Have you ever looked at the blank page and found yourself out of ideas?
Or perhaps you’re wondering, Do I have writer’s block?
Almost every writer has asked themselves how they’ll produce something from nothing.
Even famous writers are vulnerable to the paralyzing effects of writer’s block.
Some get creative when attempting to solve this obstacle.
For instance, best-selling author and writer of Inferno and The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, uses gravity boots.
He says hanging upside down every day oxygenates the brain and helps him gain a different perspective.
You might not have gravity boots or fancy hanging upside down like Brown.
Nonetheless, it’s natural sometimes to let your fear of writing get in the way of the creative process.
You can overcome this problem with a little thought, preparation and some good creative habits.
Here’s what we will cover in this definitive guide to writer’s block.
- Is Writer’s Block Real?
- What is Writer’s Block?
- Causes of Writer’s Block
- 1. Fear
- 2. Perfectionism
- 3. Lack of Inspiration
- 4. Distraction
- 5. Procrastination
- 6. Your Environment
- Get Over Writer’s Block: 36 Surefire Strategies
- 1. Skip the Introduction
- 2. Write What You Know
- 3. Flip the Truth
- 4. Use a Writing Prompt
- 5. Free Write
- 6. Create a Writing Schedule
- 7. Take a Break
- 8. Run, Swim, Walk, Exercise!
- 9. Meditate
- 10. Pick a Fight with Another Author or Expert
- 11. Use Oblique Strategies
- 12. Listen to Music
- 13. Optimize Your Environment
- 14. Write Down 10 Ideas
- 15. Make a List
- 16. Use a Swipe File
- 17. Keep a Commonplace Book
- 18. Journal About It
- 19. Use the Pomodoro Technique
- 20. Disconnect
- 21. Use Pen and Paper
- 22. Hold Yourself Publicly Accountable
- 23. Write Down Your Accomplishments
- 24. Write Down What You Need to Do Next
- 25. Reread Your Favorite Writing
- 26. Jot Down Your Feelings
- 27. Identify Strengths
- 28. Identify Weaknesses
- 29. Change Your Point of View
- 30. Annotate, Annotate, Annotate
- 31. Determine the Purpose
- 32. Outline (or Mind Map) It
- 33. Write Now, Edit Later
- 34. Write For One Reader
- 35. Consume Great Art
- 36. Pray (Kind Of)
- What To Do Next
- How to Conquer Writer's Block for Good [Podcast Episode]
Is Writer’s Block Real?
The feeling of being out of steam and robbed of creativity is not exactly a myth.
Many new writers sometimes feel like they’ve nothing to say or aren’t good enough. Almost no other profession has a term that excuses people from their most important work.
What would you do if a doctor said he can’t operate on your knee, because he’s “not feeling it today”?
Best-selling author Philip Pullman has little sympathy for those yielding to writer’s block.
“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expect sympathy for it?”
If you ask me …
Writer’s block is real if you believe in it.
It’s kind of like looking at the night sky for UFOs. Stare long enough into the darkness, and you’ll convince yourself you see UFOs.
If, however, you’re a professional, you’ll recognize writer’s block is simply an indication that you need to change your approach to writing.
It’s up to you to push past your mental blocks. You must hunt down ideas and, whether or not you feel your creative juices flowing, capture and use them.
When you tell yourself you’ve writer’s block, you’re exacerbating the problem.
You’re stealing any chance of creativity or motivation you had left. You’ve allowed your mind to accept you don’t have what it takes to write.
Go on like this, and you could struggle with writer’s block for years.
So what is this inability to write?
What is Writer’s Block?
Psychologist Edmund Berger coined the term “writer’s block” in the 1940s.
Writer’s block has been used to describe different scenarios.
While various famous writers have described it as a momentary or short-lived lapse in creativity and motivation, others have used it to express periods of anguish or their inability to write.
So what is it exactly?
