6 Tips to Break Through Writer’s Block

There are very few things as debilitating to a writer as writer’s block. Often, just the thought of those two words is enough to send a shiver down one’s spine. Sometimes, writer’s block is a temporary ailment and can simply be waited out. Other times, though, the answer is not so simple, and trying to wait out a persistent case of writer’s block can lead to days, weeks, or even months of lost productivity.

With that in mind, here are five ways that an afflicted writer can help battle writer’s block.

1) Free Writing Exercises

Sometimes the hardest thing to do as a writer is start. Everyone knows that moment when you sit down at your computer, open up your work in progress, hover your fingers over the home keys and just…nothing. No words come to your brain. It’s frightening, and it can also lead to all kinds of self-esteem issues (“I’m not a real writer!” “I can’t do this!” “I’m nothing but a fraud!”).

But every writer has experienced this, even those “real” writers. (By the way, if you writer, you’re a real writer. That’s just the truth.)

When this happens, all you have to do is break through that dam. Open up an empty document, or flip to a blank page in your notebook, and begin writing whatever comes to your mind. Don’t focus on any one thing, least of all your work in progress, but just start writing. Make like Ron Swanson and write every word you know.

Even if you start off writing “I don’t know what to write,” your brain will automatically make connections to other trains of thought. Then write those down. Do this for about five minutes, until you have a full page, or until you feel motivated to continue your WIP. Free writing can work wonders on a blocked writer.

2) Clear Your Mind

Writer’s block can be a side effect of overwork. And just like with any other type of work, you need to rest. Writers tend to not put in forty hours each week and clock out like many other jobs, and probably most writers have a full-time job on top of their writing. So, writers are often burning the candle at both ends and still beating themselves up when they can’t be productive.

Take a step back to refill your creative energy. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Watch a couple of episodes of your favorite television show. According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, from his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, when we focus less on immediate tasks, we allow our subconscious minds to keep working on problems. In his words:

The experience of having the mind slightly relaxed allows it to explore different combinations of ideas, to test out different solutions. And then once it has arrived at one that looks promising, that is what pops into your head as an Aha! moment. The people I looked at are able to construct daily schedules that allow them to draw on that process in little increments.

So the next time you find yourself at your computer struggling for the words, take a deep breath and walk away. Do something else for a while. Something you enjoy doing. And importantly, something that doesn’t require a lot of focus. It could help you find that “AHA!” moment.

3) Write Something Else

Perhaps it’s not the writing itself that’s the problem, but the current scene in your WIP instead. Maybe you’ve set something up, but aren’t sure how to pay it off, and because of that, the words aren’t flowing properly. If so, move on to something else. Work on a scene later in the book/screenplay/whatever or start a different project altogether. If you’re anything like me, you have at least six other ideas that you’re super excited about but don’t want to start until you “finish the one I’m working on.” Instead of continually putting it off, jump into it while your subconscious mind mulls over your issues in the current WIP.

Caveat: You may be tempted to go back and start editing your work in progress instead of writing a different scene, but don’t do that. Writing and editing are two different beasts and require two different mindsets. Writing is a creative flow, while editing is a logical state. If you shift into a logical mindset, you’ll only further block your creativity. Though some writers can shift easily between writing and editing, I’ve no idea how they do it so I just recommend you avoid working like that.

4) Journal

If your block is a result of an exceptionally emotional bout, you can also try journaling. Find a notebook (and again, if you’re anything like me, you have plenty), open to a clean page, and write out your feelings. While this could also be an extension of freewriting that I outlined earlier, journaling can help you analyze your emotions and find a way to break through them. Not only can journaling reconnect you with your creative self, but it can reconnect you with your regular self.

Please be advised, however, that journaling shouldn’t be used as a replacement for professional help. If you feel like you may be seriously depressed, I’d highly recommend reaching out to someone. There are various free outlets to use to talk to a trained professional, such as MentalHealth.gov and the SAMHSA National Helpline and 1-800-662-HELP.

