Let’s be honest. Writer’s block plagues every writer from time to time. For me, it happens when I’m especially busy. I still spend time writing when deadlines or other responsibilities are looming, but I find it harder to be productive–to “enter the zone.”
Here are some practices I’ve found helpful in staying on track with my writing:
- If the words just won’t flow, get up and do something physical. I prefer walking, but any type of physical activity can reignite a sluggish brain.
- If your thoughts are constantly interrupted by a mental to-do list, make a list of everything that needs to get done that day or that week. Then, set it aside until your allotted writing time is over. The act of listing other tasks seems to free your conscious mind of its nagging until you are ready to tackle them.
- Move from your usual writing space. If you usually write at a desk, try taking your laptop to a recliner or sofa and vice versa. Sometimes a change in venue will be enough to spark your creativity. On nice days, try writing outside on the patio or deck. In the days B.C. (Before COVID) I would occasionally spend my writing time at Panera Bread or my favorite coffeehouse. I was shocked at how well I was able to concentrate in these public places. Of course, I always ordered some food or a beverage so as not to take seating from paying customers.
- If you are a blocked fiction writer, stop and read a chapter or two of a classic novel. For me, nothing works better to start the creative juices flowing than reading Brontë, Dickens, Tolstoy or Steinbeck. After only a few sentences, I’m feeling inspired by the beauty of language as demonstrated by great literary masters.
- Freewrite like you would in a journal, without making corrections, without deep thinking. I admit to finding this practice difficult. As an editor, I tend to want to edit as I go. But I’ve tried writing a first draft without correcting and it does work. You simply write whatever comes to mind without structure. You don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation until later. This process seems to help me get past bludgeoning my brain for the perfect synonym or metaphor.
- If you typically use a word-processing program, try writing long-hand for thirty minutes. Likewise, if you’re used to writing with a pen, try thirty minutes of typing into a computer. This sounds simplistic, but it seems to function like a factory reset for the brain.
If you’ve tried everything and are still blocked, consider Rachael Cayley’s advice. In her March 2018 blog she says: “Most graduate writers who are struggling with their writing are actually struggling with their thinking.” Cayley suggests that writing through writer’s block is the best way to conquer it. She recommends changing fonts to indicate that what you write next is for your eyes only and will be deleted from the paper before it is submitted. Then, write exactly what your misgivings are: “I’m worried that what I’m writing here…” followed by “To figure this out, I need to…”
Have you suffered from writer’s block? What do you do to unblock? Please share your suggestions. We’re all in this struggle together.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.
 Rachael Cayley is an associate professor (teaching stream) at the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, which is part of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto.