How to Overcome Writer’s Block: Tips and Tools to Get You Back in the Zone
Figuring out how to overcome writer’s block is a struggle every writer has gone through at some point in time. You sit there, staring at a blank page, waiting for inspiration to hit you only to find that hours have gone by and you’re nowhere close to your goal.
Writer’s block, or any other type of creative block, is extremely frustrating. Even if you try to power through it and write whatever you can, you’ll always know deep down your work won’t be the quality you really want it to be. On top of that, writer’s block can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, or even longer.
Sick of hitting a wall? We’ve been there, and we’re here to help. You’re closer than you think to completing your next big masterpiece.
We’re going to give you some effective tips and tricks to help you learn how to overcome writer’s block so you can get back to the things you do best. Not every trick is going to work for every writer, but there are plenty of options on this list for everyone.
What is Writer’s Block?
Writer’s block happens when a writer hits a creative standstill and either can’t think of anything to write or doesn’t know what to write next. Essentially, it’s a point you hit when you feel stuck or unable to write. You may have experienced that feeling of staring at a blank page waiting for an “ah-ha” brainstorm moment that just doesn’t seem to come. Well, that’s writer’s block.
The actual Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of writer’s block is “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.” Sometimes it has nothing to do with the writing process itself, and could occur for a variety of reasons (we’ll get into those next).
One thing you should remember is that every writer, at some point in time, goes through writer’s block. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer, and isn’t a reflection of your writing skills. It’s very important to remember this because sometimes going through a creative standstill can make you begin to doubt your talents or skills. Learning how to overcome writer’s block, therefore, is almost like a rite of passage for any writer, whether you’re a professional or a newbie.
How to Overcome Writer’s Block: The Psychology Behind it
The term “writer’s block” was coined by Dr. Edmund Bergler back in the 1950s. Bergler spent many years trying to figure out how to overcome writer’s block by analyzing the different types of creative blanks writers were going through. His paper, “Does Writer’s Block Exist?” determined that writer’s block was a personal psychological issue that had to be unblocked through therapy.
In the 1970s, psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios set off on a study using writers who were feeling blocked to find out exactly what causes writer’s block. Their results concluded that the underlying cause is unhappiness, but this can be narrowed down to four specific causes based on the feelings that the blocked writers were going through:
- Apathy: Apathetic writers were struggling to find a creative spark or idea, or feeling creatively strained by the rules for their writing.
- Anxiety and Stress: Writers with anxiety and stress worried that their writing wouldn’t be good enough, or would be compared negatively to the work of others.
- Interpersonal Issues: Some of the writers were experiencing issues with others and didn’t want to accept any criticism or negative opinions of others.
- Anger: Some writers were angry or frustrated that their work would go unnoticed or wouldn’t be as well received as they hoped.
So, what’s the point of all this? The key to learning how to overcome writer’s block is realizing that it might not have anything to do with writing at all. Once you pinpoint the things that are bothering you, you can implement the right strategies to make sure you get back into the zone.
Develop a Writing Routine
Getting into a good routine is an important component of building good habits. Writing, or any creative activity in general, can be a habit.
A great writing routine is a key to figuring out how to overcome writer’s block as well as to prevent it from coming back in the future. Setting a schedule for yourself and carving out designated writing time will help you to stay on track to reach your targets and become more productive during creative sessions.
Here are some tips from MasterClass on building yourself a writing routine and schedule that you can stick to:
- Figure out the time of the day when you feel that you’re the most creative and plan the rest of your day around that.
- Prioritize your projects and try to hammer out the biggest things first or schedule them during the times when you’re the most productive.
- Give yourself a daily goal, such as a word count goal or hitting a certain point in your work.
- Schedule your writing time in your daily planner or scheduling tool so you feel more obligated to sit down and work during that allotted time.
- Keep your writing files, research, and other resources organized so you can easily find information as soon as you need it.
- Include an incentive for yourself for reaching your daily goals, such as a snack break or treating yourself to Starbucks.
Get Some Fresh Air
One of the key factors in learning how to overcome writer’s block could be within the world outside of your desk. All those times when you were a child and your parents told you to “go outside and get some fresh air” weren’t just to get you out of the house – it was for your health and wellbeing, too.
Going outside and getting some fresh air has tons of benefits for not only your mental health, but your creativity as well. In a study published in the Public Library of Science, researchers found that subjects who spent time outside immersed in nature experienced a 50% increase in creativity and problem solving skills. It’s important to note that the participants in this study were sent out on a 4 day backpacking hike in the woods with no access to technology, but the point is that being surrounded by a natural environment can help you channel your creative side and get your head back into the zone.