5) Talk It Through

Maybe writing is the issue. Maybe your brain and your fingers had an argument and are giving each other the silent treatment. Maybe you have the ideas, but you’re just struggling to get them onto the page. If that’s the case, try speaking instead. Use a voice recorder on your phone or transcription software and a microphone for your computer and talk instead of writing. Writer’s block is sometimes just that, a block on writing. So, if you’re not writing, you shouldn’t be blocked.

6) Force It

Writing, just like anything else, is work, and sometimes the work has to get done even if you don’t want to do it. You never hear a warehouse worker talk about “Box-Lifting Block” and that they just need some time to themselves to get back in the flow. That’s because they know it’s work that has to get done, so they do it.

Forcing yourself to sit down at your desk for an hour to write without distraction or interruption is sometimes exactly what you need to overcome writer’s block. Sure, what you write may come out in bits and spurts, and not always be the best thing you’ve ever written, but that’s what the editing process is for. And if you’re only able to get 500 words written in that hour, it’s 500 words more than what you started with. It’s far too easy to just give in to writer’s block and go a week or longer without writing, but if you make a determined effort to write something even during a blocked state, you’ll feel more accomplished. Brick by brick isn’t the most efficient way to break down a wall, but it’s effective. If you’ve ever experienced writer’s block, then you know it’s only a temporary ailment. Something will always come along and ignite that creative spark and allow you to get your thoughts on the page. But do you always want to sit around and wait for that to happen? The next time you experience writer’s block (and I’m absolutely not wishing that on anyone), try using one of these methods to overcome it. They may just get you back on that horse that much sooner.

Paragraphic Rift: Have you imposed narrative Temporality?

7: Have you imposed narrative Temporality? 

What is narrative Temporality? 

Temporality and impermanence go together, for such is measured by the ticking clock, the circling shadow, the palpitating heart, or a single tear streaking down a lovelorn face. Sometimes a single moment can weigh more than the world. 

Into everyone’s life, a little rain must fall, yet rain is also needed in order to preserve life. Vitality spills from the elements and is tried by them, and then passes back into them, energy dancing in and out of existence’s frame. A mere blink and being comes and goes, with each unit following the prefabricated biological action. Such is maturation, it happens to everything before entropy hastens decline. This universal occurrence defines matter, but spirit is external, invisible, and marks the transitions as they click by. Like a cosmic hologram playing out timelessly again and again. 

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

“The Hologram” 

Wise old timers see a rhythm or pattern in the lives they learn about so that at the end many say that life feels like a story, with chapters, dramatic themes, ups and downs, twists, and a hero’s journey in it for the bargain. Certain days meet certain nights, in an age of development, in a generation of particular bliss or tribulation, and the many are changed by another season turning in an uncertain world. Generation gap (external trial) or generational crisis (internal trial) bring hive-minded conformers or nonconformists who think free of the mind cage

Individualism is the prize of freedom, justice, and prosperity, and yet some people or concepts go far to set themselves apart from the many, under any circumstances or trials. These are influential characters: protagonists, antagonists, hero, antihero, villain, thrall, etc. 

Photo by Mak on Unsplash

Seasons in life: 

1st model: 
  • Birth / Life / Death = existence 

  • Beginning / Middle / End = a story 

2nd model: 
  • Nut, germination, sprout, sapling, tree, nut = a forest 

  • Information, Transformation, Replication, Termination = life cycle 

A tree bears fruit of its own kind, and by such is it known. The soil in which its seed was planted suffered it’s germination, but how spitefully? How rich is the soil? How much rain found it? What of storms, frosts, fires, or plucking fingers? These factors shape the hologram of any growing thing, evidencing the holographic all. Adversity challenges through extremes and is marked by a seasonal yield. Crops are generations, and a generational account is a harvest tally. 

