Many writers – both aspiring and established – have at some time come up against the dreaded writer’s block. This is a discouraging and debilitating experience that can leave you doubting your abilities, and unsure if you should even be writing stories in the first place. But what if we may be making an unnecessary monster out of a paper tiger? Here are physical and mental techniques to help you tame the monster, get past the block, and back to writing.
Getting physical: exercises to help unblock your creativity
Get your blood pumping
Besides improving overall health, physical activity is also known to enhance your cognitive functioning. Activities such as walking, yoga and swimming (to name but a few – pursue whatever physical activity feels more like fun and less like work) boost blood flow to the brain, reducing stress and boosting creativity.
A change of scene: the benefits of a different environment
A new environment has the potential to be of great benefit to your creativity. Libraries can be wonderfully peaceful yet inspiring places to help you break through writer’s block, as can a local walking trail or a new coffee shop. Remember to carry a notebook or voice recorder with you to take advantage of fresh writing ideas that may come when you explore a new environment.
Allow yourself some freewriting
Freewriting involves setting a timer for a specific stretch of time (when starting out, give 15 minutes a try) and writing without pause and without worrying about grammar, structure, or clarity. Allow your thoughts to flow freely – this will encourage your subconscious mind to express itself. Freewriting can be a very useful technique to help you overcome insecurity and self-censorship, and to encourage a more unconstrained writing process.
Use prompts and writing exercises
Writing prompts or creative exercises can be very useful to jumpstart your imagination. There are multiple sources to mine for writing prompts: they are available in books and online, and can also be generated randomly – a fun experience with sometimes unpredictable but useful results.
Creativity often blossoms when two (or more) unrelated ideas are combined to create something that did not exist before. These exercises serve as a creative launching pad, helping you bypass the initial resistance and to get the words down.
Mental techniques for breaking writer’s block
Make space for meditation
Just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation every day can help to circumvent the anxiety that goes with writer’s block. This meditation involves focusing on the present moment and observing your thoughts without judgment.
Writer’s block is our own mind getting in our way, and meditation is a wonderfully peaceful and effective way to deal with this.
As Sri Chinmoy said: ‘I meditate so that my mind cannot complicate my life.’
Regular mindfulness meditation helps to train the mind to let go of distractions and to cultivate a calm and focused state beneficial for creative thinking.
Create a writing routine
By establishing a consistent routine, you are signalling to your brain that it’s time to write. This could involve a ritual that indicates your intention to start writing, such as lighting a candle, playing a particular kind of music, or enjoying a cup of tea before starting your writing session. Creating a ritual conditions your mind to enter a pro-writing attitude, making it easier to overcome writer’s block. Having a routine also helps you to be persistent, which is essential to finishing a writing project.
Octavia Butler was right on the money when she said: ‘You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.’
Break your project into smaller, more manageable tasks
We would do well to take heed of Mark Twain’s advice that, ‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.’
Writer’s block can often seem terrifyingly formidable when faced with a large writing project. Breaking it down into smaller tasks or chapters allows you to focus on one section at a time. Doable tasks alleviate a lot of the writing pressure and help you regain a sense of progress. That’s how you gradually build momentum with your writing.
Perfectionism can be a tireless enemy of creativity. Keep in mind that your first draft doesn’t need to be flawless. I was struggling with the perfectionism monster while writing my first novel and putting a great deal of useless pressure on myself. Then I came to a very useful realisation that I still remember today: I don’t need to write my best novel on my first attempt, I just need to try and write the best first novel that I can.
So give yourself permission for that first draft to be embarrassingly rough, and edit later. By letting go of the need for perfection, you free yourself from self-imposed constraints, allowing your creativity to flow.
Part of our writing journey is understanding that writer’s block is a temporary setback and one that every writer encounters at some point. By implementing these physical and mental exercises, we can break through the barriers of writer’s block and reclaim our creative spirit.
Remember, the key is to keep writing, even if the words don’t come easily at first. Charles Bukowski even said, ‘Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.’
Through practice and perseverance, along with a willingness to explore new techniques, you can overcome writer’s block. So, pick up that pen or open that document, don’t worry about the end result, and let your imagination soar once again.
Dive into the thrilling journey of crafting your very own novel at the Writers College! You’ll be guided step-by-step by an acclaimed, award-winning author. Unearth the secrets to riveting storytelling. No rush, no stress, just your imagination running free at your own pace. Transform from a novice to a pro, learning tools to create a manuscript ready for the publisher’s desk. Or simply enjoy the pleasure of bringing your characters to life. Grab your spot NOW, and let’s craft your manuscript together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Salomon has received the PEN Literary Award for African Fiction and the Short.Sharp.Stories Award. His debut novel, Tokoloshe Song was shortlisted for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award, and his short fiction has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He is the author of the Young Adult thrillers The Chrysalis and Wonderbear, and his latest novel is the dark fantasy thriller The Equilibrist, set in Cumbria.
Andrew completed an MA at the Institute for Archaeology at University College London, and some of his most memorable experiences have been at rock painting and engraving sites in rock shelters and subterranean caves across the world. These often find their way into his fiction.
As an experienced tutor for well over a decade at the Writers College, Salomon tutors on several courses, including the Write a Novel Course, the Advanced Novel Writing Course, and the Short Story Writing Course. Here, he guides aspiring writers, transferring his wealth of knowledge and skills, while continuing to inspire with his literary achievements.