Writer’s block is, at some time or other, inevitable. The popular term that references “the inability of a writer to produce new material” is not a modern phenomenon, but it is one that has been increasingly reported as of late. It is the dreaded blank page that stares down almost every writer, the blinking cursor’s emotionless pulse, and then the tiny spurts of text, only to be hurriedly deleted, back to blank.
Sure, as annoying as writing funks may be, they remain a part of the game no matter if you consider yourself a good or bad writer, have years of experience or are just getting started. On the subject, research is somewhat scarce – but an interesting study that aimed to offer insight into the writing process established results that you may find comforting, or at least less alone when faced with that wall of white. According to their research – here, the researched being a sample group of 428 Turkish students – the frequency of having writer’s block was determined to be:
- “Always”: resonated with 24% of students
- “Occasionally”: resonated with 70% of students
- “Never”: resonated with only 6% of students
True, this relatively small sample group cannot really be considered representative when compared to the millions of writers in the world today – almost a quarter of these particular students experiencing blocks in writing “always” does not necessarily mean that this is the case for the same percentage of all writers everywhere. These high scores could just be a blip, right? Or a number of different factors could’ve impacted their findings that will be of little relation to you, the individual writer, now reading.
Indeed, when it comes to writer’s block, there is no exact science as to why it exists. And what further complicates the issue is that, as above, a number of factors may be at play. After all, a literal writing block is a form of targeted anxiety – a specific anxiety directed at the open page, and therefore psychological, behavioural, biological or even external factors could be the cause of it. Then, what can we do, if we have it? As a Content Editor, I get asked this quite often. And though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, I will at least offer some advice for writers that, over the years, has worked for me and for good writers I know.
Three Proven Tips to Cure Writer’s Block
1. Write Drunk, Edit Sober
This old chestnut – often mistakenly attributed to famous writer Ernest Hemingway (fun fact: guess who just found out he never said it!) – is golden. I remember having it plastered to my university dorm wall back in my English grad days, and I stand by it today. Write drunk – not literally of course, though by all means give it a shot – but be uninhibited, as if you were drunk, is really what these two words are getting at. When staring down the blank page, don’t be afraid to just go at it. Quiet your inner editor (who is likely stopping you from starting), ditch the desire for perfectionism and just have at it. Let your thoughts bubble out onto the page in their most rich and ragged form, let your fingers get to getting, and literally type yourself out of that rut. Typos, bad grammar, nonsense words and all – forget the backspace key exists for a while (the editorial shift is later).
Sure, what you end up with may not be Pulitzer award-winning stuff, but we don’t need to be there yet. You just need something to go off, and then, once the page has begun filling with words, you might feel more settled in knowing that you have written, possibly poorly, but you have. And now that that job is over, have a break – grab something to eat, take a walk, whatever, just get some distance – before you return, soberly, to begin the new task of editing, which will give you the opportunity to make something of the frenzied page.
2. Read Something (Familiar, That You Love)
Most writers discover their passion for writing through reading. I sure did, and I know that many of my brilliant colleagues, also very talented writers, which we are always keeping an eye out for, regularly try to find time to keep up-to-date on fresh reading material. You may have heard the common comparison that writing is like a muscle. Well, if this is the case, then reading is a key exercise that helps keep it trained and in good shape. Now then, as part of your writing routine, it is important to factor in reading, which will keep your brain activity wired to what other writers are saying and how this could influence and inform your own material. This is all well and good in preparation to write – but of course, this specific blog is about writer’s block, in the act itself, so let’s touch on how reading can also help you when you’re in that particular bind.
I’d say, for starters, if you’ve sat down to write, the clock is ticking, and you’re becoming increasingly aware that you don’t know where to begin, simply don’t. If it’s been a while and you don’t seem to be going forwards, pick a new direction: go backwards instead. Review the research you’ve been doing, jot down some interesting notes, highlight the most fascinating parts that you could potentially write about – read until you’re excited again, re-find your momentum in the words of others. That way, when you revisit whichever word processor or notepad you’ve chosen to write on, you’ll not only be more informed than before, but that revisited excitement for your chosen subject should hopefully give you that extra push.
3. Have a Writing Day
One of the main causes of writer’s block is pure distraction. Especially in the modern age, we are surrounded by a wealth of alternative things to be doing with our time, many of which are not plonking ourselves in a chair and staying put until we have written. It is no grand reveal, the effect that devices such as smartphones, which allow us to tap in and out of focus so casually, can have on our overall ability to concentrate. Even as early as 2005, research into distraction by Dr Glenn Wilson warned of the toll of the increasingly digital world.
This is something, then, that you should consider when you go about preparing your own writing routine. As part of my writing schedule, I find allocating a specific part of my day purely to writing is an extremely effective way to stay focused and fend off writer’s block. This means no tea breaks, no phone breaks, no nothing but myself and maybe the odd laptop tab open for research only (and we must be strict here!). This is non-negotiable writing time. It doesn’t have to be as intense as a whole writing day, it could be as little as a writing hour, or morning – so long as you give yourself a sensible amount of time to get into the groove, putting aside the time of day that suits your personal writing habits best (early morning perhaps, before the whole house has woken up, midday, late at night – the choice may take some experimenting as to which is optimal for you). Helpfully, there are even certain apps for authors (a good one I’ve used is Ommwriter) that help you to stay focused.