I hate the sense of panic that arises when I feel the words running dry, as if it were water bleeding from my pen; cut-off from its reservoir of creativity. Or those moments that seem infinitely worse, when my lips can taste the words dancing away from the tip of my tongue. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like the very gift meant to save your sanity is the same one that is driving you insane.
One of that questions I consistently get asked, and one I also ask people about, is writer’s block. In the post below, I wanted to share some of the ways that I address writer’s block. And I’d like to hear from you too! Tell me what you do to overcome your own writer’s block in the comments section below.
1) It’s all mental
In the five seconds it has taken me to bring pen to paper, I have already identified a thousand ways that what I’m about to say is not good enough. It is not that I lack the words; it’s that I’m already judging how imperfect those words will be. One of the things I do is; take a pen and paper and write about anything:
- lousy poetry
- lyrics to my favourite song – that I never seem to remember correctly
- random thoughts and notes
It doesn’t need to make sense or tell a story; it is just a mind dump where my aim is to have fun. It helps me get “unstuck”. And most times, in those random notes, I unearth some of my favourite poetry pieces, or the solution to the line I was searching for.
Elevate the mind dump:
Write down all the things your inner critic is saying to you about why you can’t do it. When you see those words on paper, you’ll realize how unfounded your fears are. If not, take the additional step of writing a counter-story to every negative fear. For example, I will say:
- My poetry is not that great: my counter-story is I know it is because it resonates with many people.
2) Walking away helps
The best thing we can do when we have a problem, is to walk away from it. Go for a walk, or dance in the living room. When I walk, I am reflective and observe what is happening around me. When I dance, the music is on full blast, and I get lost in the moment. Funny enough, both of these extremely different activities generate the same outcome. They both take me to a place of contemplative meditation. Dancing gets my heart pumping and my mind racing, while walking calms the voice and fires off ideas. I always carry my phone to take a voice note, or a small notebook to jot down ideas. “Waking away from …” can look like reading, cooking, or doing anything else that takes your mind off of your writing.
Elevate walking away by learning a new skill:
One of the things I have done this year is trying to paint. I draw stick figures, and have not painted since I was in high school. I find that working on something that takes my concentration so wholly (I am not great at it) lets me have fun with it and it takes the mind off writing.
3) Journal it out
Similar to the first method, this is a more focused way to do a mind dump. Instead of writing whatever comes to mind, write about the topic you were tackling when you got stuck. Give yourself a time limit (10, 15, or 20 mins.) where you cannot walk away and then write absolutely everything you know about that topic. For example, if I am writing about mental health, for a:
- Poem: I would journal about my experiences, my feelings, and my emotions when I was in a period of depression or joy.
- Story: I would imagine how my character would feel, what they would share with the other people in the story, what they would hold back, and then journal like I was them.
- Article or research paper – I will write down everything I know about the topic, including stats (without worrying about accuracy).
Focus your journaling on asking what you do not know. What information would you like to know? Ask yourself questions and see if you can answer them. You’ll be surprised by how much you actually do know.
4) Structure and sub-titles
When writing pieces for articles, research papers or my dissertation, one of the things I did was go through my notes and start grouping them by ideas, or sub-heading. Notes that belonged in my introduction, I would highlight or draw a box around in one colour, then use a another colour for quotes or ideas that could be used to prove an argument. If you want, you can take the additional step of assigning a different notebook to each idea and copying over the notes and your ideas in the designated notebook. Thank you to my grade 10 English teacher Ms. Edwards for this idea. It helps to reorganize all the information you have under topics and themes, usually after doing this, you realize just how much you know or have to say about something.
Elevate the Structure model:
I elevate this technique by using chart paper and mixed media. During my master’s thesis, I filled the walls of my home with chart paper. Each paper had a heading, which was a subtitle or theme. I would take post-it notes and write down different things and ideas under each one; again, not worrying about finding supporting proof. The best part about using post-it notes, is if something doesn’t seem like it belongs there, you can easily move it somewhere else.
Don’t limit yourself to writing on these pages, draw mock-graphs, or post images that are inspiring or speaking to your content. I tend to be more visual and find that changing the way the information is displayed helps me to see the information differently. Have fun with this method, use stickers, draw angry faces when you are frustrated, it is about having fun and realizing you have space to expand to creative being.
5) Talk it out
Talking to someone about your idea is also an excellent way to get your mind “unstuck”. Sometimes explaining your work to someone who doesn’t know anything about it, is a great way to simplify the complex ideas in your head and get you thinking about things differently. I am slightly extroverted, so bouncing ideas off other people, and talking it out, gets my creative juices following. Make sure you hit record on your phone – ‘cause sometimes you won’t remember the words (or solutions) after you’ve said them.
Why not try holding an online class about your topic or style of writing- right now everyone is trying to learn new skills and take classes. Presenting to strangers who want to learn about something you know about is a great way to challenge yourself to think differently. It also brings points of view from people who are not in your usual circle and expands your thought process.
A final tip I would recommend is; if you are typing on your computer, change the medium, and write by hand – pen on paper.
I hope these tips help you out the next time you’re stuck with your words.
Drop a note below on what methods work for you and which you’d like to try.