Writer’s Block: How To Defeat An Author’s Worst Enemy
Whether you are a new or seasoned writer, odds are you have come to a point in your writing journey where the magic seems to just run out and you get writer’s block.
For example, have you ever faced a creative block that’s preventing you from seeing the development of a story, or even being able to start writing? Or did your ideas seem to have disappeared or have any new ones rendered creatively useless?
This type of frustration and lack of creative ability isn’t uncommon.
It’s called writer’s block, and most writers — even professional writers — experience it at one point or another.
Today, I want to talk to you about what writer’s block is and what are the common causes of writer’s block that most writers struggle with.
Then, I’ll give you eight proven ways that many writers — including myself — use to stay productive and overcome writer’s block.
What Is Writer’s Block?
Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with your writing project.
It happens to writers of all kinds, whether you’re writing fiction, poetry, prose, a blog post, or an article for your website. Writer’s trying to finish their first novel — or their third or even their tenth — experience writer’s block.
Even those with a strong passion for creative writing experience writer’s block at some point in their writing journey.
The condition feels like a wall has been erected between the author and their ideas.
This does not mean you are a bad writer or deem you incapable of writing; it just means you are feeling stuck and forces you to take a step back from your creative work to reevaluate.
Writer’s block also does not mean you are not motivated to start or complete your work. But its power can get in the way of your goals when you do not know how to overcome writer’s block.
Say you have always dreamed of writing a book and becoming a published author or you want to become a freelance writer. However, you keep pushing it back and using excuses to justify why you have not started yet. This inability to act is a physical manifestation of writer’s block.
Writer’s block can also strike at any time. It can prevent you from starting your book, writing the next chapter, or even blocking you while you are almost finished writing it.
Causes of Writer’s Block
While writer’s block may seem to come out of nowhere sometimes, there are a few ties to the condition to be aware of next time you run into it.
Self-criticism and self-doubt are very common traits that many writers struggle with. Even John Steinbeck said he was overcome by feelings of inability and ignorance when writing The Grapes of Wrath. But his novel went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.
It is normal for a writer to feel their own work may not be interesting or appealing to others. Thoughts of “Who will want to read this?” or “Do I really know enough to call myself an expert on this topic?” can seize your self-confidence and creativity.
Excessive self-criticism can not only cause you to stare at a blank page with a blank mind, but it can convince you to give up on your writing project altogether.
Most people who have a passion for writing pursue creating it while juggling many other responsibilities, including family and work obligations.
You may find yourself putting your art on the back burner, then when you do get time to sit down and write, getting the creative juices flowing just is not happening.
You might also feel guilty that you are taking time to write your story, poetry, or article instead of spending time with your family or taking care of something that needs to be done around the house.
Getting Off the Path in Your Writing Process
Perhaps you’ve taken some side roads as you’ve gone through the writing process and forgotten the purpose of your main project. This can happen when you add a new character you had not initially planned on or follow a train of thought that deviates from your original outline.
It is possible to feel bored with your writing. You immerse yourself in it, obsess over it, write your first draft, or second draft, rewrite sentences, and even rewrite a whole chapter.
This can take the life out of your creativity and boredom sets in because you’re looking at the fine details of your work and need to step back and get a bird’s eye view again.
Experienced writers and creatives know that creating the “perfect” end product does not mean it starts out perfect. To produce work you are satisfied with usually takes several pass-throughs. You start at the beginning, create, and then go back over your work to tweak words and ideas until it is precisely what you want it to be.
However, we can get stuck thinking that if something we write is not perfect, it is not worthy of finishing. While that is simply not true, it can cause you to not write down on paper the wonderful ideas that are in your mind.
Lack of Ideas
Sometimes, you might feel inspired to write and excited to write your first draft of your novel or article, but you have no idea what to write about.
This can happen when your mind is distracted and you may need prompts or other inspiration to come up with ideas. Or, it may be that you have plenty of ideas but you are dismissing them too quickly instead of mulling over each of them to see where they could take you.