Seasonal Development of a subject 
  • Outer / Calendrical Time: important dates / durations 

  • Inner / Emotional Time: important moments / events 

Seasons of development illustrate generational/narrative Temporality, that which marks any progress of forms and or character/style. These things may offer generational bridges to be crossed, and on the echoing green there are no gaps or delineations. 

And so it is important to take youths and elders back to moments of temporal shift, so that generations have a common reference point, and a character may be humanized and relatable. A first drive/ride, a walk under summer’s moonlight, the heart shape encased initials carved into trees by youthful kissers, the field where a boy saw his first dead body, where a girl found her maidenhood, where the orphan childhood ended, or the dawning of war. 

That where is a when, and can be flashed back to or dreamscaped into developmental seasons/episodes whereby characters or concepts may be continually shaped. A scar. A favor. A smile. A good beating. How the growth weathers it’s environment reveals much about it’s nature/character. 

Development is disposition. Are they weathered, delicate, perfect, deficient? This suffering or treatment of growth and developmental concepts visits the heart space the way that timelessness does, but instead of coming from out of cosmic nowhere these factors are the product of a systemic wheel of seasons, and that difference is as important as it is opposite to Temporality. 

Natural themes predominate temporal matters, as opposed to supernatural or ethereal influences. We must simulate life experiences and so social development (or lack thereof) in our characters and or world, so that a sense of narrative progress and evolution may be shared with the reader. This is how living things in the text come to life, and how that character’s life is touched by temporality. 

Paragraphic Rift: Have you Weaponized the Core?

6: Have you Weaponized the Core?

What is the Core? 

The Core is value. Taking stock of what you have and remembering bereavements. It is defying the threat of preservation against opposition if it be by destiny, foes, or legal decree so that a narrative is humanized, or brought to a dehumanized state. Concepts like extinction, annihilation, devolution, damnation, etc, may be used as a proper crisis to test the core. The stakes must be raised in order to sync core values and elevate dramatic themes. 
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
Weaponize the Core 

In sci-fi like Star Trek, when the antimatter core is ready to go up, the mission is put on hold until the situation is resolved. Or… they have to abandon ship. There are even times when the ship’s core may be weaponized, and the order given for ramming speed or warp jump into a target. It’s all or nothing, do AND die, this done to pay a debt or buy time for a desperate plan. 

Such dire conditions bring dense gravity to the narrative and a sense of unexpectedness, which sometimes passes for surprise, but in either case, does not dump shock the reader. It is critical that the reader is drawn in by what is done to the core because it is their own core that is of chief concern. 

Empathy is needed in order for the flavor of hero, antihero, villain, etc to drive home what is at stake and so what may be lost. Like when a muse flash is obliterated due to a lack of paper or time. When we focus on forever in a departed now, what might be lost in a moment becomes precious. 
Weaponize to emphasize 

There is another core, one of liberty, morality, principles, and justice. If you see someone suffering, the instant reaction is to wonder why. Some have it coming for misdeeds wrought or crimes against the just and innocent, but “why” isn’t the point we are making here. The point is what abuse, punishments, torture, and incarceration do to both writer and reader. 
Empathic Index: 
  • broken anatomy – outer vulnerability  

  • parading anatomy – external vulnerability  

  • visceral anatomy – internal vulnerability 

  • diseased anatomy – inner vulnerability 

  • abominable anatomy – cosmic vulnerability 

Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash
Such vulnerability should move an audience emotionally, or harden their hearts.  

Important Questions: Do we care about what’s happening? If not, why not? Do they, the victim, have it coming? 

According to each person’s deeds and intentions, that is how people should be treated, and when that treatment is deformed, distorted, or warped by agenda or hatefulness, a character (or culture) may be traumatized by abuse or violated through an unjust ruling. Out of suffering comes great measures of behavioral accentuation, for good or evil, and so one of a kind characters, nations, or situations may emerge. 
  • Trauma as (is) teacher 
  • What is a sacrifice? 
  • How best to assign value to blood? 
  • Violence, violation, deprivation, intimidation 

When writing fiction, you cannot get away from themes of violence, sex, and conquest. The body is THE common ground, for embodiment of spirit is synonymous with being alive. Many such themes have suggestions, implications, and out and out consequences for characters and plot so that the narrative gains mass. 

