Big-time tricks for beating writers’ block

Wright_Typewriter2Writers’ block is an occupational hazard for writers. I’ve seen people claim there is no such thing – but actually there is. You sit down to write something – or to edit what you’ve written – and nothing happens. Blank. Here’s why – and how to get around it.

  1. Blank page syndrome 1

Possibly this is ‘classic’ block. You sit down with a blank screen or piece of paper and nothing happens. The reason why is that your thoughts are stuck in your framework – which isn’t just what you’re trying to write but also the environment you’re writing it in. So change it. Pick up your laptop and go somewhere else. Or leave it behind and go for a walk (not too long, maybe 10-15 minutes). Better still, go and do something around the house for the same period. Change your medium – switch from computer to pen and paper.

  1. Blank page syndrome 2

There’s a variation on the blank page syndrome – you know what you want to say, but can’t figure how to say it. OK, try this: don’t. Leave a blank or add a note saying you’ll back-fill, and carry on writing the next bit.  After a while, go back and write in the word you want. Or, if you’re stuck on the first words of the piece, go on to the middle sentence of a paragraph, or another paragraph. Then go back and do the beginning. (Actually, this is a handy technique anyway because it tells you what the first sentence should be).

  1. Help! I can’t see how to get out of the tangle I’ve written myself into.

What you’ve written defines your thought patterns – trapping you in the blocked mind-set. Take a brief break. Save the original document. Then start with a blank screen and go from scratch. Yup – total re-write. Remember: words are cheap. Structure and content isn’t. And it’s the structure and content you need to nail. Take what you’ve re-written and compare it to the original. Does that help?

Do these techniques work for you?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


11 thoughts on “Big-time tricks for beating writers’ block

  1. When I was younger I thought alcohol would be the answer here, but I don’t drink anymore. Writer’s block? Go for a walk. Listen to Beethoven! Juggle. Drink some tea. Post inflammatory comments online… erm… not that I do any of those!

    1. Drinking tea is always good. Earl Grey (no milk, slice of lemon). I used to know a writing community who had managed to infuse NZ’s bloke beer drinking culture with poetry (!). Hemingway’s epithet about writing drunk and revising sober was sometimes translated with ‘write drunk, revise drunk’, with results that you can imagine.

  2. This techniques are definitely very good, I like the third point: “words are cheap. Structure and content isnt.”
    Those are very good point, I think that on some projects it could help to do some brainstorming maybe, but this depends on what you are writing.

    1. Brainstorming’s always a good technique – write…anything… and see what comes out. I think changing medium is good too – we get ‘framed’ by what we write with, and switching from computer to pen and paper can often work wonders.

  3. Two of the keys, and the ones that run through your recommendations, are to take a break and then alter your approach. I can’t remember the last time I had nothing to say (that accounts for all my comments and why I avoid FB), but I can become stuck on how I want to say it or how I want to fix what I said the first time. There are times when I sense I’m off course. If a pause doesn’t bring the problem into focus I step away. When I return I review what I already have in the chapter. There are times I can see where the writing went amiss. Other times I opt to rewrite.

    1. Exactly! I do the same – if I’m stuck I’ll often go for a short walk (5 minutes) and think about something else, and when I get back the answer’s there. Or I’ll change writing medium – switch from computer to pen and paper, as a note-taking device. Something useful usually emerges from it.

  4. Brilliant advice! I tend to deal with writer’s block a little differently for the first two (my favourite techniques for number 2 being *power through* and *power through more*- I kind of like figuring it out like a puzzle- like I know what has to go here, so I will get it down, even if it’s painful). Number 3 was particularly helpful- when I get the structure wrong or make a mistake in the plotting- I know that trying to be delicate about unpicking it just won’t work. I’ve had this one story I’ve gone back to a million times because I was too precious about just obliterating all the mistakes the first time I edited it. Starting from scratch years ago would have been much better. So now I’ve worked myself into a corner with a new project, I know I’m gonna have to be less prissy about it and just overhaul it sooner rather than later.

  5. I have tried these and they work. The key, as you said is to do something different. I have also skipped to a different scene and finished that before going back to the original.

    1. Skipping forward and back filling is a great tactic. I use it a lot – though often for me that leads to new directions. I have about 3000 words for a book proposal I put together last month that never got used because of that phenomenon.

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