1. Know Thyself.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block it’s because something within your mind or your life is preventing the flow of ideas. The better you understand your motivation, strengths, weaknesses, resources, and your style, the better you’ll be able to use your brain to generate ideas effectively. In fact, I could end this list right now, because every other step boils down to self-awareness.
2. Analyze and reaffirm your motivation.
As a writer, if you truly loved to write then you would write no matter what. You might even write more often than is responsible. If you have to force yourself to write, then you need to seriously question whether or not writing is something you’re passionate about. If it’s not, that’s okay. Life is about defining yourself and exercising your free will. As long as you follow your passion you’re doing it right. If the only reason you’re writing is for fortune and fame, then even if you become rich and famous it will be because you’ve spent your life doing something you’re not passionate about, which is wasting your life.
If you do decide writing is something you’re passionate about, then you may want to write down why it’s important to you. If you ever get stuck or discouraged about writing, you can look back to your mission statement, your love letter, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. That alone may provide the motivation you need to get out of your slump.
3. Improve your technical skills.
Think of writing like baking a cake. There’s no right way to bake a cake, and if you make a career out of baking cakes by strictly following other people’s recipes, then your job will be as rote as any office cubicle job. So you may be tempted to get experimental and express yourself right from the beginning. However, if you don’t know how to bake a cake, you’re going to get very frustrated and discouraged when your experiments fail. If you would quit trying to be creative long enough to learn the core technical skill of cooking, then your job would be made exponentially easier, and you could modify the recipes quickly, creatively and effectively. If you’re having a hard time writing it might be because you don’t know how, and the only thing you can do to eliminate the frustration and discouragement you’re facing is to go back and study the fundamentals of how to write.
4. Improve your creative logic skills.
Typing is the final step of the writing process. 99% of the writing process is creating ideas. If you don’t know how to create ideas, then you don’t know how to be a writer. If you think creativity is magical, unscientific and can’t be taught, you’re wrong. If you want to write well, then you should study logic, the psychology of creativity and this blog: The science of thought/creativity
5. Have something to say.
If you can’t think of anything to say, then you should seriously question whether or not you have anything to say. Similar to point #2, if you have something so important and so vivid to say that you’d be saying it regardless of how well you’re able to express yourself, the words would just force themselves out of you. If you’re having a hard time writing, then put your paper down and turn off your computer. Spend some time thinking about what it is you have to say. If you can’t come up with anything, then writing well is the least of your problems. You need to go out and live life.
6. Live life, and observe it.
Your writing will only be as good as your comprehension of life, and in order to comprehend it, you need to experience it. If your writing is dull, it might be because it reflects the dullness of your life or your understanding of existence. The more you live, the bigger well of inspiration you’ll carry inside of you.
7. Resolve your problems in real life.
Writing uses all your mental faculties. Nothing ties up more of your mental capacity than stress. As a result, stress caused by real-life problems will stop your writing dead in its tracks. Likewise, happiness will give you energy and motivation to plow into your writing career. So in order to get back into writing, you need to solve your real-life problems, which are more important than writing anyway.
If there are problems in your life that are preventing you from focusing on your writing, you’re going to need to analyze and express them. Since writing involves analyzing and expressing life, you can kill two birds with one stone by writing about your problems. This also provides the added benefit of making your writing meaningful. Just be aware of the danger of getting locked into a cycle of wallowing in self-pity. This will make for boring, nauseating, melodramatic writing and won’t help you either.
8. Improve your health, or at least get some rest.
There doesn’t have to be anything wrong in your life in order to be depressed. In the same way that depression will sap your body’s mental and physical energy, an unhealthy lifestyle will also sap your body’s mental and physical energy. If you never seem to have the energy or motivation to write, it might be a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle, and all the tips and tricks and how-to books in the world won’t help you until you start taking care of your body.
If you do live a relatively healthy lifestyle, you might just not be getting enough rest. Try eliminating some activities in your life that are stretching your time too thin and get some more sleep. Then you’ll have more energy to solve any problems in your life and clear up more time to get adequate rest and eventually to focus on your writing with a fresh, energetic mind.
9. Just say it.
Have you ever tried to express your feelings to someone you cared about, and after hours of trying to find the right words, you finally decided the only way to express yourself is to just blurt it out? That’s often how writing works. After you’ve blurted out what you had to say, then you can refine the details, but first, you need to create that solid, core expression.
This is also how you develop your own style: not by trying to perfect someone else’s art, but by saying what you have to say in your own voice. The only way you’re going to find your own voice is by saying to hell with everyone else and using your voice naturally.
