I know, we’ve all been there, staring at a blank page, trying to figure out what comes next. There really isn’t a good way to say it, so I’ll write the first thing that comes to mind: it sucks.
Writer’s block is one of the worst feelings a writer (or any creative) can encounter, be it on the page or the canvas. Yet there is something unique about the situation, and the more you ponder the issue, the more frustrating it seems to get. The urge or the need to write, calling out to you, yet nothing comes to mind. The mouse indicator blinks rhythmically on the page, ticking away like seconds on the clock that feel like individual attacks, each blink more infuriating than the last.
Let’s talk about writer’s block, and the best ways to beat it!
How To Avoid Writer’s Block:
1. It’s okay to walk away for a moment or two.
Acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury made this suggestion in “Zen and the Art of Writing” and I have not forgotten it. It is a small book, but the advice he imparts in this book is worth more than perhaps any writing course I have ever enrolled in, and a must have for a writer’s tool box.
Recently on an episode of the LYF Author’s Interview series, I made the joke that while writing is often extremely therapeutic, it is sometimes more like bad constipation that doesn’t want to pass. Writer’s block is often the cause of this feeling, and my first method to beating it is an easy one to follow: Walk away for a little while.
Do you have some household chores to catch up on? Go take care of them first. The keyboard will be there when you get back.
This is a method first alluded to by Albert Einstein. While developing his theory of relativity, Einstein worked in a post office, sorting mailing. The mechanical, thoughtless process allowed his mind wander to possibilities he had not previously considered, and before long, he had his answer.
Similarly, Bradbury makes recommendations that are a little more down to earth for those of us who are not famed eccentric scientists. Where Einstein would wander aimlessly, Bradbury would go and play with his children, or wash the dishes in the meantime.
Within a few hours, Bradbury states he could come up with something fresh and the writing could continue without issue.
2. Set the tone, write to the beat.
Think about the tone you are trying to convey with your work, and allow music to be your guide.
Music is a great aid for finding the tone of what you are trying to write, regardless of what you are working on. I can recall the time I first discovered the value of this method. I grew anxious as minutes turned into hours while attempting to think of where to go next with the work. While writing my second novel, I found myself against a wall, and unsure of how to continue, I turned to music for inspiration.
The tone I was trying to capture with the work, up to that point, had been a somber tone, so I turned to music with a similar tone. Once the music began to flow, so too did the words.
Before long, I had my 2,000 words for the day and was satisfied, courtesy of Soundgarden and Johnny Cash.
3. Take a step back, where were you a moment before?
While this method works better for longer works, like novels or some short stories, I believe this can work for everyone’s writing regardless of format or genre.
I came to a moment like this when writing my second novel, The Pagoda, where I was genuinely stuck and could not figure out how to get my main character to the next event I was building toward, so I decided to engage in some light editing and proofreading of earlier chapters. Within a few pages of rereading, I found a loose plot thread that gave me the answer I was looking for, and the character was on her way.
Now, as I mentioned, this can work for everyone, regardless of what you are writing. Writing an article or a blog? Where did your last post take you and when rereading it, where do you want to go? Assigned a topic for school and you aren’t sure where to go? Consider what your tone has been up to this point. What have you tried to achieve with assignments in the past, and how did you explore themes at that point?
There many ways to go about this, but most importantly, remember that your writing is an extension of you. Exploring past works and reflecting on them can be a great way to look toward the future.
4. What avenues haven’t you explored yet?
When I first began writing The Pagoda, my main character wasn’t my main character. During the main phase of writing, my nameless protagonist was always at the center of the story, but originally, I began the novel years before as a short story of the same name. In it, the eventual main character’s younger sister was the original main character, and I was constantly getting hit with waves of writer’s block like I had never experienced before.
Yet in the middle of this difficult bout with writer’s block, I discovered that the writing drifted toward the character who would eventually become the main character. She would disappear for long stretches of time in the story, complain about horrid nightmares, and before long I would wonder, what exactly was she seeing that I wasn’t? Why are these words coming to mind now that I cannot explain?
If you are as stuck as I was, ask yourself the following question: Is this the right framing device my story?
When writing novels or short stories, it is easy to shift perspectives, change character point-of-views, etc., but what about more professional writing? I would say that the same concept can be applied. Sometimes, we are so resilient to change that we completely miss another path directly in front of us.
If you are writing blogs or articles, consider what you know, what you think you might know, and be empathetic to other points of view. If you approach the topic from one perspective, consider how others, or even your audience might view it. Ask yourself the questions they might ask about a topic and answer them.
Look, you’re writing!
5. When all else fails, read and research!
Finally, the old adage goes that good reading makes good writing, and that is absolutely the truth.
I was originally going to include this within my first method, but I felt that this was important enough that it should be highlighted on its own. A writer who does not read is hardly a writer, as just as one would go to the gym to exercise their body, we turn to books to exercise our minds.
Good reading habits build the foundation of your vocabulary, your mental lexicon, and your frame of reference for future works of your own. All of the works that have ever been written are in constant conversation with each other, going all the way back to the first written works, thousands of years ago.
Readers can trace a distinct lineage from their favorite writers of today to the poets of yesteryear, and the moment you pick up the pen (or the keyboard, as it happens), you become a part of the cycle.
Should you find yourself stuck on an idea that refuses to come to fruition, regardless of what it is, reading a chapter or two out of a favorite book, or pick up a new magazine you like or other reading materials you enjoy engaging with, as your literary inspirations are just as important to your writing as the writing itself.
Reading engages parts of your brain as no other activity does, and you must exercise it, just as you must provide nourishment for your body.
When you find yourself truly stuck, try reading, or if your project calls for it, engage in more research related to it. You never know when a word, or phrase, or concept will jog your creativity and reinvigorate your writing session.
So long as you find your way back, it doesn’t matter how you do it.
While I am not saying that these are exclusively the only ways someone can beat writer’s block, these have been my top five tried and proven methods that have helped me get past it.
How do you get past writer’s block? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!
About the Author
Originally from New Jersey, Shane moved to Las Vegas to start his college career. He has now entered his last semester at UNLV and will be receiving a Bachelor's Degree in English and Professional Writing. Shane has also obtained an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice (with high honors), and has written several novels, two of which have been published.