More often than not, writer’s block is really an idea block, a procrastination block, or a fear of failure block. It’s more exciting to think of the wonderful thing you will write than it is to grapple with the nuts and bolts of doing it. Here’s what works for me.
Take Preventative Measures
Hemingway said the best way to avoid getting stuck was to end each session knowing what would happen next, leaving yourself a solid starting point for the next day. If you’re writing fiction, go over the next day’s scene in your head, make notes on some details and start looking forward to working on it. If it’s a nonfiction piece, prepare by sketching out the points you want to cover or gathering your research so you’re ready to go. Establishing this routine allows you to get into the work right away, without wasting time wondering how you’re going to fill that blank screen.
Actors do it, so can we. The night before, I often think about what I’m going to write the next day. I try to resolve problems that will arise and get enthused about what I want the piece to accomplish. Before getting out of bed in the morning, with the cold thud of knowing I have to face the blank screen, I replay last night’s thoughts.
Reread what you wrote in the last writing session. This could be a paragraph if you’re writing a short article or several pages if you’re working on a book. Getting back inside the world you’re creating allows you to see the day’s work as a continuance, rather than a raw beginning. Don’t be surprised if, when you’re finished rereading, you know exactly what words to begin with.
Get a Client
If you’re spinning your wheels on the project you want to work on, prime the pump by writing something for someone else. Having assigned work, even if it’s just content writing or a volunteer piece for the local paper, gets you into the habit of working consistently, as you would at any other job. Over time, you will discover that, though your finished work may have places that sing and places that need more work, these don’t necessarily reflect whether you were inspired when you wrote them or struggled with every sentence.
Read Someone Else’s Work
First, pinpoint the issue that’s keeping you locked. Are you procrastinating because your set-up chapter was great, but you now have to plunge into the story? Is your dialogue so bland that you can’t tell who’s talking? Do you have to fill in a big backstory, but feel like you’re losing the reader with too much exposition? After you’ve identified the problem, think of work that handles the same problem and reread the relevant parts to see how another writer handled the problem. Don’t worry about being too influenced by someone else’s style. Your own voice will still come through.
If you’ve been at it for a while and have hit a wall, take a walk, go for a swim or do something else physical. Showers and baths are also great, and while your body is re-energizing, your subconscious is often resolving the problem at hand. Don’t be surprised if the answer to your problem seems to arrive out of the blue, and you find yourself thinking, Oh, so that’s how that happens.
Recapture the Moment
Go get a drink of water, take out the garbage, or simply sit in a different chair for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Think back to the moment you first got the idea for this piece, or decided to take this assignment. What intrigued you about the idea? How did you see yourself developing the idea? If you can recapture that enthusiasm, the words will start flowing again.
Put it in Perspective
Like Joseph Grand in the Albert Camus novel, The Plague, many writers become so obsessed with crafting the perfect sentence or paragraph that they become paralyzed. The first time you write a section, get the bones down on paper. Remember that you are writing a whole piece, not a brilliant but isolated snippet. Focus on what you want to say first, how you say it can come later. The nice thing about writing is that, unlike sports or the performing arts, you can go back and polish until you’re satisfied. Being too rigid at the start is often a waste of time anyway, because your idea for the beginning often changes as the piece develops.
The Best Tip of All Time
When an aspiring writer once asked Michael Crichton, the late author of Jurassic Park and other best sellers, about the secret of writing success, he summed it up in four simple words: Stay in the chair. He meant it literally, too. Writing is hard and often uncomfortable work. You see your failings paraded before you, your body cries out for activity, and the temptation to go do something else can be overwhelming. Staying in the chair for the long haul is what separates people who are writers from people who want to be writers.