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12 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Many people think they never get writer’s block. They see writer’s block as this weird disease that only people like Hemingway got once they had published ten books and had run out of things to say. But almost every writer I know has days when she sits down at her computer and doesn’t want to write, or doesn’t know what to write, or hates everything she writes, or worse yet, doesn’t bother to sit down at the computer at all. She goes to the gym, reads a book, does some research, goes for a hike, knits a scarf, and the next things she knows, six months have passed and she hasn’t written anything. That’s called writer’s block. So, how do you get around it? Here are ten methods that work for me:

1. Aim to write a bad book (or bad story, or bad chapter).

This will eliminate your fear of writing crap. It will shut off your internal editor and allow you to just sit down and write, no matter what comes out.

2. Aim to make your next draft just a little bit better.

If you’ve already written a bad book (or a so-so book, or a good book), and you’re in the revision stages, aim to make this draft just a little bit better. Don’t expect this draft to be the final draft, or a great draft, or even a much better draft. Just aim to make it a little bit better than the last draft.

3. Break your big goals into bite-sized, manageable tasks.

Make them so small you will eliminate all your fear and resistance. For instance, if your goal is to write 1000 words today and you really really really would rather clean the gutters, try writing just 100 words. Still want to clean your gutters? How about 50 words, or even 25? Once you get started, you’ll find yourself writing much more than you expected.

4. Write in a journal.

These could be morning pages à la Artist’s Way, or they could be typing on your computer about how sick you are of your book, how much you’d rather be outside, how you have a million things to do, how you need to make more money, etc. Just get it all out so you can move on.

5. Find the fun in writing again.

Remember why you first started writing? It was fun. And reading was fun. You loved it and thought it would be much more fun to write for a living than to clean gutters. Now that you’re finding yourself applying for gutter-cleaning jobs, think back to when writing was fun. What was fun about it? Inventing bizarre stories? Getting revenge on ex-girlfriends by turning them into villains in your novel? Take a break from your WIP to write something fun. It could be a poem, a sci-fi story, a children’s story—anything. Fall in love with writing again.

6. Put your WIP aside for a while and write something else.

Work on a short story for a while, or an essay. Don’t set it aside for too long, but sometimes you need a break. I did this last week. I started a new book and about half hour into it, I missed my WIP. I closed the document and went back to work on my book.

7. Take a break from writing for a while.

Give yourself a chance to miss writing. Don’t set goals; there’s no point in feeling bad about yourself if you really need to take a break. Give yourself a finite amount of time—a week, a month, whatever you need. Use that time to do some things you’ve been missing out on. Take a vacation, get some exercise, cook some gourmet meals. Then get back to work.

8. Research.

Spend some time researching your WIP. Gathering information is a fun and easy break from writing and will serve you when you sit down to write. But limit your time researching so that it becomes a means to get excited about writing again and not as a means to procrastinate.

9. Eavesdrop.

Spend sometime sitting in cafes eavesdropping on conversations and taking notes. This is a great way to learn to create authentic dialogue and it gives you an excuse to drink tea and eat chocolate croissants.

10. Reread your WIP.

I find that reading my book helps me in three ways. 1) I find myself automatically editing and before I know it, I’m working on my book again. 2) It makes me realize that my book is good and WILL sell one day. 3) It helps me stay connected to my work in a way that is resistance-free. There is NOTHING scary about reading, so I can put in a few hours on my book without much effort at all and, like I mentioned in 1), before I know it, I’m writing again.

11. Read other books.

Underline/highlight when you read. When you come across great passages, fabulous descriptions, apt metaphors, take notes. Reading good books will help you to become a better writer, and it will get you excited about writing again.

12. If all else fails, check out Jerry Mundis’ methods for fighting writer’s block.

Mundis has an audio seminar and an out-of-print book that this writer raves about. I asked Sean Miller, by the way, whether he still thought Mundis’ strategies for fighting writer’s block worked now that three years have passed, and here was his response: “Three years gone, I still wholeheartedly endorse Mundis and his method. Without it, I don’t think I would have finished my doctoral thesis in a timely fashion with a minimum of stress.”

