Writer’s block happens, occasionally, to almost all authors. The creative juices slow down to a trickle or just stop. Inspiration seems to vanish. The writer may be distracted by other events or some adverse condition, or may be under some personal pressure or stress. The block may last for a few hours or, worse, for a few years.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
There are lots of tips on how to beat writer’s block. But one of the best and simplest rules comes from the famous author Ernest Hemingway. In an October 1935 article in Esquire, Hemingway offered this advice to a young writer:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing … you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.
By quitting when you’re ahead each day, you can assure that you’ll have something to write the next day. Otherwise, if you write until you “run out of gas”, you have to figure out a way to “refill your tank”.
Breaking this down into specific ideas to keep your momentum going:
- Stop writing when you know what you’ll do next
- Stop writing when you feel that you must finish what you’re working on—if you push to finish, you may not be writing at your best.
- Stop writing when you feel that you’ve reached a peak in creativity—after all, if it’s a peak, the next is going to be downhill.
- Stop thinking about it until your next writing session—give yourself a short mental vacation.
The next task, then, is to finish what you were writing when you stopped. That way, you can let your subconscious work on your project. And you’ll start your next writing session by picking up your last thread and finishing what was left undone. A lot of creativity happens this way.
Some other ideas
- Get away from distractions—the phone, the internet, the family
- Change your environment—Change your writing place. Get away from your desk (or wherever it is that you write). Go outside to write, or go to a coffee shop, a library, a bookstore, or a park. A change of scene can often stimulate fresh ideas.
- Do something creative, other than writing—Shop for new wallpaper, paint. You can even read someone else’s writing, or write about something else. Work on a hobby or craft. Many people find that doing something else with their minds or talents resets their thinking process.
- Get out of your chair and move your body—Nothing beats getting back to creativity than getting some fresh air, seeing a different scene, or just plain getting some exercise. Take a walk around your living space, around the block, or maybe in some unusual place. Jog, play tennis or golf. The idea is to get up and away from your writing and do something physical.
- Write when you find that you’re most creative and productive—Try to stick to that time on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you’re stuck, change your writing time—it may be time to break from the usual. Often, just changing the time of day or day of the week you do most of your writing will jog you out of that stuck gear. The change of lighting or doing it before or after certain regular activities (e.g., meals) can make a difference.
As important as any of the above, write, don’t edit. When you sit down to write—a creative act—let it flow. If you interrupt that flow to be self-critical or to edit what you’ve just written, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Save that job for the end.
One tool that really helps prevent writer’s block is to have an outline, table of contents, or plot. If you’ve thought ahead, from beginning to end, you shouldn’t get writer’s block in the middle. Yes, you may get stuck on a detail or how to write a section, but once you push through that, it should be clear sailing.
However, if you find that writing is a grind, and you’re not having fun doing it, you may be writing about something that isn’t a passion for you. In that case, search your soul and write about something else, or spend your creative efforts in some other area.
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