You don’t need to go on a trek out in the wilderness to get these results. A 20-minute walk in the park or a Sunday morning hike can be just as effective. On days when the weather isn’t cooperating, flip on a nature documentary. Sure, it’s not the same thing, but there is still some value you can gain from looking at nature imagery or staring out into greenspace.
Another great benefit from getting outside is, depending on where you go, you have the opportunity to observe and reflect on the things happening around you. That could be a great source of inspiration for your work.
Practice Freewriting or Use Creative Writing Prompts
Freewriting is the practice of sitting down and writing everything that comes to your mind without pausing to stop for a set period of time. That means no stopping to fix grammar, change words, or think about what to say next. You just write everything you can think of until time is up. You can set your timer for however long you feel you need – whether that’s 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or even an hour.
With freewriting, the goal is to build confidence by writing anything you can without stopping to second-guess yourself or worry about using the right words or putting down the right ideas. This helps you with that anxiety and stress component of the psychological causes of writer’s block.
Creative writing is always a great way to practice your writing skills, no matter what type of writing you’re doing. Whether you’re working on a content marketing strategy for your company or you’re drafting the next big youth fantasy series, writing creatively helps to get those juices flowing.
Here are some great writing prompts you can use to help you work on some creative freewriting, or as inspiration to come up with your own prompts:
- How would your world change if you won the lottery tomorrow?
- Write about a day in the life of your pet. What goes through their mind each day?
- How long do you think you would survive in a zombie apocalypse? What would you do to survive, and who do you think would be by your side?
- If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be and why?
Go Back to Your Outline
When in doubt, go back and review your outline. This can give you some inspiration on where to go next, and help you when you get stuck. You can also use it as an overview to make sure all of your ideas connect properly.
Every great piece of writing begins with an outline. Whether it’s a piece of marketing copy, an academic essay, a business report, or a fiction book, you should always brainstorm an outline and get an idea of how you want to structure your writing. Once you have the outline written, the writing process becomes easier and more efficient because you know exactly what to include in which section, what research you need to do, and how you can tie all of your ideas together.
Once that’s put together, if you’re stuck, you can go back and check where you are in the outline and read the ideas you had for the next section. It’s perfectly fine to skip a section entirely and come back to it later to keep yourself moving and feeling productive. No one ever said the writing process has to be linear.
Use the Pomodoro Technique to Time Your Writing Sessions
The Pomodoro Technique is used a lot when it comes to studying for a course or working productively, but it can be a great tool to use for your writing sessions as well. It’s used for timing your sessions to keep you focused for specified periods of time.
Here’s how it works: you set a timer for 25 minutes. Work productively on the task at hand until that timer goes off. Then, take a five minute break, and repeat the process. One 25-minute block is one Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, give yourself a longer break (20 to 30 minutes is usually best). If you haven’t finished your project by the end of the fourth Pomodoro, you can start another set or move on to something else.
The idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is to focus your brain on one specific project or task, and then give yourself that break to refresh your mind. This can help you rejuvenate your brain, kind of like recharging your internal batteries.
Switch up Your Writing Environment
Sometimes all it takes to get you in the right zone is a fresh perspective. If you’ve been working in the same spot and starting to feel a little stale, switch up your workspace.
Writing and working are habits, and while your brain is probably in the habit of writing in your current environment, moving to a new location (even if it’s just temporary) can trigger a new outlook. Everyone loves to freshen things up every now and then, and this can absolutely apply to your writing space.
Try working from a local coffee shop a few days a week, or moving your computer to a different room with better lighting. Whatever it takes to get you in your zone, give it a try and see if something new comes to mind.
While we’re on the topic of your writing environment, try adding some plants to the mix. Studies have shown that adding more greenery to your workspace can help reduce stress, increase productivity, boost creativity, clean the air, and make you feel more at peace. That’s a great way to reduce anxiety and stress if that’s the reason you’re struggling with writer’s block.
Hunker Down and Get Rid of Distractions
Anytime you need to focus on something, the first thing you need to do is get rid of any distractions. Sure, this might seem like a very obvious rule of thumb, but it’s a lot harder than it seems to really focus when you don’t realize how distracted you really get during the day.
A distraction could be anything that takes you out of your writing zone. For many people, it’s their smartphone – it doesn’t take much to end up down a YouTube rabbit hole or scrolling through Reddit for hours when you’re supposed to be writing. Other people become distracted by household chores. Even something as mundane as throwing in that load of laundry really quick can often lead to a series of other chores or distractions that take away from work time.
Here are some little tricks you can try if you just can’t focus and need to eliminate anything that could be a distraction:
- Keep your workspace clean and free from clutter.
- Set a really long password to unlock your phone, put it on airplane mode, or leave it in another room entirely during your writing sessions.
- Wear noise-cancelling headphones if you work in a shared space.
