Five great ways to combat writer’s block

You’re sitting at your computer, staring at a blank document. You’re poised in front of your notebook, but can’t seem to move your pen. Sound familiar? Writer’s block strikes again. But you don’t have to suffer for long. Great writers throughout the years have faced this problem and come up with clever tricks to get the words flowing again. If you’re having trouble getting your writing project finished (or started) here is some advice to get you going.

1. Just start typing or writing

It really doesn’t matter what you’re saying, as long as you’re saying something. Simply typing the same word over and over again, the simple motion of typing with your fingers, can force your brain to come up with something clever eventually.

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” — Maya Angelou

Even drawing or doodling—just moving your pen around on paper—can set your imagination going. Consider writing captions for your drawings, word bubbles for pictures of people talking, anything and everything that simply gets words on paper.

2. Pretend you’re writing for yourself

This may seem a little paradoxical, but focusing too closely on your ideal audience and what their perceived reaction will be to each word and phrase you’re writing can definitely slow you down—or leave you creatively paralyzed. Take a step back and keep your attention on yourself and your own reactions to what you’re producing. Listen to your own inner critic (within reason), not what you think other people are going to say, will help you get the words out in style.

3. Make sure it isn’t something else

It might be unpleasant to consider, but if you’re seriously unable to put words on the page (or on the screen) for long periods of time, it could be something else going on in your life causing the block. Physical illness, stress, depression, or financial trouble can all make it harder for you to write. Obviously those are some serious issues you’ll need to address before you can turn to your writing project with confidence.

4. Give yourself some space

It might be easier to write if the pressure’s off. Don’t be your own worst enemy—give yourself artificial deadlines if you don’t have to.

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” — Hilary Mantel

Making time for stillness, for introspection, and for letting your mind wander can help your creativity flow. Sometimes engaging in another activity, like the ones outlined in the quote above, can get your mind in a different gear, thus showing you a new way to think about things.

5. Break it out into smaller tasks

Your writing project may look daunting—and actually it should look daunting, great books take a lot of effort—but that’s just because you’re probably focusing on the big picture. In a way, your mind can get stuck in Zeno’s paradoxes and you end up finding yourself unable to start. Here, take it from an expert:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

Once you’ve shown yourself you can attack the first task, you’ve proven you are capable of taking on the rest. Additionally, breaking a large project up into smaller ones gives you more chances to complete something, and thus more chances to feel good about yourself and your abilities.

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