3 Ways to Deal with Writer’s Block (only one works)

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We’ve all been there. The writing’s going well and you’re cruising right along when suddenly… cough… sputter… click… stop.

You quit writing and you stare at the screen. The screen doesn’t say anything. The blinking cursor mocks you. Writer’s block has struck! What to do? What to do?

If you write seriously, you’ve either suffered from writer’s block or you will. It’s a frustrating feeling. You know you must write. You just can’t think of what to write. To make things worse, the harder you think, the less it seems to work.

There are three common ways to deal with writer’s block.

You Can Shake Your Fist at The Sky

You can rage and shake your fist at the sky. You can curse the writing gods. You can kick your wastebasket across the room. None of that helps.

You Can Sink into Despair

It’s awful. You think you may never be able to write another word. You might have to give up writing and take a job mucking out stalls or sitting in a booth at some gas station. You consider underground mining. You’re doomed!

Panic Is Part of The Problem

One reason those two solutions don’t work is that panic is part of the problem. Neither one helps your brain work to start writing again.

It’s easy to panic. The little furry forest critter that lives in your brain can’t tell the difference between the threat of missing a deadline and the threat of being eaten by a tiger. So, it falls back on something that’s worked for a few thousand years.

It’s time for that fight or flight thing you’ve heard about. Your body gets ready by shifting blood to major muscle groups. And where does that blood come from? It comes from your brain.

This makes panic a bad time to do any serious thinking. To think well, your brain needs lots of oxygenated blood. Right now, your body is making sure that your biceps have all they need.

Let’s see if we can use some of what we know about how the brain works to create a way for you to beat writer’s block. We need to do it now when you’re calm and not in the clutches of writer’s block.

Work Out A Ritual

People in high-risk occupations develop rituals for common problems. They’ve worked the ritual out when they were calm and collected. The rituals include something like the following:

Recognize what’s happening and give it a name. When writer’s block hits, you can call it writer’s block. Or you can call it Fred. The purpose of naming it is to make it a routine thing for your brain. In essence, by saying, “Oh, that’s writer’s block,” you’re telling your brain that it’s no big deal. That starts the calming process.

Even though that makes a difference, it probably won’t be enough. Once you’ve recognized that writer’s block is attacking, go away and do something else. It doesn’t have to be anything special. It just needs to be not writing. Check the mail. Dance a little. Clean the kitchen. You may find a solution to your writer’s block problem popping into your head. Make sure you have a digital recorder, index cards, a notebook, or some other way to capture the ideas.

If you get the solution while you’re working on something else, quit doing that something else. Start writing.

Doing something else doesn’t always work. Now it’s time to bring up the serious stuff. Develop an activity that lets you put your body on autopilot so your mind can roam free. One of my methods is eating pistachios. I love the little darlings, but you must shell each one. You can do that without thinking about it. Rest assured, your brain is still working on your problem. Be prepared to capture any ideas that pop into your head.

If none of that works, try the greatest creativity ritual of all. Take a walk. My dog loves it when I have a thorny writing problem, because she gets walked a lot. Walk outside if you can. Walk in nature, or a place where you don’t constantly have to watch traffic and traffic signals. Writers, composers, and artists of all types have used walking to do their best thinking.

What if even that doesn’t work? Then, give it up for a while. Come back to it later in the day, in the evening, or the next day.

Takeaways

If you write, you will suffer from writer’s block.

You can shake your fist at the sky. That doesn’t work.

You can sink into despair. That doesn’t work.

Panic is part of the problem. It’s your brain working against you. Take some time and create a beat writer’s block ritual.

Do something else. Your brain will keep working.

Know how to get good ideas when you need them.

Be ready to capture those good ideas and put them to work.

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What People Are Saying

Julie Winkle Giulioni   |   10 Mar 2021   |   Reply

Such a great article, Wally! I so appreciate your practical alternatives to shaking a fist at the skies or curling up in the fetal position! I think I’ll go find some pistachios!

Wally Bock   |   11 Mar 2021   |   Reply

Thanks, Julie. Writer’s block isn’t so awful if you have a plan to deal with it.