- Use a desktop app like WriteRoom (for Mac users) and Dark Room (for PC users) to close out any distractions and keep your screen open only for writing.
- Keep the door to your workspace closed if you can so no one can interrupt you. Unfortunately, this includes pets, too.
- Inform your family members or loved ones about your writing times so they know not to contact you during that time unless it’s an emergency.
Embrace Other Creative Work
Reading is a great way to find inspiration when you’re battling a tough round of writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what you read, whether you find comfort in your favourite novel or you check out a new ebook release, as long as you immerse yourself in that author’s writing. Pay attention to the way they tell their story, how they develop their points and ideas or plot, and channel your own inspiration.
Take a look at the work from some other great storytellers, too. Stand-up comedians, for example, are excellent storytellers and know how to connect narratives with their audience. So are TED Talk presenters, podcast hosts, and even late night talk show hosts. There are tons of great places to find inspiration in the creative and entertainment world if you don’t feel like reading a book.
Sometimes just taking in a conversation between two other people in the wild can be a helpful way to find inspiration in the outside world. Come up with ideas about what people are talking about or create background stories in your head while you’re people watching.
Get a Good Sleep
You’ve probably heard this one before, but there’s nothing better you can do for yourself than get a good night’s sleep. This is also true when it comes to figuring out how to overcome writer’s block. Even if you don’t realize it, not getting enough sleep can have a direct impact on your writing – and your ability to get over a creative block.
Firstly, good sleep is essential to brain function. While you sleep, your brain basically clears out all of the toxins it’s collected during the day, leaving you with a fresh start for the next one. Not getting enough sleep can lead to many problems, including mental health issues, lack of focus, memory issues, inability to problem solve, low energy levels, and even physical health problems such as high blood pressure.
Secondly, dreaming can play a big creative role in your life. Many of the greatest writers of our time have had amazing ideas come to them in a dream. For example, in his memoir On Writing, Stephen King states that he had the beginning of the idea for Misery come to him in a dream when he fell asleep on an airplane, and wrote down snippets of it on a napkin. This idea would go on to form the novel, as well as a hit film a few years later. And it’s not just something writers make up – there are actual theories and experiments that link sleeping and dreaming with increased creativity. So next time you’re in need of creative inspiration, close your eyes and dream.
Put Yourself on Autopilot
Are you one of those people who often comes up with their best ideas in the shower? If so, you’re certainly not alone – and there’s a good reason for that.
According to science, when your physical body is performing mundane tasks that often put you into autopilot, like showering or doing laundry, your brain is actually working hard. During this time, your brain essentially taps into your subconscious and starts making deeper connections and putting deeper thoughts together.
Therefore, if you start doing something that requires almost zero input from your brain, you open up time for your subconscious to come out and play. So, the next time someone tells you to stop daydreaming and get to work, you can tell them you ARE, in fact, working.
Don’t Wait Until You Feel Like it
If you keep waiting until you feel creative, you’ll never get anything done. You have to put yourself into your writing schedule and force yourself to sit down even when you don’t want to.
Whether you’re working on publishing an ebook, curating an article for a publication, or even writing an academic essay, the best thing you can do is write now and worry later. What that means is that you can always go back and edit your work, but you can’t do that if you have nothing written down to fix up.
Don’t wait until you get a moment of creative inspiration to sit down and write. Even if the words you’re writing down aren’t perfect, instead of spending time being blocked trying to come up with something better to say, just power through it and worry about finding a better word later. Once you actually start writing something down, it’s much easier to pick up from there and get your brain back into the groove.
Get Some Extra Eyes on Your Work
Writing can be a pretty solitary task, but you can always benefit from reaching out and asking for help. Even if you don’t know any writers personally, there are always plenty of options from people who genuinely want to help.
You can hire a professional writing company to do some feedback-based editing or provide you with constructive criticism. As experienced industry professionals, they’ll be able to give you educated ideas and advice on what is or isn’t working in your piece.
If you don’t want to reach out to an industry professional, you can always just ask a friend or family member to read what you’ve written so far and give you their unprofessional opinion. While they likely won’t notice if you’ve over-used symbolism, they will be able to tell you their thoughts about your story or article. After all, you’re writing this for a general audience, right? If so, then who better to help you get over writer’s block than a member of that general audience?
How to Overcome Writer’s Block Without the Effort: Hire a Professional Writing Company!
If you’re still stuck and just can’t get the words out, it’s time to consider using a professional writing company for your content projects. At The Write Direction, our professional writing team specializes in all types of writing, from ghostwriting to content marketing, SEO writing, business plans, whitepapers, and so much more.
Get in touch with us now to discuss your writing projects and needs, and we’ll happily get you set up with the right team for the job.