Stuck? Try a Different Angle

Don’t let writer’s block win. Boost your creative juices with these exercises.

Blocked? Be it paralysis at the keyboard or soul-killing oblivion, writer’s block can scare us into inaction. And that’s a pity, because the cure for this malady is simple: write.

50 Shades of Denial

Most successful authors simply bulldoze through writer’s block, and you can too.

  • How does Neil Gaiman, a prolific novelist, deal with it? He writes anyway — even on those days when, as Gaiman reports, “Every word is crap. It is awful.” The next day, those same words make sense; they’re not awful.
  • Authors like Erica Jong, Malcolm Gladwell and Jennifer Egan tie writer’s block to fear and judgment. Their solution? Go ahead and write badly. “You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone,” Jong says. “Don’t get it right; just get it written,” offers James Thurber.
  • Terry Pratchett said there was no such thing as writer’s block; Frank Herbert called it avoidance. Neither of them paid it any attention.
  • Successful freelancers who support themselves by writing have no time for getting stuck because there are bills to be paid.

Write. It’s the only solution.

Daily Drills to Get Going

Try the following methods the next time you can’t seem to put anything on the page.

Draw your story

“Drawing is a great way to get out of your head and connect to a sense of play instead of getting paralyzed,” according to Terrie Silverman, who coaches creatives in both writing and staging shows.

Use brown paper bags and crayons so that you don’t take this exercise too seriously. Start by imagining your story in a 360-degree panorama, then draw. Afterward, write about the drawing — you may learn something new or surprising.

Don’t stop

Charles Bukowski once penned, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” So sit with paper and pen — no keyboard! — and write.

There’s just one rule: once you start, you cannot stop. You may write “This is stupid, stupid, stupid!” over and over. You may describe the spots on your carpet, your own inadequacy or an argument next door. Just don’t stop writing.

Until when? “Until you are satisfied or exhausted. Depends which comes first,” says songwriter Ildy Lee, a fervent practitioner of this method. Eventually, you’ll stop venting and begin to create.

Write with prompts

That’s the core of the Amherst Writers and Artists method. At an AWA workshop, prompts guide writers through timed exercises, and sharing follows. Comments are supportive; the purpose is to nurture a writer’s unique voice, not stifle or manipulate it.

Try it yourself by focusing on a stanza of a poem like “Mindful” by Mary Oliver. Set a timer and write for seven minutes. At the end, don’t critique what you’ve produced. Instead, find elements to praise.

Gentlest Persuasion

Our final suggestion: Make peace with your block.

“I am very gentle with my creativity,” a friend told Lisa-Catherine Cohen long ago. Today, the Emmy-winning lyricist savors that lesson. Down times are okay, she writes, “because maybe they’re not ‘down’ at all; maybe they’re percolating times.” What we’re calling writer’s block could be a gift or, as Cohen puts it, “a signal to stop fretting about it and go play outside!”

So breathe, take a break and be gentle with yourself. There are many steps between an idea and a finished work, and percolating is one of them.

What’s your go-to solution to writer’s block? Let us know in the comments below.

See Below for Other Writing Tips:

Novel Ways to Create a Unique Writing Voice
How to Reignite Your Love Affair with Writing
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