Sometimes writing feels as easy as falling down a flight of stairs, the sentences rolling out of you one after another, piling up in perfect paragraphs. Sometimes, though, writing is hard—really hard. On those days, scratching out a sentence is like trying to empty the Atlantic Ocean with a teacup or chop down the mightiest tree in the forest by whacking away at it with a herring. No wonder authors down the ages have called it writer’s block: Your own mind becomes a linebacker who won’t let you take a single step forward. But it doesn’t have to beat you. The five tips below are tried and true ways of overcoming writer’s block.
MAKE WRITING ROUTINE. Think of how a muscle works. Use it day after day, and what happens? It grows bigger, stronger, and mightier. So does your writing ability when regularly exercised. If you find your mind going blank when you stare at your computer screen, don’t let it drive you away. Set aside twenty-or-so minutes at the same time every day and write about whatever you want. It could be what you had for breakfast. It could be your internal emotional state. (“I have no idea what to write about” is a great opening line!) It doesn’t really matter. Just keep your fingers moving, and soon the act itself will seem second nature.
STAY RESTED. In a 1988 study published in “Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine,” researcher J.A. Horne found that sleep-deprived subjects scored more poorly on every creative test he administered than subjects who’d gotten a normal night of rest. Snag a little shut eye when fatigue makes you foggy. That insurmountable compositional problem might be easier to overcome in the morning.
UNPLUG FROM THE INTERNET. Ah, the World Wide Web! Although you can find all sorts of helpful writing tools online, it’s also true that checking sports scores, browsing news headlines, or binging on cat videos won’t help you reach your desired word count. When distraction beckons, turn to any one of a number of apps that can cut off connectivity for a specific period of time. RescueTime, Freedom, and Anti-Social will all help you unplug without forcing you to abandon your computer entirely.
MAINTAIN A COMMONPLACE BOOK. Great ideas don’t come on a schedule. They pop into your head while you’re showing or shaving, jogging or enjoying a meal, driving or dragging on your coat. Don’t let them get away! Ever since the 15th century, lovers of learning have compiled commonplace books, self-made compendiums filled with bits and bobs they found interesting. Famed horror scribe H.P. Lovecraft kept one in which he jotted striking images, impressions from his dreams, little scraps of history, and other things that jolted his imagination. Browsing through your own commonplace book may be just the thing to get the stuck gears of your mind grinding away again.
BREAK THE CYCLE. Writer’s block can become a self-reinforcing rut, a downward spiral of frustration where staring at the blank page stymies any future composition attempt. So how can you break the cycle? Merlin Mann of “43 Folders” has an interesting list of ways to shake up your writerly routine, including drinking a glass of water every 20 minutes, taking out the trash, bolting down a bit of candy after completing a paragraph, and writing in a new location—anything to break up the monotony that’s paralyzing your mind.
No matter how long you’ve been dealing with dealing writer’s block, take heart! Authors such as Virginia Woolf, Neil Gaiman, Leo Tolstoy, Maya Angelou, and Ernest Hemingway have found their own ways of overcoming writer’s block, and you can, too. So park yourself in a chair, pull up this list of suggestions, and have at it. We can’t wait to read what you have to write.