It’s stressful when the words don’t come, when you’re sitting at your desk staring at the blinking cursor or the barren page. Minutes feel like hours. Hours feel like days.
Deadlines loom, and you’re still stuck and staring. A kind of dread begins building in your stomach and travels to your throat, and then peaks between your temples. It’s reminiscent of firecrackers exploding.
“Writer’s block, or any creative block, is really about fear,” according to Miranda Hersey, a writer, editor and creativity coach. The fear of not knowing where to start or we’re headed. The fear that we’re not good enough.
Blocks are tough. They can feel big and intimidating and impossible. But where there’s a block, there’s also a way out. Here are five ways to break through writer’s block.
1. Shift outlets.
“Take the pressure off of your writing while you do something else that pleases you creatively,” Hersey said. For instance, paint the dream you dreamed last night. Bake an elaborate cake. Sketch silly.
Choreograph a one-minute dance. Sing. Make music. Photograph all the red objects in your home. Finish knitting that sweater. Create a collage of inspiring images and phrases.
2. Create backstory for a character.
If you’re writing fiction and you’re unsure about your direction, write some backstory for one of your characters, said Hersey, who also pens the blog Studio Mothers, a creative community for mothers.
“Allow yourself to write 30 pages of something that might or might not show up in your finished work. Something important and surprising may reveal itself.”
3. Pen 5-minute prompts.
In her newest book Kicking In The Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts and Quotes To Help You Break Through Your Blocks And Reach Your Writing Goals, Barbara Abercrombie quotes poet and writer Kate Braverman:
“Writer’s block is not a problem for me, ever. It comes from being diverted…by outside considerations, such as self-censoring, fear and accepting the dictates of others….The cure is to do exercises.”
These are exercise prompts from Abercrombie’s book. Keep your hand moving the entire five minutes. If you’re writing fiction, substitute a character for “you.”
- “Write about how the weather feels on your skin. Go outside, and write about how the cold, or rain, or sun feels on your face or your hands.”
- “Write about a family photograph. What doesn’t the picture show?”
- “Write about a time you held your breath. Underwater or not.”
- “Write about the best advice you ever got.”
- “Write about a time your life unraveled.”
- “Write about a moment experienced through your body. Making love, making breakfast, going to a party, having a fight, an experience you’ve had or you imagine for your character. Leave out thought and emotion, and let all information be conveyed through the body and senses.”
4. Read a magazine cover to cover.
For instance, Hersey suggested reading Poets & Writers. “Sometimes, connecting with what other writers are doing at a high level can knock us from the funk of feeling blocked. The importance of the work takes precedence, and the knot unkinks.”
5. Give yourself permission to write badly.
“What we call writer’s block usually stems from a lack of perspective about the nature of the drafting process,” write Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada in their book The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way From Inspiration to Publication.
According to the authors, we’re supposed to write badly in the draft stage. “It’s our duty.”
The first draft requires a show of sinew, not nuance. We write badly because we need our early drafts to show us, in broad strokes, what we’re actually supposed to be writing about. We write badly because we need to focus our energy on the larger story and structure, and can’t possibly attend to all the elements that make up a developed or refined work. We write badly because, even if we revise as we draft – and, mea culpa, many of us do – either we can’t revise with a complete manuscript in mind or we’re too close to that manuscript to have sufficient perspective…
And when all else fails, just start. Write whatever’s on your mind. Write the self-doubts. Write the confused, anxious feelings. “Write the truest sentence that you know,” as Hemingway says in A Moveable Feast. Write anything.
As Hersey said, “writing a crappy book is far better than writing no book. And by allowing yourself to write that crappy book, you’re paving the way to write the book that meets your expectations.”
You can’t expect brilliance without consistent action. “It’s hard to walk up to the plate and hit a home run when you don’t allow yourself to attend practice.”
Millman and Prasada suggest making this your mantra: “Get it done first – get it right later.”
We’d love to hear: What helps you break through a writer’s block?