10 Ways To Break Up Writer’s Block or Writer’s Anxiety

by Anne Wayman

Breaking up writer's blockWriter’s block! A dreaded condition where a writer wants or needs to write but can’t. It happens to all of us to one degree or another. It seems to strike almost at random, although it’s worth tracking to find any patterns patterns worth examining. Writer’s block or writer’s anxiety strikes people in varying degrees. With luck, your block will be short and easy to fix. Sometimes, however, the block can go on longer, requiring more drastic action.

Here are some symptoms and solutions for you to consider:

Fear of the blank page (or screen) can cause writer’s block

Fear of the blank page or empty screen is most likely to happen to beginning writers. As our expertise grows, we learn that simply writing something on a page is often enough to get us started. So write something, anything, and see what happens.

It helps if you can write something related to your topic. Put down you first thought, even if it’s awful.  There’s a reason you’ll find over 60,000 entries if you google shitty first drafts. Let yourself do a really poor draft or beginning sentence. The goal in this moment is not to write well but to write something. Even a simple statement like I hate writing about writers block can help get you started.

Simple fatigue, hunger and or thirst can create writer’s block

Don’t overlook fatigue. If you have been working hard for days, or haven’t been sleeping well, you may just need rest. Writing can take more out of us than we realize. In my experience, there are two types of fatigue that can lead to temporary writers block. The first comes from not getting enough rest; the second has to do with not taking breaks during the writing process. Your mind and body need refreshing.

Not eating can also create writer’s block. This isn’t an excuse to over eat or eat the wrong things, but you body does need fuel to keep the creative juices going, or even to start them.

Not so incidentally, if you’re not drinking enough water, try adding a glass or two a day. Water seems to lubricate the brain as well as the rest of the body. Proper rest, eating and good hydration can completely cure writer’s block.

Remember to breathe!

Seriously, several deep breaths can sometimes open the flood gates of creativity. Sitting at the computer often means slouching. Our breaths get shallower and our minds gum up. So stand up, stretch, breathe. And when you sit back down, sit tall and remember to keep breathing deeply, from your belly.



Exercise can also be a way to break up writer’s block. Thirty minutes on a treadmill or walking outside often helps me relax my mind so new ideas or needed ideas appear. Besides, I feel so virtuous when I exercise.

Change your state

It’s amazing, but if you’re frowning and you fake a smile, you’ll feel a bit better even though it’s a fake smile. That’s a prime example of changing your state. It’s easy to do, and easy to forget to do. Long hours at the computer tend to deaden you physically and mentally, and that deadening leads straight to writers block.

Get up. Stretch. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Make a phone call. Do the dishes. Pet the cat – anything that gets you moving your body in a different way. Chances are something will clarify and you can get back to writing again. For example, I actually had to stop and do the dishes, a chore I avoid as much as I can, before I could really get a good start on this article.

It usually takes some physical action to change your state enough to get writing again. Television doesn’t do it, and in fact can make writers block worse. Going to the movies, on the other hand, might help because you have to get out of the house.

If you normally write at the computer, try writing by hand, or visa versa. If you always make your bed, don’t, or visa versa. You get the idea. Doing something differently uses different portion of the brain, and that may be enough to solve the writing problem.

Sleep on it

Sleeping on idea is a cliche because it works. Sleeping or napping lets your unconscious go to work. The surest way to tap into your unconscious is overnight, and letting the writing go for a day can often end writer’s block. An idea may come in a dream, or be there when you wake up.

A nap may work too, although, unless you sleep deeply, you probably aren’t as close to your unconscious during a nap than at night.

Work on the idea

Once in a while an idea arrives whole. With relatively little work you can sit down and dash off a short piece with ease and elegance. But more often, ideas come unformed. Ideas tend to be big, loopy things that need pruning or honing to get to their center.


My rule of thumb is if I can’t write the purpose of the work, short of long, in 10 words or less, the idea needs more work. The purpose of this article, for instance, is to: explore solutions to writer’s block. That’s five words.

Another trick for clarifying ideas is to do a simple outline. It doesn’t have to follow the outline rules you learned in school – just a list can work.

