Have you ever experienced fear of a blank page when you can’t come up with ideas, or the ideas you have seem useless? That’s when you can fall into the vicious cycle of not writing because you lack ideas and lacking ideas because you don’t write. In other words, you fall into the dreaded writer’s block.
Years ago when I myself went through a period of creative drought, I discovered my problem lay in a mixture of fatigue, stress, fear, and insecurity. I found the best way to solve it was to change some of my lifestyle habits and face my fears.
Even though every writer is different and the same solution doesn’t apply to every problem, there are some general tips to help you identify and overcome writer’s block. In the case that you need them, I hope they help you as much as they helped me.
Don’t obsess over the problem. The more you insist on finding ideas or solutions, the greater the mental block. Stop thinking about it because it’s not so bad! You’ve had ideas in the past, and you’ll have ideas again in the future. So ... at the moment, you don’t have any ideas to write about, right? Well, the truth is nothing happens because you don’t have ideas.
Beyond that, I’ll tell you a secret – you actually do have ideas ... always! Your head is really full of them. It just so happens that today, for whatever reason, you can’t manage to find them, or you quickly dismiss them because you think they’re crap. Your problem doesn’t lie in your capacity to generate ideas, but elsewhere…
Identify the source of the problem.
The best way to solve a problem related to creativity is to find its source and nip it in the bud. In fact, it may be the only way. According to Mark McGuinness, a creative business coach, each type of block has its own peculiarities and corresponding solutions. Here’s a list of the most common types.
1. Stress or Personal Problems
It’s very difficult to be creative under these conditions. If you’re going through a difficult period or you’re very stressed at work for whatever reason, it’s you likely feel your writing isn’t flowing well. When that happens, the best solution is to take it easy. You don’t need to stop writing, but don’t put any pressure on yourself. If you feel like it, write for a while just for the pleasure of it. Just use it as a way to put your emotions on paper. If you don’t feel like writing, that’s also okay. The hard times will pass. It’s more important that you focus your energy on putting an end to what is causing your anxiety so you can move forward.
2. Insecurities and Fears
Another common reason for writer’s block is because you obsessively question your ideas and the things you write. Everything seems bad, mediocre, or useless, and you feel really disappointed with whatever you produce. In the end, the only thing you achieve is not writing anything. This was one of my problems in the past, so I know it well. Above all, I know it’s hard to overcome since the only solution to conquer your fears lies inside yourself. You must be aware of the fact that the inner ghosts threatening you when you’re writing are just that – ghosts. They ain’t real, so you can ignore them!
3. Excessive Demands on Yourself
Nothing you do is good enough. You obsess with writing it better with a more brilliant idea. Again, the only thing you achieve is not writing at all. The origin of this problem is the same as above. The solution is also similar – stop worrying about the way you write, and don’t listen to that annoying inner critic. Enjoy the writing process. Do it the best you can, acknowledge your strengths (yes, you have them!), and try to improve your weaknesses without obsessing over the results. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize of Literature (at least not yet), nor do you have to prove anything to anyone. All you have to do is enjoy writing!
If, for whatever reason, your body doesn’t get enough rest, your brain won’t be as productive as you want it to be. Sufficient sleep and a healthy lifestyle are the best recipe to leading a creative life. It’s that simple, and sometimes, it’s that complicated.
5. Mental Exhaustion
The human brain is wonderful and capable of surprising things, but it also has its limits. After a very productive stage (for example, after writing a novel or at the end of a period of intense study), it’s possible that your brain is exhausted and doesn’t have the energy to produce more ideas.
The solution – Give it a break! It’s a good time to feed your brain with books, films, walks, new places, and various stimuli. Doing so will help it recover energy little by little, and sooner rather than later, it will be in shape again.
Relax and have fun.
Just as your body needs to be rested and healthy, a cheerful and optimistic attitude will also help your creativity flow. The good news is this kind of attitude is based on habits you can learn.
Begin with a smile. Be aware of your facial expression, and turn it into a grin. Smile as much as you can throughout the day until you do it without realizing it. Try to relax and take time for hobbies other than writing. If you have no other interests, begin the search to find one or two! By the time you devote yourself to professional writing, you’ll need an escape route found in other interests. The best way not to obsess over your writing when you suffer a block is to do things that distract you.
Read instead of write.
If you’re in a stressful situation or if you feel unable to write no matter what you try, turn to reading instead of writing. Read a lot more than usual, and do so as much as you can. Of course, you should read things you find personally motivating.
When I find it difficult to start writing anything, I usually resort to the four authors that inspire me the most – Ray Bradbury, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, and Paul Auster. Find your own favorites, and start reading!
Try writing therapy.
There’s a type of automatic writing that can help you overcome writer’s block. It’s as simple as writing for the sake of venting your feelings. It’s not about telling stories, but rather it’s about expressing your fears, hatred, anger, fatigue, irritation, frustrations, etc. Start writing the first words that come to your mind, whatever is burning inside you. Jot it down without worrying about style or literary quality.
In fact, the best thing you can do when you finish this type of writing is to destroy it. However, before destroying it, read what you’ve written and analyze it to understand what’s going on inside that mind of yours. Once you’ve done that, burn it as a symbolic act, and make a fresh start.
Write a blog post.
What’s that? You don’t have a blog? What are you waiting for? It’s the best remedy for those days or weeks when your writing doesn’t flow. You can write a post on any topic, not necessarily fiction. It can be a post about writer’s block, the political situation in the Maldives, or how much you like words accented in the third-to-last syllable. Never mind ... the goal is to write a post of at least 500 words in order to show your brain that you can still write and that you’ll pay no attention to your negative thoughts.
Don’t overvalue ideas.
In general, we emphasize the importance of ideas, but the truth is, they ain’t that important. It’s a good lesson I’ve learn little by little through listening and observation. There are hundreds of books based on the same topic and very different from each other, so don’t obsess over your ideas. Just try writing anything – even if it looks silly. If you’re at a stage where you think you have no ideas, put into practice specific literary techniques to strengthen your weaknesses. Try writing descriptions, dialogues, or whatever. Just make the most of your practice!
Get out of your comfort zone.
If there’s a style or genre you feel comfortable with and always choose for your writing, give yourself the opportunity to try other things. Write something fantastic and different – a detective story, a children’s book, etc. Just try writing anything different from what you usually do.
If you give yourself a chance by writing something different, two things can happen:
1. Your brain might tell you, “Oh, I don’t like this. I don’t feel comfortable with it. Okay, okay – I’ll stop causing this writer’s block if you go back to your usual writing style.”
2. Alternatively, you may feel encouraged by the prospect of something new, and your ideas will appear as they did in the past.
Either of these results would be good for you.
Use creative prompts.
Another way to start writing when you have no ideas is to use creative prompts and start writing the first thing that comes to your mind. For example, take some random words and write a text that contains all of them. Another example, take a pair of lines that could serve as the beginning of a tale or a novel and simply follow the storyline. Here are a couple of examples from our mobile application, iDeas for Writing:
Verses, hope, restaurant, honor, carpet.
Detective, meat, hate, power, madness.
Blackboard, invention, omen, beggars, blue.
Maid, shadows, rain, white, dogs.
The man in the raincoat heard her voice...
The captain confessed everything...
The old man hid the evidence...
The screenwriter kept the letter...
I hope these tips are helpful for you, and above all, may the muses never leave you!