If you’ve ever been hit with writer’s block, you know it’s no laughing matter. Throughout my student career, I’ve found that writer’s block is in a league of its own because it requires active effort to overcome. That’s why I compiled a list of some standard advice and more “out of the box” suggestions for overcoming writer’s block, complete with input from Purdue Online Writing Lab and some authors from Penguin Random House.
Here’s the advice from authors and bloggers that you might expect to hear:
1. Develop a Writing Routine
Author and artist Twyla Tharp once said in her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life: “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” This might seem reductive to some because creativity has always been characterized as a phenomenon one cannot control. But if you only rely on a lightning strike to see you through, your writer’s block will be a constant. Discipline yourself to write on a consistent and regular schedule.
To me, freewriting is the process of writing down my stream of consciousness in my journal. Am I stuck on a discussion about formalism? Time to write about my original character Caladhra Venleth, a wood elf in Dungeons and Dragons. Am I unable to advance beyond my header for a term paper? I write about something I experienced that day. Freewriting works so well for me because it’s a change of medium and subject. I go from sitting at my desk and staring at a screen for schoolwork, to sitting outside with my journal with a black gel pen for my creative energies.
3. Don’t start at the beginning
If you have a topic and a vague idea how to expand on it, but can’t think of an interesting introduction, the Purdue Online Writing Lab recommends you begin in the middle. “Start writing at whatever point you like, and leave the introduction or first section until later. The reader will never know that you wrote the paper backwards.”
4. Map out your writing
If your writing has been halted by writer’s block, help dissolve it with a structured outline. The nitty-gritty of the rest of your work may be out of reach for now, but so long as you have that outline of where you want it to go, your brain will get the message.
5. Find your touch
A “touch” in the literary world is a source of inspiration that encompass your writing identity. According to an anonymous author at Penguin Random House: “I have certain books that are touchstones, and I turn to them when I think I can’t write a single sentence. Virginia Woolf is one.” For example, my touchstone is anything by Agatha Christie or anything in Reese’s Book Club, because those have very vibrant characters and inspirational world-building that help get my brain moving again.
Because writer’s block can be subjective, there are a lot of unusual ways people overcome it. Here are my favorites:
1. Take a shower
This isn’t a hygiene thing. This is a creativity method. After all, there is a reason why a type of comedy called “Shower Thoughts” exists. There’s even a scientific explanation: research shows that when you’re doing something routinely monotonous (like showering) your brain goes on autopilot, leaving your unconscious free to wander without logic-driven restrictions. Additionally, the time away from your writing counts as a break. It’s a win-win.
2. Quit the internet
This advice can be dependent on what you’re writing, but it is still applicable. My writer’s block is always rooted in motivation, so I always remove the things that are distracting me from settling into my writing. That includes the internet on my computer and my phone. For my phone, I use an app called Forest. Forest is a unique productivity app that plants virtual (and real) trees. Here’s how it works: When you plant a seed in Forest and set a growth time, you can’t exit the app unless you want the tree to die. For my computer I use the app Cold Turkey, which transforms my laptop to a typewriter.
3. Ask yourself why
Why are you blocked? Asking yourself this and examining your motivations can be a useful tool to understanding your writer’s block, thus, learning how to overcome it. When I was in middle school and writing for a Girl Scout newspaper called Lime Green Giraffe, I battled writer’s block on the daily. It wasn’t until my dad advised me to ask myself why I was blocked that I understood where my writers block comes from.
4. Visualize your work
This can be for any kind of learner. Adding a visual element goes hand in hand with my previous tip on creating an outline because both involve breaking down something complex into a different medium. For me, if I finish an outline and need something more, I create a mind map or I transfer my outline to a notepad and doodle next to all my points. It energizes a different creative aspect to creating a narrative.
5. Write like Hemingway
The last tip, and probably the silliest, is to write like author Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is known for his objective and terse prose writing style that ties into his career as a journalist. In order to emulate his distinctive style, there is an app called Hemingway that offers suggestions to improve your writing as you go. Advice ranges from typical editorial advice to advice given in the style of Hemingway himself! It’s a fun way to check your prose if you’re having writer’s block on how to write.
No matter your writing style and experience, writer’s block is going to be a guarantee at some point. Keep a cool head and try one of our tips when the moment comes!