glass on fighting your way through…
“I’ve long been inspired by an idea I first learned about in The Artist’s Way called morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of writing done every day, typically encouraged to be in “long hand”, typically done in the morning, that can be about anything and everything that comes into your head. It’s about getting it all out of your head, and is not supposed to be edited or censored in any way. The idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day. Unlike many of the other exercises in that book, I found that this one actually worked and was really really useful.”
— Buster Benson on morning pages
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
— Jodi Picoult on time constraints
“How can you defeat the snarling goblins of creative block? With books, of course. Just grab one… Now, open it to a random page. Stare at a random sentence. Every book holds the seed of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac. By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought. The goblins of creative block have stopped snarling and have been shooed away, you’re dashing down thoughts, and your synapses are clanging away in a symphonic burst of ideas. And if you’re not, whip open another book. Pluck out another sentence. And ponder mash-ups of out-of-context ideas until your mind wanders and you end up in a new place, a place that no one else ever visited.”
— Jessica Hagy on pondering mash-ups
“If you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting.”
— Susan Orlean on reporter’s block
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Nor thinkers block, entrepreneur’s block, musician’s block, sculptor’s block, painter’s block, architect’s block, coder’s block, designer’s block. You get the idea. With rare exception, your best stuff never comes from the dogged pursuit of a quest in a vacuum. It comes from space and life. Living and connecting so deeply that what’s inside simply must come out. Next time you find yourself out of ideas. Stop trying to get ideas. Step away. Make art in another arena. Run. Jump. Hug. Play. Talk until 5am. Travel. Laugh uncontrollably. Weep relentlessly. Love deeply. Then come back. And do your art.”
— Jonathan Fields on making art in another arena
“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.”
― Malcolm Gladwell on hailing the tortoise
“The first two, three, four weeks are wasted. I just show up in front of the computer. Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.”
— Isabel Allende on showing up
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
— Hilary Mantel on getting away from your desk
“I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing — just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let things go at that… Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going, ‘Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?’ But it is trying to tell you nicely, ‘Shut up and go away.’”
— Anne Lamott on writing just for the hell of it
“I write while walking on a treadmill. I started this practice when I was working on Drop Dead Healthy, and read all these studies about the dangers of the sedentary life. Sitting is alarmingly bad for you. One doctor told me that “sitting is the new smoking.” So I bought a treadmill and put my computer on top of it. It took me about 1,200 miles to write my book. I kind of love it — it keeps me awake, for one thing… Force yourself to generate dozens of ideas. A lot of those ideas will be terrible. Most of them, in fact. But there will be some sparkling gems in there too. Try to set aside 20 minutes a day just for brainstorming.”
— A.J. Jacobs on counting the miles
“Remember how L-U-C-K-Y you are to be a creative person to begin with and quit your bellyaching. Get to work now!”
— Debbie Millman on gratitude
The most thoughtful response submitted before midnight PST on May 9th will not only be shared by Litographs, but you’ll also be sent one of the first custom scarves or tees handcrafted with the words of your choice!
Once you have published your response below, be sure to tweet it out using #WritingPrompt and mentioning @Litographs