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Presented by State Library Victoria

How-to: overcome writer's block

Fun fact

After writing Moby Dick, Herman Melville experienced such bad writer’s block he quit writing novels altogether, and spent the rest of his life working as a public servant.

This is a post about not being like Herman.

Online, writer’s block reads like a medical condition. It feels awful, is widely documented, studies have been conducted on it, and many’a person across history has suffered from it, from Harper Lee to Adele.

For those of you who don’t know,

writer’s block is the experience of sitting down to write or be creative and your mind just suddenly… nothing. Without warning, you become unable to produce any new work. You feel completely creatively blocked. Sometimes writer’s block lasts a few days, or a week, maybe a month and, some famous artists claim, even years.

Because being like Herman is utterly unacceptable (save the writing the best story ever about whales thing), I have listed some ways to get over your own writer’s block. These are also pretty good tips to observe even when you’re not suffering writer’s block, and can almost act like a preventative measure for future relapses.

Stick to a schedule

I write in the very early hours of the morning. For whatever reason, my mind is working at its best between the hours of four and nine AM (sorry, day job!). I’ve also noticed that when I do get lazy, and skip writing for a few days or a week (mmm glorious sleep), that first day back writing? Oooffft. It’s rough, my friends. Usually, after these breaks, it takes me days before I am able to write anything. Not because I am physically tired but because my writey-muscle (wherever that lives) is all out of shape.

My point here is – schedules matter. I cannot stress to you enough how writey-muscle will let brain-organ lead the way. If you tell writey-muscle certain hours or certain parts of days are times to be writing, writey-muscle will listen. Not necessarily at first, but if right now you’re sitting in the dry riverbed of your own creativity, I’m telling you, make a decision about a time of day you will write consistently for the next little while. Stick to it. The words will come a-flowing.

Have multiple things on the go

This is particularly good if you’ve suddenly read something you’ve been working on and just realised how terrible it is and how terrible you are at writing. I say this because it’s a very normal way to feel. Sometimes I open up a story I’ve been working on and it’s like the worst lightbulb in the world goes off. The story… sucks. Or, at least, I feel like it does. And most often in these moments, I have absolutely no idea how to help it not-suck.

In times like these, getting a bout of writer’s block looms close. So my advice to you is: run away!!! And a very productive way of doing a runner on a piece of writing is to run straight into another. Working on lots of things at once keeps your brain active

Do a writing exercise

Sometimes you just need a quick pick-me-up. Here is a list of some writing exercises that will get you away from dwelling on how bad your writer’s block is and back into writing. It’s important to be not-judgey of your work here, as the point is just putting words down.

Write… even faster?

Related to the above point is a little trick I sometimes do. I set myself a short amount of time to get writing done in. This is usually anywhere between fifteen – twenty-five minutes. I’ve learnt the pressure that comes with doing writing in short bursts usually means your brain clears away all the doubt and blockages, because there’s simply no time for it.

READ.

Ah yes, the most beautiful mother of all procrastination. If you’ve done all of the above and you’re still not feeling it, surround yourself with words the other way. Read. Read something you really love for its writing, and fall back in love with language again that way. Or read something terrible – there’s nothing like getting mad about how spectacularly bad a certain book is to motivate you to write your own, far better one.

Embrace, let go, take the pressure off


Yep, sometimes writey-muscle just checks out. Don’t fret if nothing is working. Don’t give up. Keep returning to the above tactics, keep returning to the desk, even when it feels pointless. Every single writer experiences highs and lows. Do not apply for a job in the public service.

1 comment

damnedmonkey

THANK YOU, a real help. NaNiWriMo (in Jan for me) is going to go smoother with this nugget of knowledge tucked away in my bookmarks. Thank you!

11th Dec, 18