The artful wielding of trauma, or an escape from its possibility, brings a lot to the table for readers. Losing a hand, an eye, a child, a kingdom, a planet, a parent, a bride, can make all the difference in a character’s life, altering them in ways that otherwise would never have been possible.  After all… Do any of us truly know what we have until it’s gone? 

This Trauma as (is) teacher thing sounds cruel or demented from the outside, or at the very least a bit overboard. However, when it comes to myth and that which is mythic, there is no such thing as overboard. All the fables, myths, legends, and fairy tales are blood-soaked and reaching into incubus. Are we not to learn from and build on these elder Texts, just as our famed literary masters have done? 

No author mindful of cultural backlash is trying to trigger someone, yet the form of myth compels said author to explore beyond the expectations set by creative yesterday. That is why genre and demographic funnel audiences the way they do. No one wants to ruin someone’s day, yet all the greatest tales in mankind’s library touch us so because they are at least brutal, and at worst traumatizing so as to be remembered always… The collective core having been weaponized against an engaged audience for their entertainment and inspiration.

Paragraphic Rift: Have You Polished Your Text?

4: What is Creative Polish?

Creative Polish is an analysis of one’s literary voice for optimization. Not for grammar as much as for poetic elevations and mythic tone. This radical method suggests that one should overwrite, to go beyond systemized reductionism in order to transcend the language of the day. Editors trim for clarity or to emphasize proper grammar, which is their job, but some would delete glory because to them, it’s all been done before. Might as well tell the sun not to rise while we’re at it… 

A good creative polish seeks to challenge the readership rather than bring everything down to the fourth-grade level. It’s more for creative obsessors than hobbyists. Having read much and been greatly inspired, and having a regular muse flash leading unto creative obsession, you will want to obsess over the words already written. 

So… Having written in bliss from out of a bright muse flash nagging you sweetly all day, you return to the text the next chance you get to creatively polish the work. 

Creative Polish Guidelines: 

1: remember the chapter (section) you are polishing, because themes and scenarios should shape language and Inspire voice. (action pace, creepy pace, dialogue, etc) 

2: when you read any sentence, look for the poem that could be there. No matter what the subject, no matter what the demographic, just remember eternity and forget now. Write to be rediscovered on post-apocalyptic bookshelves centuries from now after WW7, fearing no contemporary naysay or caution. 

3: when you encounter the turning of a phrase, take care not to disturb its textual ecstasy. Butterflies are better with wings ON them… 

4: vocabulary must challenge in order to compliment the reader’s intelligence. Be courageous with both existing terms and fictitious wordsmithing, from which all linguistic enchantment derives its fantastical delirium. Example: time machine 
Photo by Josh Redd on Unsplash

Let your obsession reach for perfection, but don’t embrace perfectionism. 

Believe in what the muse brought to mind. 

It is necessary to self-edit, self workshop, self-optimize. 
It is unnecessary to be your own worst critic. 

Some words will stay, some shall be rewritten, others deleted. The ones that remain from out of the original muse flash must quiver with mythic resonance, each sentence a poem, each phrase a mystery. Even if you were writing about mundane concepts, your voice should still be beaming bright so that the muse may be honored. 

Adore the process, love the satisfaction, seek more from the muse, give praise to what you revere. You know what you like and dislike, and this polarity helps focus your voice. Your voice is emergent from creative obsession, is harmonized into oneness by reading well and writing lots, and so is both consciousness and unconscious in nature. Unconsciousness is limitless, and the words of muse and voice can transcend amazing thresholds of beauty and ugliness, profoundly touching both heart and soul. 
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Well, creative obsessors, we are back at the halfway point. 5: Creative Workshopping. 

