3 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block
It’s a simple two-word phrase that can make a writer’s blood turn cold; writer’s block. It is the dreaded barrier against creative flow that every author struggles with from time to time. There are a number of causes of this mental road block, and a number of theories on how to cure it.
In an effort to give my fellow writer a leg up and over that wall of resistance, here are the three biggest things I’ve found, and my own personal variants, that have helped me past my creative constipation. No doubt you’ve all heard much of this before, so I’m going to throw my own spin on them and tell you exactly what variants work best for me. Experimentation is key to finding your own magical keys to open the writer’s block door, so by all means try out your own variations. We’re creative people by nature, after all, right?
Clear Your Mind
Easier said than done, I know. We live in a world where we’re all drowning in the pressures of our lives. Jobs, family, social obligations, finances, the list could go on for pages. It all results in the same issue however; stress and mental exhaustion. These are two of the biggest killers of creative flow.
Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to push such things from your mind, however temporarily. Anything that helps you to rest and restore your mental clarity will work here. A few suggestions are meditation, take a nap, go for a walk, enjoy a break filled with your favorite, oft-neglected pastime. The drawback of course, is that all of these things take time.
For me, meditation is my go-to cure for mental mud when I sit down to write. It doesn’t take long. Even a ten minute meditation with emphasis on mental clarity works wonders. That ten minutes will often buy me so much more productivity over the course of my writing session that it makes up for itself six-fold. It does take time, but the payoff is well worth it. It’s also nice that you can do this at any time during your writing when you stall out.
Just get comfortable, close your eyes, and breathe steadily. No, the lotus position is not required. Count your breaths, but only up to five. Focus on breathing smoothly and evenly, and when you reach five breaths, start over at one. This helps to keep your mind on the breathing.
It will be obvious if you’ve lost focus, since you’ll count higher than five. Don’t get frustrated, just calmly refocus on the breathing and start over at one. Any meditative master, which I am not, will tell you that meditation takes practice like any other skill.
Handy tip: don’t set any kind of timer if the alarm will be loud and jarring. Most phones have a gentle alarm feature. Startling yourself out a calm meditation can send you spinning right back into a tailspin of frustrated, foggy thinking.
Of course, some distractions are inevitable. If you’re a stay-at-home parent you’re unavoidably going to have to deal with child-oriented distractions on a regular basis, for example. Often, there are many distractions we may not even realize are problematic until they’re removed. The point is, when you’re trying to overcome writer’s block, eliminating all possible distractions makes a huge difference.
For me, having a designated space to write in is a tremendous help. It can be a special chair with your laptop, a writer’s nook, or even a home office. Find some place that is as quiet and calm as possible, as free from distractions as possible. And for crying out loud, turn off your phone. Texts and Candy Crush notifications will not help your writing!
Handy tip: If you’re going to play music in the background, experiment with styles. You might be surprised what you find is most beneficial to your writing flow. I tried classical, which I love, and my writing stalled out constantly. I tried soft rock, and I found none of my scenes held any real intensity. I switched to industrial metal, and suddenly even my love scenes had more impact and power. Go figure.
Can’t Write? Just write.
Okay, I get it. This seems counter-intuitive. Despite how odd it sounds, many writers will tell you that the best way to get past a creative speed bump is to power past it. Some will tell you to just keep writing in your current project. I don’t encourage this, personally.
You want your work to be the best possible, and forcing your way through a tough patch can often lead to sections in your finished piece that are the literary equivalent of binge-eating a gallon of mint-chocolate chip ice cream to get over a bad breakup. It might get the job done, but it certainly isn’t healthy and the end result is guaranteed not to be pretty.
Many writers suggest free writing, the practice of opening a blank page and just beginning to write whatever comes to mind, cohesive and coherent or not. I spent a lot of time working with this method, and it works passably well for me. It is not, however, what has been the cure-all for my own creative blocks, though it may work great for you and I do encourage giving it a whirl.
Ready for my personal favorite trick? Here we go!
I write random, unrelated back stories for my antagonists. Often totally unrelated to my current story or why my villains are, well, villains.
Just little things, like psycho cop’s bachelor party, or evil galactic dictator’s childhood trip to the pet store. This practice always takes me to unexpected depths in my anti-heroes, and allows me to see and understand my malevolent friends a little better. This is not only good for the depth of my bad guys, but fun writing practice. Simple, right? I get stuck, I open a new document and write a fun little back story for a much-maligned character.
The crazy part is that every single time I’ve done this, I’ve had a random inspiration on my main story. I suspect this works on the same principle as the theory that we have our best problem-solving ideas when we’re not thinking about the problem at all. For whatever reason, it works absolute magic for me!
Whatever works for you, or doesn’t, keep trying! Don’t give up, and if you have to walk away for a time, do it. But come back to it soon. No art form is improved without practice, and writing is no exception. Don’t let yourself get discouraged or frustrated. Just clear your thoughts, remove distractions, and just write.
Christopher Bailey lives in Seattle with his incredible wife and daughter, eagerly expecting their second child. A lover of literature from an early age, he began writing short stories in the third grade for a school assignment and has never looked back. Having worked professionally with children and teens for many years, he has developed a particular fondness for young adult fiction, which is where he now focuses his writing in the hopes of helping a few more children learn to love the written word.
Hey readers! Want to meet Christopher Bailey in person?
Chris has a full schedule of fun events he’ll be at this fall. Want to pick his brain in person, or tell him how much you loved this post and his author interview? Stop on by and say hi.
Jet City Comic Show in Tacoma, WA, Nov 5th-6th
Silver Bells Christmas Bazaar in Puyallup, WA, Nov 19th
Victorian Country Christmas in Puyallup, WA, Nov 30th – Dec 4th
(Disregard dates on the banner, they haven’t updated from last year!)
He’ll be signing autographs at all three. He hopes to see you there!
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