Friday Fun — How Can I Overcome Writer’s Block?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: From our readers: “How can I overcome writer’s block?”

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I overcome writer’s block on a daily basis by saying to myself, “I’ll just write for five minutes and see what happens.” I give myself permission to write drivel because I know, from experience, that there’s always something in the drivel that I can use–and sometimes what I write isn’t drivel at all! And five minutes turns into ten or fifteen minutes, and sometimes it turns into an hour or two.

The most important thing for me is to take the pressure off. When I sit down at the blank page, I can’t think about the final draft, I have to focus on getting something down. Even when I’m rewriting and polishing a piece, I tell myself this is just another draft.

Sitting down to write, even when I don’t feel like it, is how to overcome writer’s block. Check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on the subject. Show up at the page and the words will come.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: I start every day with Morning Pages – and ease into the day by laying down about three pages of ink. (Yes, handwritten scrawl.) Often, the Morning Pages morph into an essay for a post, radio commentary or newspaper column. Fiction – especially at the beginning of a project – can be trickier. I give myself permission to write around the scene or character and to write stuff that I know will never make the cut. And sometimes, I know that the best thing I can do is whistle up the dog and go for a walk.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I don’t really believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s semi-paralysis. It may be a subtle difference, but I’ll never say, “I can’t write,” I’ll just say “Writing is extra difficult today.” You can always put words down. Always. They may be crap, but you can still put them down. And that, after all, is the purpose of the shitty first draft, right?

Anyway, here are four posts I wrote a while back on the causes of writer’s block and how to get over ’em. Enjoy!

36 thoughts on “Friday Fun — How Can I Overcome Writer’s Block?

  1. I wonder a bit, why writers experience a writer’s block. But that may be, because I write only about technical and scientific topics.
    I always start to collect all needed informations, store them in an asscoziative, visual data base ( TheBrain) and add a lot of internal and external hyperlinks. Then I structure the informations with a mindmap ( using freeplane ) and prepare an outline, also using a mindmap. In the mindmap I write down a list of keywords in each note window. When I have finished this work, I dictate all the raw text in one go ( 2 hours a day ), using Dragon Naturally Speaking. I never correct anything during this phase of dictating.. If I have finished it, I start to correct the text.
    For a book of about 100 pages I need about 1 to 2 months in general.
    Because I know at each step of the workflow, what to do, I never face a problem,how to go on.
    If I would have to write poetry or fine art literature, I would use the same approach. A good plan does not hinder creativity.

    • Hi clausmartin2015,
      It sounds like you have a very good plan! And you are correct, a good plan does not hinder creativity. I love your process and I would use parts of it to write fiction, but I still occasionally struggle with what to say next.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  2. I seldom sit and stare on a blank page. When I experience writer’s blocks it is more like a writing postponement feeling. I take one day off. And then one more. And when the number of days off are larger than a certain number, then it is *very* hard to get started again.

    Then I read a blog from e.g. Seth Godin or zenhabits, or think back about what I learned from Steven Pressfield’s books.

    And then it is easier. To do a small piece. And another small piece. And the positive energy may return, and suddenly it is easy again.

    And then there are deadlines. If I have one of those, it usually helps! Lack of sleep, and lack of communication with my loved ones, for a period of time. And repeatedly telling myself that “real artists ship” (from Linchpin) helps a lot!

    • Hi bookmaker,
      Yes! To everything you said. Thanks so much for telling us a little bit about your process. I can relate!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  3. Thanks for this post! It helps a lot. Writer’s block/semi-paralysis is real and it’s not a fun struggle. I like the idea of pressing on despite what your mind or life says.

  4. I agree with the above posts. I am not sure I buy into writers block, but I certainly believe in procrastination or distraction sabotage which I seem to be excellent at. Since starting my book club blog my writing has really suffered. How I plan to overcome that is to set specific days and times to work on my blog and not allow myself to work on it at any other time. Also I am SO good if I know someone is waiting on a piece of writing from me, but darned if I can do it for myself!

    • Hi scarlett1000,
      I feel the same way. I always meet my deadlines for this blog, but for my own life coaching blog, I can get very behind. I’m working on that, because that blog is important to me as well.

      Thanks for sharing your tips for getting writing done!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  5. I am with Jamie on this – I don’t believe in writer’s block. Write anyway, you can edit later. If you’re still having trouble, write for a few minutes on why you’re blocked on a piece – often that will shake out the problem. works wonders for me.

    • Hi Andrew,
      I do have trouble writing at times, and I deal with it by writing anyway, but I tell myself it’s only for 5 minutes, to take the pressure off myself. I find that helpful. And it’s usually about fear, anyway. If I can get past the fear, and I usually can, something comes!

