From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.
There are days when my vocabulary and creativity slip through pores in my skin, leaving me a thin, hollow husk of a writer. There are days like these and, sometimes, these days stretch into a week, two weeks, longer.
For me, worse than facing a blank page is facing a half-full one. An empty page leaves me alone with my thoughts—an unfinished one presents perfect rows of words I must’ve written in another life, all of them taunting.
Before I know it, my ideas are dusty and stale. Then the guilt settles and becomes, itself, suffocating. That’s when chores, errands, and freelancing start to feel like a balm. Anything to avoid the blinking cursor.
I’ve found a few tricks that moderate this slide into writer’s block, and I hope they might be helpful to you, too. For me, the hardest part is taking the first step:
Forgive yourself. Don’t let this turn into “I forgive myself for not writing today, and I’ll start tomorrow,” as I certainly have. Instead, make a quick-but-special treat (a fancy tea in a fancy cup is one of my favorites), sit down in front of your closed notebook or computer, and acknowledge that you’ve come further than the day before. Then forgive yourself for taking the time needed to get here, open to the waiting page, and get started.
If thirty minutes later the words still aren’t coming, I switch up my tools. Personally, I find writing longhand lets me be less critical of the words coming out, so sometimes I’ll power down the computer and give myself the freedom to write total crap and the pleasure of scratching it out and trying again.
For advanced stages of writer’s block, I get a change of scene. This is great to do on any given day, but can be especially helpful when you’re struggling to write. Take a brisk walk and think only about your story or character, or pack it all up and go to your favorite coffee shop. Exercise can also get creative juices flowing, and I’ve found hitting the gym for an hour helps relieve frustration and anxiety while sparking new ideas.
For truly advanced stages, I’ll bribe my muse. After 500 words I get to take a 15 minute break and read blogs, watch Netflix, or tidy the kitchen.
Finally, there’s one method that always works for me: Set up a brainstorming date with a friend whose opinion you trust—preferably someone who knows something about writing, editing, and/or work in your genre. Before you meet, take the time to summarize your project. Explain the things you hope to achieve and the questions you want to answer. Explain, also, the loose threads and worries that are swirling in your brain and keeping you from writing. You’ll untangle some things for yourself while doing this preparation, and will untangle many others thanks to your excellent friend.
Go into the conversation with an open mind and no ego: be willing to change anything in the project, to kill off a character or erase a plot twist—to start from scratch if you really have to. As you talk, jot down the specific points that get you excited about the project again. Collect your changes or next steps in one place and reiterate them at the end, treating them like a deliverables list that closes out a business meeting. Talking through your hopes and worries will help you see the project more clearly, give you new ideas you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, and lay out specific steps for moving forward.
I try to treat conversations with my muse like a negotiation, since I’ve personally never had luck with bashing through writer’s block by forcing myself to put down words. Everyone is different, though—if you have other tried-and-true tactics, please share in the comments!