Talk about the writer’s block – even talk to it

Talking about a problem really can help, if you’ve got someone who understands. Another writer is ideal, in person, on the phone or even online. Just hearing you’re not the only one who gets stuck may be enough to unstick you.

Another trick is to talk to the block itself. You can address your block and ask it what it wants or what it’s waiting for or what it needs to know to go away. Dare to name it. Imagine what it looks like. If you’re quiet and listen internally you may be surprised at the answer you get.

Talk about the idea

Talking through the idea with someone you trust often helps break up writer’s block. In this case, it needs to be someone who mostly just listens. The sound of your own voice may help you break through to clarify the idea so you can get back to work. I’ve even had occasional success telling my cat my idea.

Writers groups

Breaking through writer’s block is a good reason to belong to a writing group of some sort. Chances are you’ll hear something that will help. You can also tell the group your problem and get lots of suggestions. If you don’t know of such a group, start one.

Counseling

Writer’s block or anxiety can, if it goes on and on for weeks and months, be a sign of deeper problems. Working with a professional counselor may be in order. A good counselor (ask friends you admire for referrals) can be a miracle worker.

That’s ten – how do you break up your writer’s block?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jimmy January 26, 2014 at 8:42 am

Writer’s block is at times mind boggling to conquer.
There are times when I am writing a song or a story.I usually do good,yet there are times that I run out of ideas and at times I can go do something to clear my mind and give my mind a vacation for a while then I come back later and rethink about the song or the story and I can add more to it.To me writer’s block is mind overwhelm because at times the mind gets overworked and like any muscle it needs rest.I learned this myself.Nice article.

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Susan Talbot March 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I like Tom Wolfe’s comment about writer’s block really being fear. I have no problem writing or of thinking about new topics. But I have what I call “submitter’s block”, which has plagued me since grad school. I have lost count of the finished, or nearly finished novels, short stories, articles and research papers that still lay in drawers or in computer files!

After a few sessions with a therapist, I realized that I was partly afraid of success, but more afraid of the expectations of me should I succeed! When I do submit things, I must do it as if I’m shutting my eyes and flinging something out a window. Then I refuse to think about it. Sadly, I have yet to overcome the “icky” feeling that accompanies someone’s request for me to do more writing!

I am still working on it and hope someday to learn not to care about expectations and write just for myself, if it’s possible to do that and get paid. Anyone else have this weird problem?

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annew March 5, 2013 at 7:21 am

Susan, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘icky feeling” when asked to do some, paid I assume, writing. I’m equally sure you’re not the only one who experiences that.

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jorgekafkazar February 12, 2011 at 2:06 am

If I’m stuck, sometimes I just write something short and fun–a poem, a paragraph in my on-going novel, a few lines of dialogue in a play, a haiku, or a description of a person, place, or thing, or a paragraph in my other on-going-novel. That often is enough to get the creative engine firing on all twelve.
jorgekafkazar recently posted..Watcher in the Night decipheredMy Profile

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annew February 14, 2011 at 11:11 am

hmmmm… sort of like CreativeCopyChallenge… I’ve been blown away at what that ‘game’ has taught me about my own creativity.

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jorgekafkazar February 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

CreativeCopyChallenge is okay, but I have to weigh the time invested against the utility of the output. It’s also a matter of what will give me the greatest satisfaction. I have a large number of projects underway, and I can almost always find one that has an element of fun. If not, CCC, here I come.

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Suzanne February 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I usually get writer’s block either from being burned out (my writing takes a lot of research), or from feeling like I HAVE to write something a certain way or from a certain perspective. For Burnout, you can always take a break. For the other, sometimes I get the information down on the page, and then I can go back and adjust it as needed. If something is false or “feels” false the truth will come out with the facts. Do you agree?

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annew February 14, 2011 at 11:17 am

Yeah, I draft and don’t worry about that false feeling, but I know it and mark it so I don’t miss it on the rewrite.

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jorgekafkazar January 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Not exactly writer’s block, but after a year or two of writing the same six chapters of a third-person POV novel, I decided to do some back story, largely consisting of a transcript of my protagonist’s last therapy session. A couple of pages sufficed to realize my character should be telling his own story. I changed to first-person POV, and he practically wrote the book for me.
.-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

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Anne January 15, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Funny how things like that happen. Part of the joy of writing.

