It’s as inevitable to writers as death is to the living. To live is to die; to write is to have writer’s block. There is a difference between death and writer’s block, though, and the difference is the saving grace to those afflicted writers. Death is and end-all, but writer’s block has an end.
The causes of writer’s block are many and different for each sufferer. Some writers hit periods of boredom in their working lives (writing lives) or periods of boredom with life in general. With boredom dwells anxiety and depression, two of the most noted causes of long-term writer’s block throughout the last century. Depression, in particular, zaps the air out of the bellows that drive our imaginations, motivations, and desires. Anxiety can preoccupy our minds and keep writing off our to-do list for weeks, months, or even years.
For the majority of us writers, writer’s block has a less sinister cause, but one just as dire. Stress and sudden upheavals in life, or lack of consistency when we’re used to quiet day to day regularity, often causes the shorter bouts of writer’s blocks, the ones that come when we’re under pressure to beat a deadline or to succeed in our personal goals. A big move, a new baby, a job-loss, or even a new class schedule or responsibility at work can all disrupt our creativity and derail even the simplest writing tasks.
With so many different causes, it’s no wonder why we use the term “writer’s block.” It’s a sweeping generalization for everything in life we are ignorant to. Often times, a writer can do more harm than good by relying on the term to describe the symptoms. Doing so-by telling ourselves and others that we can’t writer because we have writer’s block-hinders us from first discovering the cause, and then curing the symptoms. It would be like treating every disease the same, instead of trying to locate the exact sickness and using special treatments to cure it.
Step one to cure writer’s block is to understand you have a problem, but that the problem is not writer’s block. Find out for sure what is at the root of your inability to write, whether that be a medical condition such as depression or anxiety, a change in your lifestyle, work or school, or if you simply suffer from burnout (having written too much and are in need of a vacation from your craft).
Step two (it’s only a two step program when you get right down to it) is picking one of the many ways to conquer writer’s block and implement it into your daily routine. Keep trying each method until you find one that works for you, and don’t rely exclusively on this list, as there are many other techniques that may help.
Moderate consistent exercise on a daily basis rejuvenates the mind and body. It’s a healthy lifestyle and promotes peace of mind, healthy self image, larger stores of energy, and reduces stress while opening the creative airways of the mind.
Meditation on a daily basis for twenty to thirty minutes can relax the mind and body, reducing the stress we build up over time. By finding a quiet place, sitting on the floor with your legs crossed and your hands folded in your lap, and letting the day’s events slip from your mind you will be able to unleash the creativity that’s been captured by your busy mind.
3. Change your writing routine.
While exercise and mediation take the fight to daily stress, changing your daily writing routine takes the fight to boredom and burnout. There are many ways in which to change what you do each day. It’s as simple as trying something different or doing the opposite of what you typically do.
Body builders continuously change their workouts to keep their muscles from getting used to the current routine. In order to keep the body’s muscles from adapting to a certain exercise, the body builder changes his routine and forces the muscle to grow with the change. The same is true with our minds. With change, the mind is forced out of the average, everyday routine it was marred in before.
Take a look at what you do when you sit down to write. Do you listen to music, read yesterday’s work, sit at the same desk and stare out the same window? Pay close attention to the little things and the big things. Once you find out what you do each day, start doing things differently. Move your desk to another corner of the house. Play the music louder, turn it down, or completely off. If you don’t usually listen to music, now’s a good time to start.
If you write during the morning, take a crack at being a night owl. Our minds act differently late at night-between midnight and two in the morning-than they do at other times during the day. We sense things differently, though the difference is subtle. The same is true for the opposite. If you’re a night owl, try going to bed early and waking up at dawn in order to take advantage of a different mind-set.
If you’re a fiction writer, write poetry or nonfiction. If you’re a nonfiction writer, write poetry or fiction. A poet? Write fiction or nonfiction. Part of the boredom we feel from writing is that we write the same thing over and over again. If you don’t want to take such a drastic leap as switching from fiction to nonfiction, you might want to try writing short stories (if you’re a novelist) or writing in a different genre.
If you’re a plotter, try not plotting what you write. Plots can be restricting, and creates boredom by allowing us to know what will happen next. Put your ego down and let the story take you where the story wants to go.
By plotting when you don’t normally plot, you can achieve the same affect, though by a different road. Plots can create form in an order-less mind, keeping you on target.
Sometimes it’s enough to just let what you’re working on die. Give it up and go to something else. It may just be the story that is bothering you, not allowing you to expand or move forward. Some stories are dead ends and our minds may very well be telling us that it’s time to move on when we can no longer work on them. It’s not quitting if we move to another story. Some fights are never meant to take place, and if you’re a serious writer, you’ll have many more stories inside you waiting to be drawn out.
4. Take a min-vacation…or an extended one.
Burnout can cripple our ability to write. The best way to counter burnout is to take time off from writing. Give yourself a short or long vacation, depending on how you feel. A week, a month, or even a year can rejuvenate the mind. Our imaginations are no different from our muscles, our cars, or our bank accounts. Overuse can cause damage and can eventually break what once worked perfectly. Only by stepping away can we allow the imagination to re-accumulate.
Don’t just sit around and do nothing while you vacation from your craft. Pick up another hobby-garden, enjoy your children, run a marathon, or go sailing. Do something to fill the void writing once filled. By doing so you can forget about writing and let your mind recharge faster and fill completely. By finding another way to fill your time, you can also gain new life-experience, which adds facets to your imagination. By expanding your mind, you can expand your writing.
5. Read, read, read…or watch a really good movie.
By living another’s story, we can passively restore our own imaginations. Reading our favorite authors or watching our favorite movies can give us new ideas, relieve stress built up in our body, and allow us to experiment with our own writing by witnessing a unique perspective in someone else’s work.
Reading another writer’s work also takes you away from your own, giving you a rest, if only temporarily, from the daily grind of writing and revising. But reading has another purpose. By reading, we can learn how to write better by studying what is before us, like a football player studies film of his opponents and of himself. Reading should be a daily habit for any writer, with or without the symptoms of writer’s block.
6. Turn to writing exercises.
Finding a good writing exercise, then doing it, can go a long way in making our minds think on different wavelengths. It forces us to think, which can cure boredom, and stop us from focusing so hard on our own work while letting loose and working on problems and techniques we’re not used to. Writing exercises also teach us how to write better, which, when writer’s block is through, will be of great benefit to our healthy mind.
7. Get spiritual
Turning to God, an eastern religion, or a philosophy can ease the stress in life, and help us find other ways to keep our minds on an even keel and centered. Finding help through spirituality can help release us from the constant tension of perfectionism that sometimes contributes to writer’s block. Prayer, in all its forms, has been scientifically documented to cure cancer or survive tragic accidents, so it isn’t impossible that it can help with something as simple as a tumultuous mind.
It will take work, maybe even a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it. And it’s not always such a bad thing to have writer’s block. By going through the struggles of writer’s block, you can grasp many different ways to write, and can actually learn to write better by digging your heels in and learning about yourself, your writing, and how to combat this temporary dissatisfaction. It really is a blessing in disguise, because when things are going great, we seldom learn. We learn from our mistakes, and become better writers for them.