There’s something almost romantic about the notion of writer’s block, the pained writer gnawing her pen as the blank page looms up, demanding blood. In truth, writer’s block is really not just one “thing” but usually a series of easily overcome obstacles that get bundled into one mythical monster who threatens to take you down. If you’re suffering block take one of the following quick and (relatively) painless steps toward freeing yourself from it.
Anticipating something is generally worse than actually doing it. In order to get down from the ledge of creative despair, take time to identify what fear or circumstance is holding you back. Fear of failure? A looming tax bill? Wanting to impress an editor? Here, you may find journaling to be especially effective at tapping into the more subconscious truth lurking below. Journalist Julie Schweiert Collazo says, “For me, it’s really about just sitting down and committing to the butt-in-chair time. Because if I don’t get started, I can put something off forever.”
Criticism and rejection can feel like stop signs on the road to success. But it’s important to separate out helpful critique—where someone is offering you feedback you can use—from outright denigration of your work or person. And as for rejection, it simply means you’re on the right road to publication. Stephanie Naman, author of the “Chloe Gets a Clue” mystery series (as Billie Thomas), says of a work situation, “When a toxic boss began ridiculing my writing at work, the ripples of self-doubt spread all the way to my fiction writing. For several months, I let that fear paralyze me, until I realized that life without writing is even scarier. I decided I don’t have to be a great writer, praised by everyone who reads my work. Instead I could be a writer who’s constantly working on getting better.”
Sometimes the only way to unblock a flow is to write badly. Nanea Hoffman, founder of the popular website “Sweatpants & Coffee” says, “When I’m stuck, it’s usually not because I don’t have anything to say; I’m worried about how it will be received. I give myself permission to suck. To sound crazy. To overshare. To use clichés. I will literally say to myself, “All right, let’s write some terrible sentences!”
And Lynn Carthage, author of the “Haunted” series of YA novels says, “I simply won’t let myself re-read anything I’ve started. I just write the draft until it’s done and then I let myself think about quality.”
A lesser known form of writer’s block comes from being overwhelmed by too many projects or responsibilities. When a massive to-do list is looming, it’s important to pick either the one most pressing, which will get it off your plate, or the one that brings you the most pleasure, since that will help switch your mood. Likewise, instead of attempting to write the whole draft, you can take freelance writer Amy McElroy’s approach: “I dictate my thoughts into a phone app and then email them to myself. That way I can capture free-flowing ideas whenever they arise.”
The least productive thing to do when feeling blocked is to continue to sit staring at your blank page. Whether you get up and do a few stretches or walk a lap around the house, break the negative feedback cycle. “The best way I know how to beat that is to walk away — and go do something physical. Pull weeds. Take a walk. Wash the car. Fold laundry. Chop wood,” says Julia Park Tracey, the poet laureate of Alameda, California, and author of the Veronika Layne “Hot Off the Press” series. “Something physical lets my mind wander and loosen up, even as my body is working hard. I find this an almost miracle cure for being blocked.”