43 comments to 12 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

  • Haha, I love #1, it's brilliant! I need to tell myself that more often. Not just "it's okay" to write a bad chapter, but "hey, that's what I'm trying to do!"

    Great post with great tips. I'm glad to see I already do several of them. 🙂

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  • I like #3. Often if I'm writing something for a big project I create mini-articles to help break it down so it doesn't seem so overwhelming. #4 is amazing because who doesn't love The Artist's Way. 🙂

  • Kristan – I really want to read Jerry Mundis' book. I wish it were available in e-book form!

    Jennifer – thanks for stopping by! I find that breaking goals down so small I don't feel any resistance whatsoever can often help me get over a hump.

  • I like Number 3 & 7. Small is better for me and I take a lot of breaks.

    I’m not a hard core writer. Very little money do I get. Every so offend I’ll pay myself a little extra to stop writing.

  • gmkah

    Great tips and I am gonna bookmark this, cause I have definitely been struggling against writer's block for a few months now (thankfully the first draft of my WIP is nearly done).

    A wierd way I've found works for me is changing up my writing location then returning to the original. If I go on a trip to San Diego or Texas, I'll bring my laptop and try a little writing there. It doesn't always work, but when I get back home I find myself able to write a lot more.

  • desk49 – I'd be rich if I paid myself every time I stopped writing!

    gmkah – I wonder if your method of changing up locations would work locally for those who don't travel for work – like work in a coffee shop one day, work at home one day, work at the library one day, etc. It's an interesting idea. Maybe we need new environments to stimulate our creative juices.

  • Put the pen and keyboard down, go live one or two impassioned life experiences and then come back to it; at that point, you ought to have plenty more material to write from 🙂

    Great post, great ideas; thanks for sharing!

  • Jerome Tarshis

    I'm a little confused. When I click on the link to "this writer" who raves about Jerry Mundis's methods for breaking writer's block, I get the home page of Banyan College. Not what I was looking for. Can you fix this?

    Another point, although I may not be getting into the spirit of the thing here. Andy Ross, whom you quote as endorsing JM's methods, has as his triumph writing a doctoral dissertation. I think it is worth distinguishing between creativity and productivity. JM's methods have helped him write many books of far lower literary ambition than his novel Gerhardt's Children.

    In the productivity sense of writer's block, he has (perhaps) solved his problem. But many writers who find themselves writing book reviews instead of what they really got into writing to do would consider themselves blocked although highly productive.

    Jerry Mundis doesn't seem to know how to break his own writer's block in the creativity sense. That he enables himself to write hack books is good for steady income. Not so good for his original impulse to write, I don't think.

  • Jerome Tarshis

    Mea culpa. An apologetic post script to the above column. Maybe I should never post anything to the Web. Maybe I should never write anything for publication.

    It is Sean Miller, not Andy Ross, who credits Jerry Mundis's methods for helping him finish his doctoral dissertation. Sorry for getting the name wrong. (But I liked the idea that Meghan's agent holds a doctorate earned with the help of Jerry Mundis's methods.)

    I would also like to add to my comment: I am not in the slightest accusing Mundis of hypocrisy. The subtitle of his book is "How to demolish it forever and establish a productive working schedule in one afternoon." He uses the word "productive." That's what he undertakes to teach. And when I've used a subset of his methods I've been productive, sometimes to my amazement.

    However, his audio course includes a long discussion of how well received Gerhardt's Children was by various literary people who read it. He is obviously proud of the literary achievement he brought off. It is not clear to me that being productive, and getting money, and becoming a teacher about money, is anything like an equivalent of what he aspired to and attained with that novel.

    He himself says a writer ought not to expect to be equally good all the time. Fair enough. I would say that people's lives are what God intended, which is in some cases very sad. So, yes, both I and Jerry Mundis have done what we were able to do. But I could wish either he or someone else had addressed the aspect of writer's block that so often coexists with the simple act of putting words on paper. Being productive looks good when one isn't writing; that one can be at once productive and self-defeating is another idea worth thinking about.

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