There are debates over whether writer’s block is an actual condition or just an excuse for procrastination; yet I think all writers will agree that there are times when putting words on a page is as painful as a tooth extraction.
Over time I’ve developed my own methods to push through the ‘creative blankness’, as I think of it, and I’ve compiled these below. Don’t forget, however, that everyone’s process is different, and you need to learn what works for you.
You Can Focus On Anything For 30 Minutes
Instead of allowing yourself hours to sit in front of a computer or notebook to write, with plenty of opportunities for distraction, give yourself short amounts of writing time. Half an hour is enough time to get a decent word count, yet not too long that you’ll lose concentration. Find a place where you won’t get interrupted, don’t look at emails or social media, and just write. When you reach the end of the 30 minutes, you can choose to keep going if you’ve developed a flow, or you can stop and walk away. You’ve earned your break.
Set Small, Achievable Goals
I assume most people reading this aren’t full-time writers – like myself, you’ll be writing around full-time work, family and social commitments, maybe study commitments – and it can get overwhelming when it feels like you haven’t been making any progress. When I was halfway through writing the first draft of my children’s book, I decided I needed to change something about my process so I was writing more regularly. I set a goal of 500 words per week; if I wrote more than this, fabulous, but if it was 500 sharp then that was ok too. It was a small goal – only two or three paragraphs – but the fact that I knew it was achievable took off some of the pressure. I also wanted a weekly goal instead of daily so it could fit around my various commitments throughout the week. If I had a busy Monday to Friday, I knew I could set aside an hour or so on the weekend and knuckle down and get it done.
Don’t Edit, Just Write
Don’t pressure yourself with writing that perfect first sentence. If you know what’s going to happen in the middle of the story, by all means start in the middle, and go back to the start later on. There’s a reason first drafts of books are never published, even by the most accomplished authors. Editing and rewriting is as big, if not a bigger part of writing, than the first draft itself. There have been times during my children’s book when I have run out of creative juices, and written my way to the next scene through sheer willpower. I know it’s not great writing, but it’s something on the page that I can go back and work with later.
Find Pockets Of Time
‘I just don’t have time’ is an excuse we have all used, yet if you break your day down into small pieces you can be surprised at what pockets of time you will discover available for writing. At my previous job I would have an hour lunch break; instead of spending the whole hour in the tea room with colleagues, I would spend half an hour in a meeting room with my laptop, writing, and the other half having lunch. I wouldn’t necessarily do this every day (your eyes do need a break!), but a few times a week. I currently get to work half an hour early to miss peak traffic, and use this time to either read or write. Other opportunities can be as simple as while on public transport, waiting for an appointment or while that roast is cooking in the oven.
Go On Creative Dates With Yourself
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to step away from writing. Do something else that is creative or absorb some other form of creativity. Go to a film at an art house cinema, go to an art gallery or exhibition, or go see some live music. Take up a class in painting, or crocheting, or ballroom dancing. And if you can do this on your own I think it’s even better, as all your focus will be on the experience itself. Then you can return to your writing space refreshed and inspired by others who have had the courage to make.
Make Yourself Accountable
If imaginary deadlines don’t work, there’s nothing like a real-life deadline to get you moving. Tell some writer friends you’ll have a piece to show them in two weeks. Join a writers group with the aim of reading something aloud every meeting. Research competitions or journals to submit to and let others know you will be submitting. It’s easier to let yourself down than it is to let other people down.
Fingers crossed one or more of these methods will be enough to get you unstuck. And if you have your own ways of warding off writer’s block, I’d love to know ☺