When your body is tired, so is your mind and it just cannot function as it needs to. Not getting enough sleep, burning the candle at both ends, not getting proper nutrition, and being sedentary can all cause a creative block that keeps you from being productive in your writing.
8 Steps for Overcoming Writer’s Block
Regardless of the cause of writer’s block, you can overcome it.
If you are currently experiencing writer’s block or looking for preventative tips, follow these steps to help you defeat writer’s block and start or finish your work.
Here are eight effective tips to boost your motivation and get your creative juices flowing again.
Step #1: Create an Outline
Whether you are looking for a quick writer’s block cure or how to get over writer’s block that’s been lingering for a while, the best thing you can do is start with a plan.
When writing a book, this plan usually starts with an outline. This outline will help provide structure and make the task of writing seem much less grueling. When most of your thoughts are already on paper, you can focus on developing the content around them.
If you’ve already created your outline, consider rereading it and reworking it. You may have written your outline a while back and have a different perspective now.
Or, you may have strayed too far off the path and do not know how to get back on again. This might mean that your new idea might be better suited for a sequel or another paper or creative work altogether.
Taking off the blinders and taking a few steps back from your project allows you to broaden your focus and take a better look at the big picture. This can help you develop new ideas for your work or return to the ones you had in the beginning and complete them.
Step #2: Get Inspiration From Others
If you are experiencing a loss for words, a fantastic place to look for inspiration is by reading someone else’s work.
Pick your favorite author, or find one that is writing about the topic you’re writing about and read their work. This will give you a way out of the tunnel vision you have been experiencing and help you get past your writer’s block.
Reading similar works allows you to brainstorm ideas on how to start, where you can take your piece, or even what word you want to use for a particular sentence.
Think of it as a loose roadmap to help you structure your work and see where it can go. Even if the writing is not the best, you can use it as a tool to make yours better.
Sometimes, we get really into our heads when we write. We start to overthink and overanalyze, which makes us critical of ourselves and our work.
In those instances, it can be helpful to talk to someone that isn’t yourself.
Chat with a trusted friend or family member about your thoughts and create an open dialogue for honest feedback and opinions.
This will likely help you get out of your own head. It may even help you develop a great, new idea.
Step #3: Pinpoint the Cause of Your Writer’s Block
To find a solution to any problem, it is usually very helpful to know the cause. When you understand what is causing your creativity to wane, you can address it so it is no longer a problem.
Contemplate the causes of writer’s block that we have discussed to see if any of them apply to you. If they do, decide what changes are necessary to overcome them.
If responsibilities are weighing you down, see what you can delegate to others to free up your time and mind space.
Speak to your family members about setting aside time for your writing so they can be supportive.
When you are with your family, make sure you are fully engaged so you are spending quality time with them. This will give you a sense of peace and satisfaction so guilt will not take over when you sit down and try to write.
If negative thoughts are plaguing you, use principles of positive psychology to change your thinking patterns. Practice daily positive affirmations and read inspirational quotes. Listen to motivational speeches and podcasts and read uplifting books, articles, and blog posts.
After a while, it will become natural for you to replace negative thoughts with positive ones whenever they creep in. Positive thinking will help you write the next great novel, how-to manual, self-help book, or biography.
Perhaps your writing standstill is caused by something that is not on the list. Maybe you are distracted easily, suffer from procrastination, need to settle an argument with your partner, or have a health issue that you need to give attention to, for example. Take time to figure out what is it so you can figure out how to address it.
And maybe you just have a hard time getting started. If this is the case, try the Pomodoro technique by picking one small task you are going to work on related to your writing. It may be to research a topic, create a character persona, or write a single paragraph.
Next, set a time for 25 minutes and work on that task until it rings. When your timer goes off, give yourself a 5-minute break.
Then repeat the process. After four work periods, give yourself a long time off, say 15 to 30 minutes.
Focusing on one task can help your mind zero in on what you can complete, and taking frequent breaks can boost your mental awareness, increase your attentiveness, and lower stress and tiredness.
