6 Simple Ways to Kick Writer’s Block in the Teeth
So you’re struggling with writer’s block. Here’s the good news: You’re not alone. Great writers throughout history have had staring contests with blank pages. Here’s the better news: If you use the right strategies, writer’s block can be overcome. This article will teach you four simple strategies for kicking writer’s block in the teeth.
1. Write garbage.
Writer’s block happens when the complex and sensitive neurological process of creativity gets disrupted, typically by stress and fear. One way to overcome that anxiety is to dive into the work by writing as much garbage as you possibly can.
In other words, get writing in your project, regardless of how awful, useless, or nonsensical that writing is. This is useful even if all you do is spew words onto the page that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you will delete later. The point isn’t necessarily to find the right words but to get yourself writing. You’ll be surprised how quickly this breaks down anxiety and gets you to a place where writing feels natural again.
2. Use time limits to shrink your work.
Another way to disrupt anxiety is to reduce the mental size of the project. The key is to help your brain compartmentalize the work, and one of the best ways to do that is to use a time limit. (If you want to learn a great deal more about the ways this can be used to bolster productivity in various parts of your life, check out the Pomodoro Technique.)
By setting a short time limit, such as 15 or 25 minutes, you reduce the present-tense work to a size that your brain can manage. And if you’re like most writers, you may well get into the swing of things by the end of that time and want to continue writing.
3. Boil the work down to the exact next step.
Another way to decrease the mental size of a project is to identify the exact next thing you have to do. When you don’t know the next step, your brain tries to swallow the project whole—which is patently impossible. On the other hand, when you consciously focus on the next concrete step, the project will feel smaller, you will feel more capable, and momentum will soon follow.
4. Talk yourself through the anxiety.
Self-talk, when done right, can be one of the more effective ways to treat anxiety. The major thing to understand is that anxious energy is, from an evolutionary perspective, designed to help us against physical threats (like hungry wildcats) that bear little resemblance to our modern-day stress triggers. By talking ourselves through the concrete realities of the situation, we move the fear from an undefined threat that triggers our fight-or-flight response to a manageable stressor that triggers our creativity.
One way to do this is to ask yourself a series of basic questions, like “What am I afraid of?”, “What will I do if that happens?”, and “What would happen then? And how would I respond to those possible outcomes?” You may fear, for example, that no one will like your story, but talking yourself through the situation will make it clear that you’ll still have the opportunity to revise, and in the worst case scenario you will still have improved as a writer due to the extra practice and perspective. When used to nail down anxiety, the self-talk process helps us move from a place of overwhelming fear to a place of creativity and empowerment.
5. Get rid of distractions in your environment.
Sometimes, the anxiety that triggers writer’s block is itself triggered by overstimulation. It’s easy to forget just how many distractions and sensory blips are in our environments. Yet, on top of believing we should be able to manage a given writing project, we typically expect ourselves to manage cell phone notifications, email pop-ups, the fly in the room, the auditory distractions in the area, etc., etc., etc.
Many writers find they can concentrate better when they turn off the internet, shut down their cell phone, shut out noise by putting in earbuds (and maybe listening to instrumental music), and otherwise reduce the various environmental factors that constantly scream for attention.
6. Step away from the computer and calm down.
Numerous studies have shown that the calmer and happier you are, the more capable you are of being creative. As such, staring at a blank screen while feeling anxious is a bad idea: It will perpetuate a negative feedback loop that continually deepens anxiety.
So, when all else fails, get away from your computer and focus on calming down and cheering up. Going for a walk, talking to friends, meditating, getting a workout, or cooking a meal are all good ways to reset your brain for creativity. Just be sure to get back to writing as soon as you can!
Each writer faces a personal struggle with writer’s block, and it takes a lot of practice to skillfully face down anxiety. However, no matter how daunting it may seem, the truth is simple: Writer’s block may be a dangerous enemy, but it’s one that can be understood and overcome.
Note: This post was originally published in April of 2015.