Writer’s block is a temporary or lasting belief that you’ve no good ideas or anything good that supports the writing process. It’s a limiting self-belief you can easily shatter.
(And you should too… because those bestsellers won't write themselves.)
The condition of writer's block doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get any words out.
You might be stuck on a particular section or just lacking a good writing schedule.
But if that’s the case …
What causes so many people to feel an inability to write?
Causes of Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is normal if you’re unaware of why you feel blocked, unmotivated on uninspired.
Here are six common reasons why this might happen to you:
Consider these questions when analyzing the root cause of your writer’s block.
- Do you fear you are incapable of writing?
- Do you worry a reader or editor will reject your work?
- Are you intimidated by the creative task at hand?
- Do people really care what I’ve to say?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Many new writers fear they’re not good enough or that readers or editors will reject them.
This fear is usually at its height before you start writing.
Like any difficult task, once you muster the courage to start writing, you’ll find it easier to keep going.
Isn’t perfectionism useful for writers who want to hold themselves to a high standard?
Striving for perfection limits your ability to form new ideas and produce creative writing. It will also stop you from finishing what you started.
As I mentioned in my Speech to Text Software article, the job of any first draft is to exist. When constructing your first draft, don’t stop to edit yourself. Perfectionism doesn’t belong within the writing process.
3. Lack of Inspiration
Some writers tell themselves it’s not the right time to write. They want to wait until their ideas are ready or until they’ve enough time to write.
What’s wrong with this thinking?
By waiting for your ideas or inspiration to strike, you’re putting off the writing process. No perfect time exists to create great writing.
As the famous Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”
So start writing.
It’s easier than ever to let a distraction get in the way of the writing process.
Notifications, messages, phone calls, laundry, other commitments … the list goes on.
Without self-discipline, these will tug your attention away from your writing. They can also create insurmountable writing blocks.
Have you ever started writing an article or book chapter then put it down for a day, a week or a month?
Time marches on, and you lack a clear plan or deadline for finishing that draft.
By all means, take a break from the blank screen, but putting off writing for no good reason is just procrastination.
Beat your procrastination and get the job done.
6. Your Environment
Finding an optimal creative environment is tough for writers.
Coffee shops are too noisy for some writers.
Working from home and learning how to overcome the loneliness of being a writer is difficult too.
The wrong workplace can leave writers feeling stagnant and unproductive with a strong bout of writer’s block.
What’s the best environment to write?
Well, it is specific to your writing process.
Find a workplace devoid of distractions but which inspires creative writing.
Famous writers struggle too, but they find workarounds.
The poet Raymond Carver wrote first drafts of his poems in his car. Roald Dahl wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden.
In the end, having a place to work today is more important than having the perfect place to write forever.
Get Over Writer’s Block: 36 Surefire Strategies
So, how can you get rid of writer’s block?
Here are 36 surefire approaches you can use to overcome it and finish writing your article, story or book. They'll also help you nail a good creative or writing routine.
Now, let’s brew the coffee and find a cure for writer’s block.
1. Skip the Introduction
Start writing your conclusion instead.
Many writers find constructing an introduction the most challenging part of writing. So why not try it the other way around?
If you start with your conclusion, you will quickly determine what outcome you’re hoping to achieve. It’s also much easier to write your introduction last when you know what the story or book is about.
2. Write What You Know
Write down the facts and everything else you know about the topic you’re finding challenging or having a problem with. Use a mind map, index cards or bullet points. Your job is to excavate what’s in your mind about the topic at hand.
Writing down the facts will give you an idea of what you need to research and help you identify topics to include.
3. Flip the Truth
Consider what it would mean if a widely accepted fact were untrue?
For example, what if the world were flat or we were the center of the universe?
By changing the truth of a fact, you’re changing the perspective. This strategy is a surefire way to spark the creative process. It could even help you brainstorm ideas for fictional writing and children’s books.
