Harper Lee is rumoured to have suffered from it; so too did Henry Roth. Harold Brodkey, a New Yorker’s short story writer had it so bad it took him 30 years to finish his first novel.
Yes, I’m talking about writer’s block, that dreaded ‘condition’ where one loses the ability to produce new work or one’s creativity slows down.
As someone who occasionally suffers from this herself (this blog should have been written two weeks ago, for example), I was keen to learn more about what causes it, and importantly, how to get over it? To find some answers, I went direct to the people who know best – writers.
Initially, there was some debate as to whether it even existed.
“There is no such thing as writer’s block, there is only procrastination”, said Julia Thorley, author of Nine Lives.
Hers was a view that was countered by Michele Bartlett, a writer and psychotherapist from the same group, who argued: “There is however momentary lack of inspiration.”
For Tracy Bleier, a writer and yoga instructor, it went deeper than that. She said there were many reasons for why writer’s block occurs, ranging from a lack of confidence through to self-sabotage.
“Our ego or inner critic overtakes our natural state. We are overthinking, tightening over managing when we put ourselves in front of the work. The work we create has so much to say before it’s even written. It is a condition of us forgetting that something greater is present than our own expectations of ourselves as writers.
Or if it’s not that, it’s about “distractability. We aren’t making time but making excuses,” she said.
All of which is well and good, but just because I know I might be procrastinating, doesn’t necessarily stop me from doing so.
So how can someone overcome writer’s block once they find themselves inflicted. Here’s what was suggested…
1. Change your frame of mind
“Sadly what works best is usually a good slug of bourbon and a smoke. I prefer to try exercise, playing or listening to music, or just giving up for an hour and doing something else,”
Luke Hindmarsh, author of Mercury’s Son
“Reading usually does it for me. Or music. Or doing something creative that isn’t writing”
Brittany Tabler, a poet from the United States
“Moving into silence, quietening my internal voices, finding that expansive, peaceful state of being. That’s when the flow begins again.”
Christi Landrum, writer and Transformational Life Coach from Washington
“Sometimes when I can’t think of what to write, I remove myself from the surroundings and involve my mind in something else,”
Scott Frostholm, a copywriter in the USA
“I walk my dogs, or clean the house or exercise. I find physical activity helps the brain to turn over and come up with ideas.”
Angie Weiss, who is writing her first piece of work
Maybe we all need to walk the dog. It’s one of my favourites
Kelly Peisley at the Creative Copy Experience in Queensland, Australia
2. Keep writing – even if what comes out is awful
“Sometimes if you just keep writing, even though it seems rubbish, you can write yourself out of it”
Frances Ainslie, a member of the Wild Words Facebook Group
“When I hit a plot issues I need to work through, I leave the tyranny of the keyboard, go into a different room with a pad and keep scribbling notes until it’s solved. Usually I don’t ever need to look at the notes again – it’s in my head after that process.”
Terry, a publisher at Interact Publishing
“I was stuck on an ending for an essay and finally decided to try writing by hand. It worked! Once I moved away from the computer, the words flowed. Check out Lynda Barry if you haven’t already. She wrote a book by hand because she believes it’s how creativity flows. She said it took less than half the time as her prior books.
Terri McCubbin Steel, a creative writer from Baltimore
3. Take the pressure off
“When I used to write screenplays, if I had writer’s block, I would pick a movie where something didn’t play out the way I wanted it to or the way I thought it should, and I’d start to rewrite it. It took the pressure off of coming up with wholly original characters and story. It was a fun exercise to get the creative juices flowing.
Christopher Kingery, a writer and filmmaker,
“Chatting about my idea with someone who is really interested in my work”
David Wagoner, a member of the Writer's Fight Club Facebook Group
4. Try writing more than one story at once
“Switching backwards and forwards between the three books I have on the go helps me keep going and maintain my edge”
Peter Martin, author of TP1000: The Bishops, which is scheduled for release this month by Heggerwood Realms
“The best way to overcome writer’s block is to write on many projects at the same time. And go to the next project as soon as you exhaust what you came up with in the first project. By the time you are done with say, give projects, you would have come up with what to write in project one… This is better than facing one project til you finish writing as it will lead to writer’s block as you stop to think up things to write.
Shadrach Emeka, a member of the Online Copywriters Facebook Group
What about you? Have you ever experienced writer’s block and how did you beat it? Or maybe you haven’t and you’re reading this blog for help. Either way, we’d love to know – share your story in the blog below.
With thanks, Becky
If you would like to join a small group of writers to learn more about the writing process, why not
check out L'atelier des ecrivains - the Writer's Workshop, France. Led by the award-winning
novellist, Helen Cross, and taking place in beautiful southwest France, this could be just
what you need to drive your creativity forward. https://www.latelierdesecrivains.com