Ten tips to beat writer’s block

This is an extension of my last post (Writing tips: come and get ’em). It repeats some of the tips, but I’ve added five more, and some other new stuff. Keep reading.

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
– Gene Fowler

Just between you and me, I doubt whether writer’s block even exists. I think it’s just a fancy term for perfectly ordinary occurrences: when one cannot be arsed putting pen to paper, or when the ideas do not flow freely, or when we feel we just cannot make any contact with our muse. Believe me, I get it. We all feel like that at times. Writing is hard. But the term writer’s block gives us an out: it makes our perfectly ordinary laziness or reluctance or uncertainty or tiredness sound like a malady: a syndrome that is “out there”, disconnected from ourselves; an affliction that we cannot control.

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“Woe is me,” we fret and swoon and sigh to our families and fellow writers. “I haven’t written a single word for a week. It’s writer’s block, you know. Nothing I can do except wait it out. May as well join you for a pint at the Pig & Whistle.”

Friends, this is bat shit. Let’s be honest. If you would really rather lie on the couch watching endless Friends reruns while dunking jumbo caramel toffees into your pear and apple cider, then admit it, and for God’s sake do it. But don’t whine about writer’s block. Make your choice, and accept the consequence. (A chocolate-alcoholic high. Whee!)

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If you struggle to get going sometimes; if you find yourself staring blankly at your screen, all redundant fingers and farty brain; if you write stodgy, cotton wool sentences for hours on end until you fear you’ll never recover your groove – welcome. This is normal. You are not special. The Angel of Writer’s Block did not just smite you with her blank-paged scribble pad.

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Some days it really is OK to say F!*#k it, I’m off to Hello Friends and Allies (my local hangout) for a giant cream donut and a thumb-numbing two-hour session of 100 Doors. (Download the app. It’s addictive.) But if you really want to write, as a career or purely for pleasure, then eventually you do have to get on with it. Don’t use writer’s block as an easy excuse when the going gets tough. Find a way through.

Here are ten tips to help.

  1. Accept that some days, everything you write will be shit. That’s OK. You’re still writing. You’re still showing up. Go you good thing! Let go of perfection and write some complete and utter trash. If nothing else, you’ll discover what it feels like to be E. L. James. (Did I say that? Surely not.)
  2. Set a timer for ten minutes, then write whatever comes into your head. And I mean whatever. Don’t censor yourself, don’t worry if it seems too simple or silly, forget about proper punctuation and grammar for the meantime. (I can’t believe I just said that.) At the end of the ten minutes, look over it and see if there’s a kernel of an idea you may be able to use sometime. If not, at least you’re warmed up.
  3. Write a paragraph about why you don’t feel like writing. There! You’re underway. And it might make you laugh.
  4. Write down the ten people you most cherish, then the ten things you most love doing, then the ten places you most want to visit (or go back to). Then put together ten opening paragraphs for ten imaginary novels. See where it takes you. Example: “Peter came to the end of the novel, then placed it on the pillow with a sigh of satisfaction. Getting up from the futon, he stretched lazily as he walked to the window and gazed down at the blinking city. Tokyo was waking up.” (My partner; getting to the end of a good book (and staying in flash hotels – I used two); Japan.)
  5. Write a short letter to yourself, telling yourself why you should keep writing. End it with “With love, [your name].” Writing is sometimes so very daunting. Let’s be kind to ourselves.
  6. Write a poem. A rude limerick usually does the trick for me. (“There was a young man called Horatio…”) Or if you write poetry as a general rule, try a short story. Or a non-fiction article. Mix it up a little. Give your brain a bit of a shake-up.
  7. Write a blog post. It’s great fun. (Why do you think I’m here so often?) This works particularly well if you’re in the middle of writing a novel. It’s such a bloody relief to write a short, finite piece that you can dash off and send out to the universe immediately.
  8. Read instead. OK, that one’s a bit of a cop-out…or is it? Reading is essential if you want to write. Other authors inspire, teach, frustrate, encourage and invigorate us. It’s a hugely important part of how we learn our craft, so it’s not actually a cop-out at all. Read, read, read. Lose yourself. Then come back and write, hopefully with renewed vigour.
  9. Read this darkly amusing gothic-horror poem about writer’s block. (My, what a coincidence! It’s one of mine!) Then tell me what you thought of it in the comments section below. There you go. You’re writing.
  10. Don’t think. Just open your laptop or notebook, put your fingers on the keyboard or your pen on the paper, and start. Sometimes we writers can navel-gaze to the point of ridiculousness. (What should I write? Why don’t I want to write? What’s wrong with me? Is this writer’s block? What is writer’s block? Does it even exist? Do I?) Sometimes we just need to get a grip and get going. On you go.
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