Some people start from the beginning, 1: What Is Your Inspiration; some from the middle, 5: Creative Workshopping; and some from the end, 10: Adaptive Bookcraft. No matter what stage you are in or what direction the development takes, JWC Paragraphic Rift has a way for you to dial in and access the creative edit. 

Let’s see if we can learn from each other’s dreams and grow as writers together.

Pass It On: Can’t Write? Don’t feel like Writing? Write Anyway.

We all have days when we don’t feel like writing. Things get in the way. The kids need something, and they always need something. Your mom calls and asks you to help her with something she saw crawl out from under the sink. Or you might not be in the mood.

Writing as Therapy

Do yourself and all of us readers a favor. Write. Write even though every fiber of your being screams that you don’t have the time, or that what you’ll write will be crap. It’s okay. Write the crap and get it out of your system. Who knows? Some of that crap could lead to something interesting.

There’s a concept called “free writing.” Free writing is where you sit in a quiet space with a pad and a pen. For ten minutes up to thirty minutes, write down whatever comes into your mind. The key is to get the pen moving even if you write about not having anything to write about. You will soon be writing something. Free writing is used a lot by psychic mediums to pick up a presence in a place where there is a haunting, but it’s also beneficial to free your mind from the clutter.

Let the Ideas Flow 

Stuck somewhere that is not usually a proper place to write? Write in this place whether you’re waiting for someone to finish their shopping or at the hospital’s emergency room. Pull out your journal and write something. It’s good therapy that can clear your mind and also take your mind off of worrying needlessly. Writing is good for the soul, and your thoughts never have to leave the journal.

Let your finished draft rest for two or three months. I know that’s hard, but absence makes the novel grow better. If you now look at your work as a reader, you’ll see what works better for the story. While you’re waiting, play with the story in a separate place. Where are the characters now? What were they doing before you set pen to paper? Are there other adventures waiting for your people now that you’ve gotten them to your story’s end? Think about it. What harm could it do to combine writing therapy with character and event exploration?

Are you stuck on where to take your current story? Take the opportunity to write out possible ideas for your characters and their predicaments. Even if your ideas make no sense or don’t fit with the story you’re writing, that’s okay. Write it out. You may find another story waiting for you in your rambling thoughts.

Blue Water Writing: Where’s your Head At?

Most of the discussions on the Internet about “plotters” (writers that outline) and “pantsers” (writers that write by the seat of their pants) include an acknowledgment that authors have varied personalities, experiences, and needs. Robinson’s article discusses the different approaches that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King utilize. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all advice from NY Book EditorsKristen Kieffer’s website and Writer’s Digest’s article encourage writers to develop their individual methods. 

Using both the plotter and the pantser approach might work best for me, and the application of the methods might depend upon the surrounding circumstances.

As I began this novella, I applied both the “plotter” and the “pantser” writing method. Like a plotter, I outlined two scenes and generated a text that covered the points in the outline. During the writing process, I often reflected and edited the text. Then, like a pantser, I wrote two scenes without bullet points and without revising or rewording. The plotting method took more time and resulted in an organized and occasionally uninspired text.  The pantsing took less time and resulted in an energized, but often disjointed narrative. 

Image from NeedPix

When asked the question, “are you a plotter or a pantser?”, I answer, “Yes.” as I expect to use both techniques and according to the level of confidence that I have in the vision-details.  During the experiment, the effectiveness of the method reflected the level of vision-clarity.  When the ideas were distinct and detailed, I didn’t need an outline, and the pantsing method did not go off-topic. When my concepts were clouded and confused, a more systemic process provided the text with direction and focus.

Image from Pixabay

During less-hectic weekends and in a relaxed state of mind, a pantsing approach might be most enjoyable and produce a narration that is on-topic and inspired. After a busy workday or in a stressed state of mind, plotting might prove to be more effective and keep the story progressing. When deciding on which method or which combination of methods to use, it may be worth considering, as Basement Jaxx so aptly puts it, where your head’s at.