Tanith Lee’s award-winning Tales About a Flat Earth series is just that—a fictional series about life on a flat, square earth.
4. Use a Writing Prompt
“I remember the first time I …,” “I remember the last time I …,” “I can see …,” “I hate writer's block because ….”
Writing prompts force you to create words and get into the meat of your piece.
You can even choose a writing prompt that lies outside of your topic, merely to get your creative juices flowing again.
For example, say you are writing a book on personal finance. Instead of choosing a writing prompt like, “When I first entered the world of dimes and dollars …,” you can choose a prompt like, “The first time I stepped into the arena …”.
By doing so, you’re taking your mind off the topic at hand and getting into the flow of writing.
5. Free Write
Free writing is the act of writing for a set period without regard to reason, logic, grammar or spelling.
This method will help you overcome perfectionism and unlock inner creative resources you didn’t know you possess.
You can free write about whatever you want.
A story about the kraken in the sea.
A biography of your favorite short story author.
Or even your current writing project.
You don’t have to use what you free write about in your final piece.
As the author and artist Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “Keep your hand moving.”
Rather than writing polished prose, free writing offers a chance to write down anything you want, including your secret opinions and thoughts.
It will help you open your creative well and get words onto the page.
6. Create a Writing Schedule
Professionals keep schedules, so you should too.
For some people, dedicating 25- to 30-minute intervals of undistracted writing time each day is sufficient.
Short story writer Sylvia Plath wrote in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, “I won’t get my writing schedule from outside—it must come from within.”
Your schedule must be specific to what works for you.
For example, you could decide, “Every weekday morning from 06:00 a.m. to 07:00 a.m., I will engage in my writing process and write a chapter for my book.”
If you really want to go crazy, you can be like Forbes contributor and Calender CEO John Hall. He plans out every minute of his day to achieve high productivity.
7. Take a Break
If you’ve worked hard on a painful chapter or article, perhaps you just need a break.
Tiredness isn’t conducive to creativity. What’s more, feeling frustrated will hamper your productivity. Sometimes, procrastinating has its place in creative work.
Commit to returning to your book or stories at a specific time, when you’ve eaten, slept or recharged.
Start again with a positive mind. Convince yourself beforehand that this writing session will be fantastic and you'll get those creative juices flowing.
Learn how to prevent busyness from becoming burnout so you can get back to achieving your writing goals with a productive mind.
A moment of inspiration could even strike while you’re away from the blank page.
8. Run, Swim, Walk, Exercise!
Exercise is scientifically proven to encourage creative thinking. It's good for you too.
According to this article from LiveStrong.com:
“Thinking, behaviour and emotion control, planning and creativity are all functions regulated by the frontal lobe of your brain. These functions are activated and can be strengthened when you do exercises like ballet, tae kwon do, ping pong and Zumba—exercises that use the frontal lobe.”
What’s an even better benefit?
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can heighten your alertness and energy.
After a good workout session, you will get the creative juices flowing faster.
Need more proof? Check out how exercise is an entrepreneur's biggest competitive advantage.
Sit on a large cushion, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath for five or ten minutes.
If you meditate every day, you will cultivate an ability to focus on your messy first drafts for longer periods.
Film director and screenwriter David Lynch meditating twice a day helps him unlock creative thinking. He recommends this practice to anyone engaged in the creative process.
Ever heard of binaural beats?
Binaural beats provide an alternative way to meditate. The meditator listens to sounds through headphones. Each earbud receives a different frequency, and a third frequency results in the brain as a mathematical result of the two. The brain will then start to produce brain waves at the rate of the third frequency.
Binaural beats are said to reduce stress. Even better, they are thought to increase relaxation, creativity, and information processing.
10. Pick a Fight with Another Author or Expert
You don’t have to be nasty, but you can use this contrarian point of view to overcome writing blocks.
What’s the problem with their work? Is it too biased? Or maybe you don’t like a character or argument within their work?
