Writer’s block! Every writer or poet, no matter how successful or talented, faces the dreaded block at one time or another. It’s like a dam builds up in your brain. You know the ideas are pooling there, waiting to be explored and expanded upon, but you just can’t find them.
No writer’s block can last forever, but when one sets on, we always feel like it will. We know on some level that the muse will return, that one day the dam will fall and the words will come flooding through. But knowing that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like an incurable illness.
Here is my list of what to do when you have writer’s block. All of them have been tested by me and have worked wonders.
1. Stop expecting perfection. We want to be amazing. We want to write something that will earn us respect from other writers and awe from our readers. But sometimes, you’ve just got to make yourself write anything. Don’t stop or scare yourself away because you think you’re not writing well enough. Just push through, keep writing and find the shape of the story. Then go back and start nitpicking.
2. Don’t beat yourself up. Seriously, a writer’s block can move to a writer’s depression so fast if you start berating yourself for the lack of progress. You’ll start feeling like a failure, and then you’ll start questioning your talent. Maybe I’m not cut out for this, you’ll think, maybe I just can’t do it.
This is as good as stabbing your muse in the heart, because if you start doubting and questioning every single sentence you write, the words will never go together the way you want them to. Take a deep breath, realize the dangerous ledge you’re on, and take a step back. Yes, you’re a writer, but that doesn’t mean you can write all the time. This stuff is hard work. Cut yourself some slack!
3. Read, read, read. The most common advice given to any writer is to read. It’s even more crucial during a writer’s block. Read novels, read short stories, read poetry—read critically acclaimed books and read classics. Read Kurt Vonnegut’s first book and his last and try to map out his progress as an author. And don’t be afraid to jump genres either—if you’re used to reading science fiction, pick up a gritty nonfiction story.
4. Buy a subscription to a popular literary magazine. Perhaps the most inspiring work I’ve ever read comes from magazines like these; writers around my age and at the same place in their writing careers. Some are drastically better than me, some match my talent, but all of them make me feel like it really is possible to be an emerging writer in this age.
5. Try a different style. If you’re used to writing serious, in-depth character studies, try writing something comedic and light on the drama. If you feel worn out by prose, try some free verse poetry. If you’re heavy on description, try writing a story using only dialogue. Shock your muse back into working with something fresh and new.
6. Pick your favorite work and use it as a model. As long as you’re not directly copying, it’s fine to take inspiration from other works. If you’re reading something that is told in a nonlinear fashion, give the style a try. That way, if you get stuck, you can refer back to that work and see what they did to push the story forward.
7. Push past the wall. If you’ve reached a certain point in a story and you just cannot move past the wall, write anything to build up momentum and get going again. Keep writing until the process gets easier, and then go back and fix up the patchy parts. In a novel or even a short story, there are going to be parts you enjoy writing more than others. If you have a part that you’re looking forward to writing or that inspires you, just barrel straight through the part that’s blocking you.
8. Wait it out. Perhaps the most difficult step of all. Yes, you may feel like you’ll never find inspiration again, and yes, you may feel like a failure at life for not being able to write, but sometimes the only thing to do is to let the illness pass. Then one day, out of nowhere, you’ll be on your nightly run or going to pick up groceries and you’ll see something that will make the spark go off in the dark hollows of your brain. Suddenly you’ll be building scenes in your head and your fingers will be itching to write again. It always comes back. Really.
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” – Maya Angelou