Most writers have experienced that terrible feeling that you have nothing to say. Or that you have something to say, but no idea how to say it. There are those moments, fingers poised over the keyboard waiting for words that do not come. Whether it lasts for a few moments or days may depend on what you let your mind tell you. I’m convinced that writers who say they have never experienced writer’s block simply have never prolonged those moments because they push through and write any way. By taking some of the following steps, you can be one of those people.
- Give yourself permission to write garbage.
If you think of the time you spend writing as the time to produce perfect, polished material, you will get held up in that search for perfection. Instead, think of writing as drafting—producing material that you will polish later when you get to the revising stage. Let your ideas flow in any form—sentences don’t have to be smooth, word choices don’t have to be targeted, ideas don’t have to be clear, and they don’t have to come in a logical order. You are simply producing a draft—getting the words on the page so you can shape them later into something worth sharing. Sometimes when you do this, you will get caught up in the flow of ideas and write words that are brilliant; sometimes you will find little capsules of brilliance mired in a lot of muck; sometimes you will end up with ideas that fall short of brilliance, but that you can nurture and shape into what you want to say. You just have to remember, that you are not producing an end product—you are gathering the materials you need to shape the written text you want to share (and others will want to read).
- Go for a walk.
According to developmental molecular biologist John Medina, author of Brain Rules, the human brain was designed to think most effectively while moving. You can see more of his rules here: http://www.brainrules.net/about-brain-rules. So take a break from writing and get moving. I’ve often said that I wrote most of my dissertation while walking my dog. The rhythm of footfalls lulled me into thinking of the points I wanted to make and how I wanted to articulate them. After a short walk, I would rush back to my computer, ideas tumbling almost faster than I could type. I would let myself just transfer the jumble in my mind, which some people might think of as garbage, as quickly as possible onto my document—and then go back and revise it later. (See how these points are connected?)
- Write something else.
I’m a big fan of finishing your writing projects. Many of the members of my writers’ group bring in new stories each week because they can’t finish one idea before moving onto another, and I think this is a big problem. However, if you run out of ideas for one project, working on another might be a good way to keep your writing muscles limber so you don’t stop writing altogether. These breaks into other writing should be brief, though, and should always be done with the intention of gaining inspiration for the original project.
- Write a letter to yourself stating what you want to write.
Sometimes you can’t write because you don’t know exactly where you are going with your words. While it can feel like creativity comes when you just let ideas flow, the uncertainty of this can make it more difficult to write. So tell yourself what you want to write, in writing. You can write a letter to yourself that helps you to explore the content of your writing, your purpose, what you want readers to get from it, what your deeper purpose for writing might be, how you want to connect ideas or explore patterns, and where you see your writing ending up. The nice thing about this letter is that once you get your ideas going, you might not even need it; however, you might draw from your own words to yourself when you need inspiration. When you are writing the letter, and later when you use it to inspire your writing, you need to remember that you might end up veering in other directions. Give yourself permission to move away from your original intentions when new ideas and inspiration come.
- Draw from your own or others’ writing.
We all know that reading forms the foundation for good writing. When good writing won’t come, though, re-reading texts that you have written might be helpful. You might also draw on other people’s writing. Chances are the text you want to write belongs to a genre with conventions already in place. Exploring those conventions as a writer might help you to formulate your own writing. You might also keep a file on your desktop of inspirational writing. I keep one that I call “Extras” where I keep sentences, paragraphs, or pages that I loved but had to cut during the revision process. Sometimes these excerpts are the starting point for new writings.
- Keep up your writing practice.
Along with setting word or time goals for writing each day (for instance, writing 1,000 words per day or writing for at least 2 hours a day) on a given project, you might also want to consider setting up a daily or weekly writing routine that involves writing from prompts or writing on different topics. This will help you train your brain to write on demand. You might also consider keeping a daily journal—you keep your commitment to write every day and you might also generate some great ideas to write about later.
Writer’s block might be the inability to make progress on a specific project or the feeling that you can’t write anything at all. For those of us who feel like something is wrong with the world when we are not writing, this feeling can be debilitating—and the negative feelings that result can magnify the problem. While the final product that you share and publish should be your best quality work, you can take your time getting there. That means letting go of self-judgement and just writing—maybe the sheer joy of that will inspire you to finish your project.