Step #4: Move Around
Writer’s block may make you feel uninspired and underwhelmed.
While you are probably sitting by your computer waiting for a spark of creative genius, it’s important to take a step away from the screen and move your body.
Yes, actually move your whole body … not just your fingertips!
Research shows that exercise can actually improve your creativity and mood.
In fact, regular exercise seems to be associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking, which are considered the two components of creative thinking; the former involves thinking of multiple solutions for one problem, while the latter involves thinking of one solution for a problem.
Consider going on a walk or heading out to your favorite workout class. You will return to your work with more creative energy flowing.
Take a good look around your writing space too. Is the area full of distractions? Or is it too bland? Does it feel like a space that’s conducive to producing good work?
If not, it may be time to change it up.
Try writing in a different space to allow your creative thoughts to flow. If you feel inspired by nature, set up a chair outside and let the breeze guide your ideas.
Step #5: Take a Break
When writing comes easy, it feels like you’re in the zone and nothing can break your focus. You attempt to get back into the zone if you’re feeling a block, but it’s almost impossible.
When this happens, it’s best to just take a step back and give your attention to something else for a while.
Follow one of my favorite quotes from best-selling author Hilary Mantel: “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.”
Don’t be afraid to give yourself — and your brain — a break. Come back to your work once you feel refreshed and relaxed.
Step #6: Use Free Writing
As writers, there is a strong desire to produce quality work every time. It’s difficult to just let go of the need for perfection and just write. However, that may be just what you need to get rid of writer’s block.
Instead of focusing on output, just put down whatever is on your mind. Whether it’s a random thought or testing new words in a sentence to try to improve and expand your vocabulary, jotting down anything can help you get past your writer’s block.
Your mind will start to get back into the groove and you’ll eventually get over the hump.
Step #7: Write Out of Order
In the same regard, do not feel like you have to start at the beginning and continue through in sequential order until you have reached the conclusion.
If you are stuck, skip to the middle of your work, work on the end, or pick any point on your outline you feel inspired to tackle.
This can not only get you moving again, but it can also help you find inspiration for the parts you are stuck on. Jot down your thoughts as they come to you, and you will have fresh content to work with the next time you sit down.
Step #8: Develop Goals and a Routine
The final step to combat writer’s block is to develop SMART goals that can help you manage your expectations when it comes to your writing process. These goals could ultimately help prevent burnout and writer’s block.
Here’s an example of developing a SMART goal to consider for writing your book:
Rather than creating a vague goal of just “writing a book,” your goal can start with, “I will finish writing the manuscript of my book by the fall of next year by writing 5 pages a day starting today.”
Here’s how to determine a SMART Goal:
- S (Specific) = You have specified the deliverable (the manuscript).
- M (Measurable) = You have a set amount of pages that you have to write per day in order to finish by next fall (5).
- A (Achievable) = You enjoy writing, have time, and are very motivated to finish your book, so writing 5 pages a day is doable.
- R (Relevant) = Finishing the manuscript will get you much closer to eventually publishing the book to a bigger audience.
- T (Time-bound) = You are working towards the manuscript being completed by the fall of next year.
This SMART goal will keep you accountable and motivated, even if writer’s block might threaten your path.
It’s also important to set goals that will help prevent it from creeping in, like making sure to take a walk every day and promising to read a new book every month.
These goals will help you stay on track and prevent creative blocks.
Beat Writer’s Block and Become a Successful Author
I hope these tips have helped you identify what writer’s block is and given you strategies you can use to both overcome it and prevent it so you can achieve your writing goals.
Having written over 80 books, I’ve experienced writer’s block before. I have found that one of the most important tools I use that has catapulted me to writing success is creating a book outline before I start writing.
To help you do the same, I want to share the same outline procedure I use to write my best-selling books. This free tool will help you map out every page of your book and accomplish your writing goals. Download my free Book Writing Template to get started.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.