To move beyond a block, Hughes also suggests trying to see your story from another perspective. “How might a minor character narrate the scene if they were witnessing it? A ‘fly on the wall’ or another inanimate object?” Altering your story’s point of view (even temporarily) is a great way to break out of mental constraints and gain new insight.
6 Manifestations of Writer’s Block
Below are six common types of writer’s block, broken down one by one. For each type, I give advice I’ve collected and experimented with over the years on how to cure writer’s block, specific to that particular manifestation.
1. Writer’s block: You feel motivated but uncreative
Often, feeling boxed in mentally is the result of feeling boxed in physically. When we’re confined to the same familiar spaces, our brains fall into repetition, and we create habits of stasis rather than habits of imagination. You need something to kickstart that creative flow.
Sometimes, the solution is to simply daydream. What happens if you spend an hour staring at the ceiling or out the window—what worlds can you come up with when undisturbed from technology or other people?
Other times, you might need to kick your brain in action by putting yourself in new, unfamiliar spaces. Maybe find a new space to write: a hidden park bench, the back of a library, your best friend’s balcony, anywhere.
2. Writer’s block: You feel creative but have no motivation
This is where creating a writing habit becomes useful. We need to train our brains to write by creating an environment and schedule conducive to writing. If you can make yourself sit in the same space at the same time every day, you will encourage your creative motivation through sheer force of repetition.
Where do you feel most creative? It may be at the desk or in the kitchen; it may also be in the bathtub, on your roof, or squirreled away in the closet. Find where you’re most creative, and write there frequently.
3. Writer’s block: Self-doubt is getting in the way
For some people, overcoming writer’s block means overcoming the voice of self-doubt. Self-doubt is only natural: when we write, we’re creating and interpreting new worlds and people, which is a challenge fit for gods. Who are we to put our humble pens on the page?
Self-doubt is a natural response to the writing process, but it doesn’t have to inhibit your creative flow. Otherwise, you end up justifying your own self-doubt, which prevents you from writing the next Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
This is one of the hardest writer’s blocks to work through, but you’re not alone in feeling it. Many successful authors have their fair share of self-doubt. John Steinbeck, for example, wrote that he was “assailed by [his] own ignorance and inability” while writing The Grapes of Wrath—that great American novel which did win a Pulitzer.
Often, self-doubters will assume their work will be meaningless before it even reaches the page. If you’re experiencing a bout of writer’s block and doubt your ability to create, try to hold back that judgment. Allow yourself to write, even if that writing doesn’t meet your standards: you can always edit later, and the act of creation is the most important thing a writer can commit to. Every word you write brings you a word closer to the Nobel prize!
4. Writer’s block: You’re out of ideas
First, ask yourself this: are you struggling to come up with ideas at all, or are you dismissing every idea you come up with? If it’s the first one, then prompt generators are your best friend. Hit refresh as many times as you want, add or subtract certain requirements, and have fun in the sandbox of language. You won’t be out of ideas for long!
If it’s the second problem, then you might need to take a step back and actually slow your thoughts down. You might be rushing through ideas too quickly, and rather than finding your groove and setting words on the page, your thoughts are spinning like tires in a ditch.
This is your reminder, then: slow down, chew through your thoughts slowly, and imagine yourself inside of your ideas. You might find something unique or surprising, and realize that everything you need as a writer is already inside of you.
5. Writer’s block: You’re too exhausted to write
Let’s face it: this world was not built for writers. Very few of us have the luxury of dedicating our entire lives to literature: we have jobs to work, bills to pay, kids to raise, and thousands of decisions to make. When we find time to sit at the writing desk, we don’t always have the energy to write.
Our personal and professional lives are often what causes writer’s block. If this is the case, but you really want to write, then take a step back and focus on your needs first. Try to block out some time, even just 5 minutes, to journal or dream on the page before going to sleep. Over time, this habit will start to produce the writing you want to create. Overcoming writer’s block usually begins with habits, and habits can overcome even the fatigue of day-to-day life. Be gentle with yourself, and be diligent!
6. Writer’s block: You aren’t sure what causes writer’s block for you
If all writers knew the reason they couldn’t write, then they’d know how to cure writer’s block. Sadly, this isn’t the case. It might take a couple of weeks to diagnose yourself with writer’s block, and it might take a couple more weeks after that to figure out the block. This is something that, sooner or later, most writers grapple with.
The Broad-Spectrum Cure for Writer’s Block: Make Writing a Habit
Ultimately, working through writer’s block is about developing practices that make writing a habit—on good days, bad days, and everything in between. What this looks like is completely up to you and what will really work in your case. Start experimenting!
Overcoming Writer’s Block Starts with Experimentation
Especially for newer writers, the best thing you can do is understand what writing habits are best for you. Experiment with where, when, and how you write to find a place and style of writing that consistently lets you get words onto the page.
Your next story or poem might be best written on a typewriter. It might also be best written while staring at your phone, tucked in bed at 1 in the morning. That’s not to promote unhealthy sleeping habits, only to suggest that “real writing” can happen in any space.
Maybe you’re too tired to write when you finish work at night. Try writing in the morning! Maybe your laptop keeps dragging you onto Twitter. Buy a notebook! Maybe writing feels boring and isolating. Try it in a coffee shop!
Clear away any preconceived notions of what “writing” looks like, and find what will make your writing process work for you. If you try to force yourself to write in one specific way, you might be stifling your creativity and preventing ideas from coming naturally.
Consistent Creative Motivation Comes from Creative Habits
Overcoming writer’s block means setting the words down, no matter how great, terrible, logical, or nonsensical they are. The most successful writers have learned how to get rid of writer’s block by experimenting with when, where, and how they write, found the processes that best suit their writing needs, and developed a rock-solid writing habit.
Stephen King writes 10 pages each day, even on weekends and holidays. Haruki Murakami runs a 5K to clear his mind. Allegedly, Agatha Christie liked to sit in the bathtub, eating apples and looking at crime scene photographs, especially when she was out of ideas. The lengths writers go to to write!
Build a solid routine
Author and dancer Twyla Tharp once wrote, “Creativity is a habit.” This might seem counterintuitive to some — isn’t creativity something that naturally ebbs and flows, not something you can schedule? But the truth is, if you only write when you “feel creative”, you’re bound to get stuck in a rut. One of the best ways to push through is by writing on a regular schedule.
You may already have a routine of sorts, but if you’re experiencing writer’s block, it’s time to switch things up. Figure out the days and times that really work best for you — if you feel most productive in the mornings, it could be worth waking up half an hour earlier to squeeze in some writing. Or if you prefer low-pressure writing sessions, you could try Sunday afternoons when you have no other commitments.