      Thanks for sharing your process with us!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  6. As a relatively new writer, I am yet to experience this so called ‘writers block’. Fingers crossed it stays that way! If I ever do, these tips I am sure will come in very handy. Thanks for the post! Mark

    • Hi Mark,
      You’re welcome, on behalf of all of us at NHWN. May you never experience writers block in your writing life!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  7. Great post, useful links. My strategies are all quite similar; freewriting, morning pages, accepting that it is okay to write sub-standard draft during this time (or anytime for that matter).
    The other ‘trick’ is to go for a walk – literally walk away, your mind will do amazing things.
    Sometimes I try a different genre. I am a poet, so if there is a conflict with creating material, I may choose to write on the theme in a different genre, an article, interview – whatever springs to mind or takes your fancy.

    It is easy to get frustrated and angry at the words, or lack of them. Don’t! This will zap energy and become a vicious circle of counter-productivity. Just let it go, do something else for a bit and come back to it.

    Happy writing x

  8. I quickly become motivated to write when I begin doing mundane things. Vacuuming. Loading the dishes. Things that I need to do. If I ever feel like I don’t have anything to write about, I just start doing housework. Magically, the words quickly invade my thoughts and won’t let up until I write them down.

    • Hi Amelia,
      I, on the other hand, use mundane tasks to avoid writing. But I’m getting better at sitting at the desk rather than folding that laundry RIGHT NOW because I recognize my avoidance. I do better when I leave the chores until the evening when I’m too low energy to write.

      Thanks for sharing your process with us!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  9. I don’t believe in Writer’s Block exactly. I believe in avoidance, fear, frustration, and pain. For me, writing is a spiritual practice. It is grounding and balancing. When I’m not writing, I am more easily angered. I am less calm, more jumpy. I am a better wife and mother and friend when I write. I enjoy the quiet before the page and the rush and breathlessness that comes with pouring my heart out onto it. Why would I not do this, that works, that feels so good, that makes all the rest of my life flow so much better? Because I get stuck. My feelings get hurt, I get twisted up and bruised and while the words are percolating and finding a way to fall out, I can be in limbo and not write. The only way i have found through this is to cry and put words on the page, to let them suck and screech and make no sense until they start to form clear thoughts again. Support from friends is good too. I have friends who will gently encourage, and I have friends who will throttle me (with words) and flat out tell me to get over myself and just write. My children will hug me and hand me pencil and paper.

    What a wonderful question, and fabulous responses in the comments! Thank you!

    • Hi Liesl,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and the comments. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writer’s block. What a great community of readers and writers we have here!

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  10. Thanks for the post – and also to the great responses!

    My technique to get the juices flowing is to think of 3 disparate objects eg: Roller Coaster / Chicken Farmer / River. Then in my head I invent a 2 minute story encompassing all of the above – like all stories it has to have a beginning, middle and end. When things are really bad – I get my wife to call out 3 objects. It’s a fun and non pressured way to start the day.

  11. yeah same thing happens to me. i sit on my desk,i too do the hand-written-scrawl.I stare on the page,dive into my thoughts,i contemplate at it pensively trying to catch the frame of my thoughts and nailing it on the sheets. i start,it would always be rough one but i do start. Then i try to make it happen, the magic, most of them are garbage but yeah life’s a piece of crap but i write it down like a friend listening to me sagaciously. I pursue my day by pursuing writing. My escape. I live to write and write to live.

    • Hi Soo Nam Dkey,
      Thanks for sharing your process with us. You are in the right place if you live to write and write to live!

      Warmly,
      Diane

    • Hi saragrace88,
      Thanks for reblogging and for your comments!

      My opinion is you are a writer if you write (and you do, right?) so you are a writer. Not in the future–now.

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

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  13. It takes discipline to sit and write when you promise yourself an allotted writing time. It works for me. Even if I have to look at a wall for a few minutes, eventually words come. It’s easy to sidetrack ourselves when we’re a little stumped, we just have to stick with the plan, no excuses. I also use writing prompts when I’m blank. The prompt will stimulate a memory, and from there a post will be born. 🙂

    • Hi D.G.Kaye,
      That’s what’s been working for me, too. If it’s the time I have to write, I write. Even if I don’t know where it’s going, etc. Often I start one blog post and then, in the middle of it, think of another one, and that ends up being the post I write, rewrite, and publish.

      Thanks for sharing what works for you!

      Warmly,
      Diane

      • Lol, that happens to me a lot; writing one thing and getting sidetracked with other thoughts. Good to know we’re at least on the right track.:)
        Have a lovely Sunday!

        D.G.

  14. Like Deborah I start with Morning Papers, I never experienced a real writing block, and I think it is because of the method of the Artist Way, that really works for me. I shut down sometimes, but than a good night sleep or a long walk will open my creativity again.

    • Hi JC,
      Morning Pages are the best! I was so productive when I was doing them regularly. It might be time to start again. It sounds like you know yourself well and what works for you.

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

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  16. Hi bootsboneronamov,
    I respectfully disagree. For me, it’s often fear that no one will like what I have to say, or that I won’t be able to say it as well as I’d like to. I do think we can have the fear that we don’t really have anything to say but I believe, for me, that fear is unjustified. It’s just my ego talking, telling me I have nothing to say because it’s safer to say nothing than to risk others not liking what I have to say.

    What do you think about what I wrote here?

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Warmly,
    Diane

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