How To Overcome Writer’s Block

Trisha Malhotra
Sep 11 · 8 min read

Techniques to reawaken your creative mojo.

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It’s hard to find a writer who hasn’t experienced the infamous writer’s block: complete paralysis of what write or how to go about it. It’s no surprise that writer’s block is more rampant than ever today; in a time characterised by relentless productivity and far too little leisure.

Why It Happens.

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Imagine your mind is a child that wants to play. Instead, you’re forcing it to stay indoors and do homework. The child doesn't like being restricted but ultimately tries to finish the work. Unfortunately, all it can think about is being outside. And so, the homework suffers.

This child is your mind during writer’s block. By pushing your mind to ‘do its homework’ -pump out ideas when you want it to- you are limiting its freedom. This does not mean discipline is the problem… it’s not. Too much restriction, though, hinders your ability to be creative.

Its time you put your worrying to an end for there are many ways that writer’s block can be dealt with. But first of all, don’t be too hard on yourself.

An important truth to realize is that writers all over the world of all kind, famous or not, have experienced the writer’s block. Acknowledge that is a temporary state so you haven’t lost your ability to be creative. In rare cases, it might be wise to accept that this may not be the right time for you to write. Sometimes we just cannot bring ourselves to get down to it. However, if you really have to get something on paper, try the following methods.

Do Something Else.

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Writers like Hilary Mantel and Neil Gaiman swear by engaging in some form of distraction through an activity to get out of their writing slump. In fact, researchers at Stanford found that simply taking a walk ramped up participants' creative output by 60 percent compared to those who sat. They explain that physical activity puts you in a better mood and frees up your mind to wander to novel ideas.

Gaiman’s technique is a bit different. He advocates for “hibernating” from your writing desk for a while. Working on the same piece for days-on-end can be extremely boring. It also does not encourage coming up with new ways to keep it interesting. Spend some time apart from your work and forget how you feel about it. When you return, you should hopefully find yourself unstuck and full of fresh ideas.

Write Anything.

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In certain cases, writer’s block might occur because you have too strong of a censor on yourself. At times like this, remind yourself that writing without any creative ideas is just as good as writing with them.

Even if all your mind can think of is “ajefbkvkBSBVNOwBQJGHf… I can’t come up with anything”, write it down. The idea is to stop overthinking and start to put words down even if they don’t make sense. Maya Angelou believes in the power of this technique when she says, “Nothing will work unless you do.”

Writing absolutely any thought down simulates the free-writing that people use when they journal their thoughts. When you free-write, there are no restrictions on your word-choice, how smoothly the prose flows, or whether the text is sharp enough. There’s only the need to get your point across. Such kind of writing -without any expectations- helps you feel freer in what you can express, thereby enhancing your openness and creativity.

Eliminate Distractions.

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As you sit down at your desk to write, part of you might be thinking of checking social media. Or you might remember an important email you have to draft. Or that upcoming deadline you haven’t dealt with yet.

It’s worse if your phone is next to you with the ringer and notifications switched on. You are more likely to keep thinking about your phone instead of getting to work. In these cases, you need to pigeon-hole your focus on the task in front of you by getting rid of distractions. Beyond simply putting your phone on airplane mode, there are many tools you can use to deal with a variety of distractions:

  1. If using the Internet, download customizable content-blockers like Freedom and StayFocusd to browse without distractions.
  2. Press pause on incoming emails with Inbox-Pause to eliminate the desire to check your email.
  3. Try Brain.fm for focus-boosing soundtracks while you write.

Once your environment is free of anything potentially distracting, you will feel focused and attentive towards writing.

Make Sure You Aren’t Hungry Or Sleepy.

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As most college students do, I used to study well into the night before important exams. While that is okay, the following day I would sit down to finish an upcoming assignment on 3–4 hours of sleep. Its no surprise I would find myself feeling stuck about how I should approach my paper. Yes, I tried coffee to feel awake. It just led to a more anxious version of ‘feeling stuck’.

Over the semesters, I found that ideas came to me if I wrote first thing in the morning after 7–9 hours of sleep. Preferably, when I wasn’t thinking about food. Hunger and the need to sleep are the play-ground that distracted my mind-child from doing her homework. I let my mind attend to these basic needs before piling work on to it. This automatically led to fewer instances of writer’s block over the next few months.

Write To A Single Reader.

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If the prospect of thousands of strangers reading your work makes you contemplate who you are and what your work should say about you, try this strategy. Imagine you are only writing for one person. This was made famous by John Steinbeck who wrote,

“Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist... I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”

Perhaps a loved one or a close friend would make a good pick. Not only is writing to such a person a lot less intimidating, but it also promotes a sense of authenticity. You are not trying to please an assortment of personas from an invisible crowd. Instead, you are trying to communicate with someone who already knows you and has your best interest at heart. Try it out.

Have An Attractive Yet Specific Goal.

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When I had college assignments, I had to finish my work in a specific amount of time. So, I always knew how much to work every day. I also aimed to maintain a particular GPA every semester. And I did. If you are an aspiring novelist who is trying to finish their book, you probably need some academic rigor in your life. In other words, you need deadlines and goals.

“How many words do you want to write a day? How much time do you want to dedicate to your writing every day? By when do you expect yourself to be sending your work for editorial review? Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

Studies have shown that by answering such questions you set specific high-standard goals which promote better task-performance than easy and vague goals. When you harden your goals by making them both high-achieving and detailed, you no longer feel weighed down by the ambiguity and dread with respect to your future. Instead, having attractive daily targets gives your writing momentum and reduces blockages on the way.

Note Down Ideas Whenever They Come.

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As much as you’d like it, your mind is not a computer. Just because you search “idea” into it when you sit down to write, doesn’t mean it’ll generate some for you. Instead, you could find yourself having your best ideas in the shower, as you meditate or even when you’re in conversation with someone else. In fact, both Einstein and Edison had their aha-moments of clarity just at they were about to doze off!

The best thing to do, in these moments, to note down these ideas for the times when your writer’s block hits. Keep a list of your ideas in an organized and accessible form like Google Keep or in a diary. You can now access a directory of ideas when you really need one and successfully hoodwink your writer’s block.

And if all else fails,

Accept That It’s Okay To Fail.

A lot of us become disillusioned because we believe that we aren’t the best at what we do. Writing, like anything good, is about consistency. If you practice, not necessarily daily, but consistently, you will surely improve and finish the projects you want to.

Putting that pressure on yourself to always outperform everyone is exhausting and irrational so its time you let that go. Instead, compete with yourself. Track your progress and see how it changes across weeks. Give yourself rewards to appreciate your hard work.


We might believe that a writer’s block is not something we want. However, it is what every writer needs. It serves as a course-correcting mechanism to how you approach your work. So next time, instead of worrying about why you can’t write anything, change up how you go about things and make the best of it.

Betterism

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Trisha Malhotra

Written by

Freelance writer, likes journalistic storytelling, movies and manicures, occasionally posts self-help blubber on Medium. https://trishamalhotra.contently.com/

Betterism

Betterism

Be better at whatever you're building.

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