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keith bienefelt November 26, 2009 at 5:48 am

Dear Anne.
Iam not sure whether my problem relates to writers block,but over the latter years i have been having a problems filling in forms and even sighning my name,I normaly have a very steady hand until i have to do the above,is there some way you can help me?
kind regards Keith

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Anne November 26, 2009 at 10:56 am

Keith, have you talked with a doctor about this? Is it only forms? What about writing in general, without a form?

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jorgekafkazar November 27, 2009 at 4:54 am

Nobody likes to fill out forms. I sometimes have to put the form on my desk first thing in the morning and attack it one block at a time, going away and doing something else before returning to the next. I’ve been known to create an electronic copy (where feasible) and fill it out on my computer so I can type and cut and paste. Makes it a little easier; makes me feel more in control of the process.

But you’re right, Anne. That level of fear for several years sounds like a genuine phobia, something best handled by therapy.
.-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

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Hannah November 6, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Music helps me. If I’m stuck, I often need to get in the right mood for the thoughts to flow. So when I sit down to work on the piece or section that’s giving me trouble, I try to choose either something that will evoke the mood I’m trying to illustrate, or something completely relaxing. The relaxing stuff opens my mind and helps me to concentrate. If I’m very familiar with the album then I can almost ignore it as I work. I use the relaxing stuff when I’m working on my lunch hour and have very little time, so it gets me in my zone quickly.

Vocal music doesn’t work; it has to be instrumental. I’ve found that synthesized music or piano music helps a lot. Something else, like light jazz or something, might work better for someone else.

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jorgekafkazar October 13, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Great stuff, Anne. I don’t remember who said: “Writer’s block is a sign that you’re working on the wrong thing.” It was Isaac Asimov who said that he never got writer’s block–if he couldn’t get moving on one piece, he just worked on something else.

Sometimes, I just pick up a book and read. Ideas seem to flow out of the pages. Or, if the pages are dull and tedious, there’s that moment of “Hell, I can write better than that!” to inspire me.

“Writer’s block is a misnomer. What is called writer’s block is almost always ordinary fear.” –Tom Wolfe

“The pristine white page is not something to be feared. It is the willing gateway to a fabulous world. You need but reach out and brush away the mists to reveal it, as you stand ‘silent, upon a peak in Darien’.” –Damson Greengage Satsuma
.-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

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George L Ghio November 27, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Writers block is nothing but an excuse to have a cup of coffee.
If the words don’t magically appear I take my voice recorder and go for a walk and talk about it. Usually works.
I have also found that if the work does not progress, that what I wrote yesterday may be a dead end that has left the story no place to go.

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Eren Mckay September 10, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Hi George,
I don’t think it’s fair to say that writer’s block is nothing but an excuse. Obviously you don’t suffer from it or else you wouldn’t say such a thing. I have had moments where I was able to write a lot of articles in one day. Then there have been days where one structured parapgraph would not come out. I really liked Anne’s article and it’s a real problem to overcome.
All the best,
Eren
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Susan Talbot March 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Eren,

I replied before reading your comment and I agree with you. I also wanted to say that this article offers some new (to me) and promising ideas for my writer’s block, though it’s infrequent (see my previous comment). I often juggle several writing “jobs” in a given time period. When my college-aged son asked why I don’t “stick to” one thing, as he does, I told him it was rather like being bored.

He asked why I would write something that bored me and I realized I didn’t mean “bored”, but just tired. Edith Wharton wrote that stepping back from a work and scrutinizing it periodically, was essential, like a tapestry weaver who emerges from the back of it to see what it really looks like. That is how I see writer’s block. “Stepping back” could involve a walk, reading a book or even watching a movie. I often write with film music playing, or go to YouTube and watch a few clips of videos using songs by my favorite musical groups or composers. There are any number of ways to relieve that “too close” feeling and hopefully, become inspired at the same time.

Good luck to you! I’m off to get a cup of coffee…HA!

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