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Getting the Best of Your Writer's Block

Ten Ways to Start Writing Again

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Woman relaxing on sofa
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Though some people say that writer’s block doesn’t actually exist, the fact remains that most writers will have trouble writing at some point in their careers. The possible reasons for it are myriad: fear and anxiety, a life change, the end of a project, the beginning of a project…almost anything, it seems, can cause that particular mix of fear and frustration upon confronting the blank page.

Remember that you have an ongoing relationship with your writing, and as with any relationship, it’s not always going to be the same. Part of dealing with writer’s block, whatever has sparked it, is accepting that it is inevitable to have periods of downtime, periods when it’s just not happening.

It does help to think of writing as a regular job, and less of an art, dependent on certain magical conditions. Trollope, for example, urged writers to regard their work as “common work to the common laborer.” Steven King, another famously prolific author, uses the metaphor of a toolbox to talk about writing, intentionally linking it to physical work. If we think of ourselves as laborers, as craftsmen, it’s easier to sit down and write. We’re just putting words on the page, after all, one beside another, as a bricklayer puts down bricks. At the end of the day, we’re just creating things -- stories, poems, or plays -- only we use vocabulary and grammar instead of bricks and mortar.

Just as the reasons for writer’s block vary, there is also more than one way to deal with it. The list below is far from complete: take it as a list of suggestions, things that have worked for some people, at some point in their writing careers. Trying new things will at least shake things up, which is the first step toward breaking out of your block.

    1. Have a schedule, and stick to it.

    If your body shows up to the page at the same time and place every day, eventually your mind -- and your muse -- will know to do the same. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words, and only 500 words, every morning. Five hundred words is only about a page, but with those mere 500 words per day, Greene wrote and published over 30 books.

    2. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

    In fact, don’t be hard on yourself at all while writing. Anna Quindlin wrote, “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” Turn the critical brain off. There is a time and place for criticism: it’s called editing.

    3. Don’t panic.

    If fear is the basis for your writer’s block, panicking will only make matters worse. Again, having some kind of schedule can help eliminate anxiety. The less you have to think about what you’re doing, the better. I know a writer who goes to her desk immediately upon waking up. She says that this way, by the time she really wakes up and remembers that she’s afraid, she’s already writing. Sometimes you have to play games with yourself to circumvent your fear. Try different approaches and see what works for you.

    4. Take time off

    if you’ve been writing steadily for a long time, or have just finished a project. It could be your mind needs time to gestate. Idleness can be a key part of the creative process. Give yourself time to gather new experiences and new ideas, from life, reading, or other forms of art, before you start again.

    5. Set deadlines and keep them.

    Many writers, understandably, have trouble doing this on their own. You might find a writing partner and agree to hold each other to deadlines in an encouraging, non-critical way. Knowing that someone else is expecting results helps many writers produce material. Writing groups or classes are another good way to jump-start a writing routine.

    6. Examine any deep-seated issues

    that may be keeping you from writing. Write about your anxieties regarding writing or creativity. Talk to a friend, preferably one who writes. A number of books, such as "The Artist’s Way," are designed to help creative people explore the root causes of their blocks. If the block continues, you might seek counseling. Many therapists specialize in helping artists and writers reconnect with their creativity.

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