Every writer, especially one who has recently finished a long piece of work, confesses to felling a kind of creative exhaustion. A pretty significant fraction of writers also go on to describe what may be only be named writer’s block, where they are unable to get words on a page.
Very often, writer’s block creates a sense of unhappiness and hardship on the part of the writer, who believes that they will never again be able to write. Yet, when questioned closely, writer’s block is described by many, not just as an inability to gets words on the page, but instead as a deep dissatisfaction with the words and ideas themselves. After having completed a longer work, writers are often very harsh on the new drafts and are exceedingly critical of the fledgling works. Unfairly compared to the completed work, the unedited first draft does often look paltry in comparison, and the ideas seem childish when juxtaposed with the finished manuscript.
As someone who has struggled a few times with this sense of dissatisfaction I can offer my top tips to work our way out of writer’s block:
Don’t be too hard on yourself: writing is hard, and your brain, especially after working on a long piece of work, is tired. Don’t compare your current writing to your completed work, to awards you may have won, or praise that your admirers offered. Sometimes success can be the greatest barrier to our creativity. Remember that this work is only a start, that you will have lots of time later to make it polished. For now, be nice to yourself, and don’t judge your work.
Give yourself some time: sometimes taking a break can be just what your writing needs. If, for whatever reason, your brain is not wanting to deal with words and language, then give it a break – cook, go for long walks, exercise, knit – and give yourself a bit of time before writing becomes fun and interesting again.
Read poetry: this is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get out of the writer’s block rut. Read poetry that you love – Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost. Pick a poet you admire and read his or her work everyday. I promise that this will get your creativity flowing again.
Write letters and emails: Even the most exhausted writers can find it in themselves to write to friends and family. Look in your address book, see if there are folks you’ve neglected for a while, and write to them. It’s an easy step to get words to connect to each other in a non-pressured environment, and you will find yourself wanting to write more after your letter is finished. That would be a good time to start the new Hub, article, or short story.
6 replies on “On Writing Well: Getting Over Writer’s Block”
Very nice suggestions, Pia! I have realized that sometimes my forum posts need to be turned into Hubs, and easily could be if I simply made the decision to work on them – that’s similar to your last suggestion.
Another help I have found – this time similar to your second suggestion – is to go to a different location to work. It may require pen and paper for those of us who don’t have a laptop :(, but it can help to break the logjam.
Finally, I discovered a kind of weird bit of motivation for myself recently. When I opened up a Word document and had a hard time getting started with writing, I changed from the default typeface (Times New Roman) to a different one, giving my words a fresh new look every time I looked at my computer screen. I’m not sure it would help me every time (or help others ever), but it was interesting to me to notice how much it helped me on that specific occasion.
I would also suggest trying some other form of creativity. Paint, dance, take an acting class, get your hands into a the cleansing messiness of clay. This past year I have opened myself up to inspiration of all sorts, and it has taken me on some amazing creative journeys that help me when I am at a loss for words.
My favourite method for getting past writer’s block probably wouldn’t work for most people. I just drink something caffeinated before going to bed, which – in my case – still lets me get to sleep but gives me weird but very lifelike dreams. When I wake up, I write down whatever I can remember. It’s sort of a throwback to the days when authors would take hallucinogens for inspiration, though my way of doing it doesn’t involve any illegal substances.
Another one that also might not work for everyone: music, preferably something that doesn’t have words (though depending on what you write, some lyrics could help, too). Listen to it and let your imagination fill in things that go with it, like you’re taking a sound track and writing a movie around it. It works especially well for fiction, but the right music can provide inspiration or at least the mood for just about anything.
And now…off to read some Kipling, as per your third suggestion. Excellent hub, Pia!
Creative exhaustion describes me to a tee. Block has never plagued me but at times I long for a short respite because my mind composes as I walk, cook or whatever. Your suggestion to read poetry is perfect. I am always inspired by a great poet and those flowing words of beauty. I appreciate these helpful tips.
I’ve also been told just to write a “crap draft” of whatever nonsensical thing that comes up in your head and just write it all out to clear yourself. Like a purge. Nice advice, thanks!
Lisa – that’s a great idea! I think the next time I am stuck, I’ll get up and dance!
Dave — You are treading on Coleridge territory here 🙂 I’d love to see these writings, I’m sure they are wonderful! Alas, I rarely dream, so that one’s out for me.
Kate West, Hyphenbird, Aficionda — Thanks for the nice words, and I love your suggestions! Between all of us, we’ve come up with great ways to beat the ‘block’!