Claudia Monacelli Ph.D.
10 tips to combat writer's block
Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Writer’s block — bluntly put — is when you're not able to write. Or you find it hard to write something new. What causes writer's block, you may ask?
Well, in the 1970s, clinical psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios decided to find out. After following a group of “blocked writers” for several months, they concluded that there are four broad causes of writer's block:
Fear of comparison to other writers
No external motivation, like attention and praise
No internal motivation, like the desire to tell your story.
In other words, writer's block stems from various feelings of discontent with the creative process of writing. But these feelings are by no means irreversible! After all, every writer begins with a sense of purpose and excitement. Beating writer's block is about getting those feelings back. Let's have some fun and jump into some tips that can help you accomplish that.
A writer can spend hours looking for the perfect word or phrase to explain a concept. You can avoid this fruitless process and just write, “In other words…” simply writing what you’re thinking, whether it’s perfect or not. You can then come back and refine it later by doing a CTRL+F search for “in other words.”
Do "non-writing" activities
I finds that one of the best ways to hack a writing funk is to get yourself out of your own work and into someone else’s. Go out to an exhibition, to see a movie, to a play, a concert, eat a delicious meal, for example. Listen to people around you, to their conversations, to all the different sounds you hear. Observe colors and feel those sensations that will slowly take over the emptiness writing block brings on. This always works!
Cut yourself off from Internet
It’s a miracle writers can get anything done on machines designed to access a world of distraction. A beautiful app designed for the purpose of helping writers focus is OmmWriter. It cuts you off from the rest of your computer and doesn't allow you to see any notifications. The concept is simple: you have a choice of soothing background noise (for example a rainforest or white noise) and allows you to choose a desktop with colors of your choice. Grab your best headset and soon you'll be cooking with gas!
Don't start at the beginning
By far the most intimidating part of writing is the start, when you have a whole empty book to fill with coherent words. Sometimes even just talking about it makes us break out in a cold sweat. So instead of starting with the chronological beginning of whatever it is you’re trying to write, dive into middle, or wherever you feel confident. You’ll feel less pressure to get everything “right” straight away because you’re “already at the halfway point” — and by the time you return to the beginning, you'll be all warmed up!
Take a shower
This isn’t a personal hygiene suggestion. Have you ever noticed that the best ideas tend to arrive while in the shower, or while doing other "mindless" tasks? There's actually a scientific reason for this: research shows that when you’re doing something monotonous or routine (such as showering, walking, or cleaning), your brain goes on autopilot, leaving your unconscious free to wander without logic-driven restrictions. In other words, you’re more able to daydream and make creative connections that you might otherwise miss. Keep the suds coming and lather up! That block is bound to be a thing of the past!
Change your POV
Another great way to beat writer's block is to use another perspective and see things unfolding in your book from a different angle, literally! Put yourself on the receiving end of your work and start changing sentences to reflect how you see things from this new angle. It gives you renewed eyes with which to take a peak at your work. These glimpses really offer you an opportunity to move your work around in ways you never expected!
Write something else
Though it's important to try and push through writer's block with what you're actually working on, sometimes it's simply impossible. If you've been banging your head against your book with no tangible results, feel free to push your current piece to the side for now and write something new. This will both a) maintain your writing routine and b) allow your thoughts to subconsciously simmer. That way, even if you're not actually writing the "blocked" piece, you can still make some conceptual progress — and come back to it with new ideas to try.
Try a more visual process
When words fail you, just get visual! Create mind maps, drawings, pictures — ideally related to your story, but whatever unblocks your mind! You might want to try the app SimpleMind, a mind-mapping tool, that allows you to doodle, add pictures, change colors, make connections and just play with your work! Enjoying what we do is the first step in diving into our work.
Read your work out loud
Who doesn't love a bedtime story? A perfect way to see if the writing convinces you. But, even more important, if it makes sense when you read ut aloud. This is a wonderful way to understand if certain power-packed words work or whether a more mild sounding turn of phrase would do the trick. Reading our work out loud has the added advantage of making our work come to life and then affording us the opportunity to change what just sounds a bit off.
Let the words find you
When you can't find the words, let them find you! Meditate, go for a walk, take that shower we recommended, or — when all fails — use an app to get the words flowing.
Word Palette or Werdsmith are both good starting points to get a flow of words are your finger tips. Another viable option is Brainsparker that offers random creativity prompts to overcome blocks and brainstorm new ideas. You can also try AI auto-completers like Write With Transformer, where you enter a phrase and let the app offer up solutions to complete your thinking. Even though these tools result in a lot of nonsense, they're still a fun reminder not to take writing too seriously — which, again, is a major cause of writer's block.