You’ve been staring at a blank computer screen for hours. The cursor blinks at you tauntingly. Your brain is toast. The ideas just won’t come. You start to wonder if they ever will again. What few words you do manage to peck out are horrible. Frustration turns into fear. You begin to doubt your abilities. That’s when those two terrible words pop into your brain: writer’s block.
Every writer has to deal with writer’s block at some point in his or her career. And although you may feel powerless when it strikes, with the right approach, you can overcome it. The next time you’re feeling stuck, here are 18 tips to help reinvigorate your muse.
- Relive your successes: Read something that you are proud of writing. Writer’s block is often caused by self-doubt. Reminding yourself what you’re capable of will give you a quick ego boost that sends doubt packing.
- Write with a pen or pencil instead of a computer: Frequently, the cause of writer’s block is an inability to concentrate. Writing by hand tends to focus the mind because you’re forced to write slower. Handwriting also produces significantly more neural activity than typing.
- Silence your inner critic: All writers have one—that little voice inside your head that critiques every word you write. One of the best ways to shut up your inner critic is to free write. Set aside twenty or thirty minutes. Grab a pen and paper. And write whatever comes into your head. Don’t think, edit. and lift the pen from the page. Just let the words pour out.
- Change the scenery: Go to the park. Head to the beach. Visit the library. Sometimes taking your act on the road can be just the thing to spark inspiration.
- Give yourself permission to write crap: Perfectionism is a surefire recipe for writer’s block. Instead of trying to write a flawless first draft, focus on simply writing down your thoughts and ideas. It’s okay if it’s not very good. That’s what editing is for.
- Write anything except what you’re supposed to: Don’t even think about it. Instead, compose a letter to a friend. Jot down the lyrics to a favorite song. Or work on another project. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write. The goal is to get the writing process going and the ideas flowing.
- Meditate: Ten to twenty minutes of silent contemplation can help quiet your restless mind and make it easier for you to focus on the task at hand. Meditation has also been shown to increase innovative thinking and idea generation.
- Practice yoga: Like meditation, yoga helps clear away the clutter and aids in concentration. The next time you’re feeling stuck, try this yoga pose: Lie on your back on the floor and put your legs against the wall so that they are above your heart. This pose helps ease stress, reduces anxiety, and calms the “monkey mind”—the term the Buddha used to describe the easily distracted, unsettled state of ordinary human consciousness.
- Enjoy some tunes: Try listening to Baroque or Hemi-Sync music. Studies show that both of these types of music sync the right and left hemispheres of the brain, helping you to be more focused, creative, and productive.
- Sweat it out: Exercise can calm the mind and help focus it back on the task at hand. Plus, a recent study indicated that regular exercise (at least four days a week) could even improve creative thinking.
- Plot your course: Outlining is an excellent way to gather your thoughts and break through the gridlock writers often face when starting a new project. If you’re working on an article, select the quotes and basic ideas you want to include and use them to create your outline. For works of fiction, write down ideas for scenes and use them for your outline. Your outline doesn’t have to be fancy or follow any particular format. The point is to get the ideas out of your head and down on paper, so you can more easily work with them.
- Keep it to yourself: Pretend that no one is ever going to see what you write. Writers are often so concerned about what other people will think of their work that they end up blocked. This technique eliminates the pressure to impress and frees you to write from the heart.
- Get carded: This idea is similar to #11, but with a twist. Instead of creating outlines, write the quotes, ideas, or scenes you want to use on index cards. Then try arranging them in different orders to see what you come up with. This technique will not only help you find the best format for what you are writing but may also spark new ideas.
- Begin at the end: Often the hardest part of any writing project is coming up with the first paragraph. Instead, try writing the closing paragraph first. It will help you organize your thoughts by giving you a “destination” to write to. When you know where you’re going, it’s easier to plan a route to get there.
- Procrastinate: When it comes to writing, putting off until tomorrow can be a good thing. Setting aside your project for a day or two gives your subconscious mind time to sort out all the pieces that must fall into place before you can start writing.
- Take a shower: A lot of writers get their best ideas in the shower. Why? Three reasons. First, studies have shown that taking a warm shower increases the flow of dopamine in the brain, a key component of creative thinking. Second, it puts you in a relaxed state of mind, which improves your ability to make insightful connections. And finally, it distracts your conscious mind, giving your subconscious mind a chance to creatively solve the problem.
- Keep an idea journal: Inspiration can hit anytime, anywhere. Be ready to capture these epiphanies by always carrying a pen and a notebook with you. Then when you get stuck, you’ll have plenty of ideas to get the creative juices flowing.
- Have a drink: If all else fails, you can always follow the advice of Ernest Hemmingway: “Write drunk Edit sober.” While this may sound crazy, there is a scientific basis for it. Under the influence of alcohol, the brain becomes disorganized, buzzing with associations and connections it would normally ignore. These stray associations and connections can lead to unique insights and ideas that break through the block.
With these simple, but highly effective techniques, you can overcome writer’s block once and for all, one brick at a time. Start chipping.