10. Write crap.
If you’re getting frustrated and discouraged because nothing you write is perfect, then you should stop trying to write perfectly. Write crap. Have fun with it and actually get it onto paper. Then rewrite it. It’s like Nora Roberts once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”
11. Get in the mood to write.
If every time you sit down to write, you find that you’re not in the mood to, then you can either wait until you’re in the mood or you can get yourself into the mood. Any “how to write” book will tell you to get into a habit. Write at the same place, at the same time every day so your brain comes to associate that time of the day and that place with writing. Then your brain will automatically go into writing mode. You can further trick your brain by performing a ritual right before writing. It doesn’t matter what that ritual is, as long as it’s consistent. Eat eggs, take a walk, clean your room, wear the same hat, perform a séance. Once your brain associates this activity with writing it’ll put you in the mood to write.
You can take psychology one step further. Your brain is most creative when it’s in a relaxed state nearing mediation. This is why you hear many authors swear by drug use. Drugs force your brain into that alpha wave state of mind. However, drugs also burn your brain out over time. But you don’t need drugs to put your brain into its most creative state. You can do yoga before writing, lay down and rest, listen to music, read a book, watch a movie. Find some form of relaxation technique that will help get your brain into the right gear before trying to write, and you’ll find that writing will be that much easier to slip into.
Maybe you’ve tried to establish a pattern, but it worked so well that now you’re stuck in a rut. There may come a point where you’ll benefit more by diversifying your projects as well as your methodology. If you’re working on more than one thing at a time you can jump to another project when you get burned out on your current project. That will keep you working and allow you to come back to the burned out project with fresh eyes later.
Maybe all of your ideas aren’t waiting for you at your computer desk. Maybe some are at the park. Try writing in a notebook for a change. If you always write in a notebook try writing on a computer for a change. Try stream of consciousness writing, try brainstorming, try outlining. Try everything and figure out which combination works best for you. In order to be a good writer, you need to know what works for you. If you’re stuck in a rut it might be because you’ve neglected to figure out how you work best, and now is the perfect opportunity to finally figure that out by experimenting.
13. Reread your work.
One of the best ways to gear up for writing is to reread your own work. Don’t worry about fixing it. Just reread it. If you see a glaring error, go ahead and make that little change. Then keep reading. If you see another little error, go ahead and make that change. Don’t be surprised when an hour later you’re pounding away at revisions with the fervor of an inquisitor when all you sat down to do was read over your older work.
14. Start over.
If you can’t seem to get anywhere on the project you’re working on, then maybe the problem isn’t your methods. Maybe the problem is your project. Maybe you’ve just written yourself into a corner. I guarantee that eventually, that will happen. At that point, the only thing to do is start over. You don’t have to delete your old manuscript. Just save it and put it away. Then start over from scratch. This will be extremely painful and discouraging at first, but I guarantee your ideas will flow out better. You’ll say what you have to say better than you did before, and inevitably there’ll be segments that you can cut and paste back into your new version from the old version. So you won’t really have to rewrite it all anyway.
15. Don’t talk yourself into writing when you don’t want to.
This isn’t like one of those diet fad promises where I tell you that you can lose weight and eat anything you want. I’m not going to tell you the easy answer you want to hear: that you don’t have to work when you don’t want to. No. Eventually, you’re going to have to write when you don’t want to. And it’s going to hurt, but you’re going to have to do it anyway. However, the trick to doing that isn’t to talk yourself into it.
Think of it like cliff-diving. Cliff diving is horrifying the first time you do it. You may stand at the edge of a cliff 8 feet above the water and work up the courage for an hour before jumping. The secret to cliff diving isn’t to work up the courage to jump. The trick is to shut off the part of your mind that tells you not to jump. Eventually, that’s the point you’re going to come to anyway if you do reason with yourself. You tell yourself, “And that’s why I’m going to jump.” Then your brain clicks off and you jump while your brain is silent.
Writing is the same way. Don’t bother arguing with yourself or debating or working up the courage. Just tell yourself, “Brain, I know you don’t want to do this. So we’re not even going to talk about it. I’m just going to turn you off and sit down and write. I’ll pretend I’m not even here if that’s what it takes.” And when you do that you don’t have to be strong or brave or disciplined. You’ll cross the line without those virtues as surely as if they were there, and everyone who sees what you accomplish will assume you possess all of them and more because the result will be indistinguishable.
If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you still can’t write, then maybe it’s time to admit you’re not a writer, which is fine. That doesn’t make you a failure. What would make you a failure is chasing after a dream that isn’t yours. Maybe you should focus your time on knowing yourself and figuring out what your passion really is.
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February 12th, 2010 at 11:46 pm
I’m impressed. This is one of the best round-ups of anti-block tips I’ve seen. Very honest. I like the one about not talking yourself into writing. I don’t believe in “discipline.” You don’t have to acquire this mystical trait of being more disciplined in order to write. What you need is to understand yourself and work WITH yourself and your best (mostly intrinsic) motivators. Then, often, flow will follow.