How to Beat Writer's Block

Introduction

  • Writer's block, the bane of all literacy, is a cunning antagonist. It can strike at any time, whether you're idly scribbling away, or laboring under a tight deadline. Luckily, it's also one of the few mental illnesses that's treatable without drugs. To prevent writer's block from slowing you down, use the the following tools.

Walk

  • The next time you find yourself at a mental blockade, put down the laptop and take a 20-minute walk. While it may sound odd, the link between walking and mental agility is well-founded.
  • To the 19th Century philosopher and writer Søren Kierkegaard, walking was a fundamental part of life and work. He wrote the following in a letter to his niece:
    • "I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it...but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill."
  • Scientific research has shown that walking regularly has potent benefits for brain function.

Walking Meditation

  • If a stroll around the block doesn't push you through to the next paragraph, try an indoor walking meditation. With roots in Buddhism, this technique can help loosen the reins you keep on your creativity.
  1. Stand and gently clasp your hands at your waist.
  2. Keep your eyes open, rested and focused on nothing in particular.
  3. Slowly step forward, noticing the pressure on the sole of your front foot as it touches the floor and assumes your full weight.
  4. As you lift your other foot, notice the release of pressure and the relaxation and looseness accompanying it.
  5. Continue walking slowly, noticing the sensations of your body, including your breathing.
  6. If you find yourself thinking about your writer's bock, refocus your thoughts on the body, the feet, the lungs.
  7. Pivot and walk back in the other direction, in the same manner.
  8. Continue this relaxed pace for a full ten minutes.
  9. Chances are that when you sit down your mind will be clear enough to steer around writer's block.

Read

  • If you notice your fluency in the English language slipping away, try reading a few paragraphs by an accomplished writer. It's remarkable how efficiently someone else's coherent thoughts can clear up our own.
  1. Pull down a book (or pull up a website) featuring the work of a writer you personally find inspiring.
    • The subject matter need not have anything to do with what you're writing.
    • What's important is to absorb the rhythm and feel of it.
    • A reading break can be more productive than continuing to write. (Creative Commons photo by Hilary)
  2. If you're stalled in a creative writing endeavor, consider the following sources:
  3. If you're working on a news article, try a respected news outlet:
  4. If you're feeling stifled while writing an essay, you might find inspiration in the work of a famous essayist:
  5. For arts criticism, try these:

Write Something Else

  • When your writing runs aground, you can often get it moving again by turning to something else. It doesn't have to be anything brilliant, or even all that creative; just something that makes you think verbally, and differently.
  • Letter:
    • Try writing a mock letter to a close friend.
    • You may find that you can communicate more articulately when you're not self-conscious about the reader.
    • The letter can concern your writer's block, or be completely unrelated to the work you're stalled on.
    • This method was described by writer Anne Lamott in her book Bird By Bird.
  • Dialogue:
    • Conversation is the least formal kind of linguistic communication. Temporarily turning your work into dialogue can make it easier to think through.
    • For example, if you were working on a term paper about the Ottoman Empire, you might imagine your two best friends discussing the significance of Emperor Constantine.
  • Departure:
    • Write something with a completely different style, format and subject from what you're used to.
    • This method is discussed in more detail on Essortment.com's Overcoming Writer's Block.
  • Bypass:
    • Skip ahead to another section of what you're trying to write.
    • Spend some time writing on your subject from a different angle and you might find your way back over the blockade.

Overcome Perfectionism

  • Sometimes it's mere perfectionism that prevents us from stringing words together. Rather than comb over every phrase before it even hits the page, try giving yourself a break.
  • Writing like a child (though not necessarily spelling like one) is a useful exercise. (Creative Commons photo by freeparking)
  1. Imagine that you're a child, or perhaps a caveman; the key is that no one expects you to be the least bit articulate, so you're free to be unselfconscious about your writing.
  2. Having reverted to this state, put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and express what you're trying to say in the bluntest, crudest way you can.
  3. Just ramble on until you feel you've made the point, however badly.
  4. Now trim the result into something coherent.
  5. Finally—and perhaps with the aid of a thesaurus—enhance what you've written into something you wouldn't mind being read.

Make a Change

  • Just making a small alteration in your writing routine can get you out of a rut more quickly than you might imagine. Try one of the following low-commitment variations on your usual method.
  • Working outdoors can give your writing a whole new perspective. (Creative Commons photo by Happy Bushra)
  1. Write in public:
    • Try a library or coffee house where people are hard at work. Being around other industrious people may well prevent you from dawdling and enhance your productivity.
    • If you're doing a creative writing project—particularly something with dialogue—consider sitting down in a bar or busy cafe. Observe the human interaction; you might just find some great material.
  2. Write outdoors:
    • Get away from the glare of the computer screen and into some sunshine. Nature can not only help you to relax, but also inspire your mind to flow along with its constant changes.
  3. Use a pencil:
    • It may seem like a waste of time, but old habits die hard. As of this writing, most of us were educated in a century during which handwriting was emphasized far more than it is today. You'll be surprised just how liberating a pad of paper can be after five hours of pecking at a keyboard.

References

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