You don’t necessarily need to write or publish a rebuttal. Instead, analyzing someone else’s work will help with finding your writing voice. You might even find argumentative strategies for your work.
11. Use Oblique Strategies
What are Oblique Strategies?
They were initially created in 1975 by these two musical artists. Each card presents a dilemma designed to spark lateral thinking and creativity.
Here’s one: Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events.
Often writers forget their artistic and creative roots. Using the Oblique Strategies is a great way to find new and intriguing story ideas. They act as a kind of template for more inspired thinking.
12. Listen to Music
Preferably without lyrics.
Music is scientifically proven to encourage the creative process and expressive thinking.
Music calms anxiety and neural activity.
Most people find that music or sound at a low to medium level is best for productivity.
I keep a playlist on Spotify of ambient music that enables me to enter a state of creative flow faster. I listen to this playlist early in the morning while wearing noise-canceling headphones.
If you have a problem focusing while music is playing, you can always try listening to binaural beats. This is a special type of music best experienced while wearing headphones.
It stimulates brain waves and can help you work, focus, study and write.
13. Optimize Your Environment
Depending on where you write, you can adjust noise, temperature, light or the surrounding space.
Ambient noise, like that of a coffee shop, fosters creative thinking. Studies show that a moderate noise level is the optimal amount of stimulation for the brain during the creative process.
Moderate noise increases the difficulty of processing, which increases abstract processing and creativity. With more creativity and abstract processing, it will be easier to put ink to paper.
A study by Cornell found increasing office temperatures from 20℃ (68℉) to 25℃ (77℉) reduced employee errors by 44%. Feeling cold consumes more energy while feeling hot complicates focusing on your work.
Find a space with natural light. Working next to a window boosts productivity, provided you don’t stare out the window for hours.
(If you do, try moving your desk so it faces away from the window.)
Maybe you have functional fixedness on messy areas. You might believe an untidy room produces mental clutter.
But you could be wrong.
When sparking creativity is a problem, some people find they’re more creative in a messy space. Objects lying about might spark inspiration.
Other writers (like me) prefer a clean and tidy workspace.
14. Write Down 10 Ideas
Write down 10 ideas each day and review them at least once a week. Do this for six months, and you’ll never be short of ideas again. James Altucher considers this habit part of his daily practice.
You might unearth ideas unrelated to what you’re writing.
On a given day, Altucher might create a list of ideas for stand-up material. The next day, he’ll jot down 10 ideas about a business he wants to start.
How does he come up with so many ideas?
By strengthening his “idea muscle” and putting it to use every day.
15. Make a List
If you are struggling with writer’s block, try making a list of 10 things you want to include in your current writing project.
If that’s too hard…
The harder you make your brain work, the more outlandish ideas it will produce.
16. Use a Swipe File
Ah, the nonfiction writer’s best friend.
A swipe file is a digital or paper file where you keep all of the brilliant ideas you’ve come across throughout the years. It’s a staple of professional non-fiction writers and copywriters around the world.
You can swipe headlines, openings, great lines, pictures and ideas for your articles into your file and refer to them when stuck.
17. Keep a Commonplace Book
Record observations, pithy sayings, quotes, facts and snippets of information for use later.
To keep it organized, I suggest you:
- Keep multiple books
- Number your pages
- Keep a table of contents
- Keep an index
Ryan Holiday explains more.
18. Journal About It
Still have writer’s block?
Write a journal entry about it.
It’s still writing, and who doesn’t love to talk about themselves?
As short story writer Charles Bukowski said, “Writing about a writer's block is better than not writing at all.”
Even if you write a single sentence, at least you’re creating something.
Journaling can help you distinguish the reasons why you have writer’s block. Try writing about what you are feeling and thinking. I sometimes record writing tips I came across and journal about those when stuck.
According to a study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling helps you, “prioritize problems, fears and concerns.” It can also help you identify your negative thoughts and behaviors.
19. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Here’s how to use the Pomodoro Technique.
Sit down at your desk, set a timer for 25 minutes and don’t get up until the buzzer sounds.
If you didn’t write anything useful, at least you turned up.
Some days, that’s enough to cure writer’s block.
Once you have completed your first 25 minutes, take a two-to-three-minute break and then get to the next writing session.
After three or four sessions of 25 minutes take a 10-to-20- minute break. Fuel up and eat lunch or take a quick stroll around the neighborhood and clear your mind.
Disconnecting is a great way to keep distractions at bay.
Unplug your internet cable, turn off Wi-Fi and close down your apps except for the one you use to write. That means no social media until you hit your target word-count for the day.
When best-selling author Jonathan Franzen was writing his novel Freedom, he superglued his Ethernet connection so he couldn’t get online. In other words, he put writing his book over a functioning laptop.
21. Use Pen and Paper
Don’t want to wreck your computer? Neither do I. Use pen and paper.
The battery life and screen resolution will surprise you.
Writing with pen and paper connects you to the creative process in a way that a digital tool never will.
Analog tools can also spark creativity and ideas and bring your artistic persona to the fore.
22. Hold Yourself Publicly Accountable
If you’re a member of a writing group, tell them about a deadline and your plans to meet it.
The prolific blogger Leo Babauta is a believer in the power of public accountability.
Find a peer who will hold you to your word, someone who will push you to persist and get the job done. Then your job is to meet the deadline. Prove you are capable.
23. Write Down Your Accomplishments
Write down what you’ve accomplished so far.
Opening angle? Done.
Writing the first draft? In progress.
Acknowledging your accomplishments unlocks a sense of pride. It’s a reminder that you’re making progress even if you feel stuck.
24. Write Down What You Need to Do Next
Perhaps you need to interview an expert for your article or book?
Perhaps you should read a book to inform your research?
Or maybe your outline needs work.
By planning out your next steps, you can take action and move your writing forward in some small way.
Remember, don’t spend too long planning your writing instead of working.
25. Reread Your Favorite Writing
Reread your favorite piece of your own writing.
If it helps, try identifying a few elements that you liked, such as:
- Sentence length
- Sentence structure
- Point of view
Ask yourself what you liked and disliked and how you can try a similar approach in your current work.
26. Jot Down Your Feelings
If you have difficulty with what you're working on, write about how it feels.
Is your current writing project making you feel angry, sad, discouraged or excited?
Let your anger or frustration become fuel.
27. Identify Strengths
Write down the strengths of what you’ve written so far.
Is your opening hook compelling?
Is your research original?
Are you on FIRE?
Determine which areas are working and focus on those.
28. Identify Weaknesses
Write down the weaknesses of what you’ve written so far.
Is it too long?
Is it too short?
Figure out what’s wrong and fix it.
This method works better if you do it alongside the previous draft.
Through identifying the flaws in your writing, you can determine why you’re blocked.
Taking the time to identify the weaknesses in your writing will help you overcome writer’s block and simultaneously improve what you’ve written.
29. Change Your Point of View
Explain your topic from a different point of view.
How would a reader, colleague, friend or even your cat (as a dog lover, I never understood why the internet loves cats) approach this topic?
Does this add a new emotion or tone to your writing?
Does it spark any new ideas?
Like everything in life, sometimes a new point of view clarifies your thinking.
30. Annotate, Annotate, Annotate
Annotate the books you read and highlight essential sections. Then review these annotations for ideas, material and inspiration.
Maybe you’ve stumbled across a brilliant metaphor or a page of power words that is sure to engage any audience. Perhaps you have discovered a smart way to link to ideas discussed in previous sections.
Keep your annotations in mind and refer to them when you are feeling stuck.
Use these ideas as inspiration to kick-start your creative process.
Tip: If you read on a Kindle, you can access all your annotations via the Amazon Kindle cloud reader.
31. Determine the Purpose
Do you want to entertain, inform, educate or inspire readers?
Determining the purpose of your work will define what style and tone your writing should take. It will also help you figure out what information to include.
Once you have found the purpose, you can refer to other pieces you’ve read that serve the same purpose. From there, gather a few new ideas that will get you on your way.
32. Outline (or Mind Map) It
Outline your article. Use single words and lists to identify key themes or topics. Outlining your article will help you organize it in advance.
If it helps, define what's missing and what you need to elaborate on.
If you're a visual thinker, try a mind map.
Keep in mind, however, a mind map should focus on one central topic or idea and expand from there.
Professional writers and amateurs alike use mind mapping. Mind mapping is incredibly prevalent within university by PhD students. Fiction authors also use these to spark ideas for children’s books, thrillers and more.
You can outline or mind map a blog post, a book chapter or even to brainstorm a character.
33. Write Now, Edit Later
If you let your internal editor censor your writing during its first draft, you’ll never move beyond the first 100 words.
Stopping to edit yourself interrupts the flow of your writing session. Get the words on paper, and then go back and revise.
Write in the morning.
Edit in the afternoon.
34. Write For One Reader
Does your audience scare you?
Don’t worry, even best-selling author John Steinbeck felt this way.
Steinbeck suggested imagining you are writing to a particular individual instead of an audience.
He said it will rid you of the terror of addressing an audience and help you feel more confident.
So pick someone you know (and like!) and write for them alone.
35. Consume Great Art
Sometimes writers feel blocked because of an input problem. You can’t create indefinitely without adding some fuel to the fire.
Take a day off to visit a museum.
Read a great book.
Watch an inspiring film.
Let other people’s creative work recharge you.
36. Pray (Kind Of)
Recite the prayer to the Muse.
Not sure why this prayer is important?
Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
Tools for Beating Writer’s Block
By now, you should understand that writer’s block is cured once you treat the craft as a profession.
Out of ideas? Read what inspires you.
Struggling with your nonfiction? Interview an expert.
Feeling tired? Exercise or sleep.
Can’t focus? Meditate.
Out of practice? Free write or journal.
That said, here are some popular analog and digital tools that will help you beat writer’s block based on the above strategies.
- Speech to text software
- Mind mapping software
- A meditation app like Headspace or Waking Up
- The Oblique Strategies
- White noise, binaural beats or ambient music
- A swipe file
- A commonplace book
- A journal
- A timer
- Pen and paper
- Freedom or web-blocking software
What To Do Next
Writer’s block is a funny thing.
Some days, the fear of writing is more difficult to overcome than sitting down and actually writing.
On other days, the words come quickly and easily, and you realize what a joy it is to fill a blank page.
The next time you feel afraid of the blank page or when you feel like you have writer’s block, try one of these strategies.
Find what works for you and stick to it. Remember, your job is to turn up, write and share your work with readers.
Have you got questions about overcoming writer’s block?
Ask me below.
How to Conquer Writer's Block for Good [Podcast Episode]
How can a student overcome writer's block?
Assuming you're writing an essay, break it down into manageable sections that you can approach one-by-one. Work on a single section for 25 minutes without distractions or interruptions. Take a short break. Then, repeat.
What causes writer's block?
Writer's block is typically caused by one of six factors: fear, perfectionism, lack of Inspiration, distractions, procrastination or your environment.
Why do I have writer's block?
You have writer's block because you're spending too much time in your head and not enough time working on a first draft. The first draft is always the hardest, so get started and fix those mistakes later on.
What does writer's block feel like?
Writer's block feels frustrating. You want to write, but the words won't come, and now a deadline is looming. It can induce tension in the shoulders and or hands. Or you may feel a mental fog.
How long can writer's block last?
Writer's block can last a few minutes, hours, days, weeks or months… if you let it. The best approach is to start writing something, even if it's not very good.