The mere mention of writers block may send shivers through writers. Writers with deadlines and literary commitments to keep never want to get stuck with this block.
You may have had the problem of not knowing how to proceed with your writing and get beyond writers block.
You eagerly put pen to paper and keystroke to computer in the hope and anticipation of some magical words to flow through you. But your mind draws a blank.
You get more restless and feel the panic creep in.
You take the first distraction that you can run away with to avoid the feelings of getting stuck.
You hope and wish that the next time would be better.
Have you felt the panic and the desperation of being in a place where you have felt blocked as a writer?
Here are some ideas that might give you a blast of relief:
1. Have More Restrictions
This idea might sound counter intuitive for busting through writers block. You may believe that creativity is spontaneous and does not work well with restrictions.
Often, having no restrictions makes it more difficult to focus and come up with relevant words to put to paper.
Mark Rosewater is the lead game designer of the popular game, Magic-The gathering. Rosewater says that restrictions, rules and frameworks are good for creativity.
“Restrictions create breeding grounds for creativity.”-Mark Rosewater
Rosewater says that some of the beneficial rules are clarity, structure, consistency and focus.
Rosewater gives the example of giving an experienced writer a topic on even days and allowing her mind to wander freely on odd days.
She will be more creative on the even days when she restricts herself with a topic.
Having a topic pushes writers to find new associations.
But, if they allow their mind to wander, they may revert back to what they already know.
In the production process of Magic, when there is no theme, Rosewater believes that his mind reverts back to what he has done before.
But if you give his mind a theme such as "creatures," his mind fires up and he is ready to unleash his creativity.
Ask if you have some restrictions, rules and frameworks for your writing?
Do you experience more frustration with writing when you allow your mind to wander freely and produce new ideas out of nothing?
2. Set Up Triggers And Cues, deep practice: Habitual Writing and Creative Rituals
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.”-W. Somerset Maugham
Do you believe that you need to be blessed by the muses before you can write and produce work that matters?
Or do you believe what prolific creative writers believe?
The most creative believe the idea that creativity is a habit and writing needs practice everyday.
The famous writer Anthony Trollope had a daily ritual of rising at 5:30 am and writing till 11 am. Trollope penned 46 novels in his career.
Research from neuroscientist Ann Graybiel’s laboratory in MIT has divided habits into three parts. A trigger or a cue, actions that follow the trigger and an eventual reward.
Set up a trigger or a cue that allows you to get started with your creative day. When you follow a ritual, you have a better chance in making creative writing a habit.
Famous choreographer and dancer, Twyla Tharp gives the example of the composer Igor Stravinsky.
Stravinsky had a morning ritual where after entering his studio, he would first sit at the piano and play a Bach fugue.
Bach was Stravinsky’s hero and perhaps he needed the ritual to seek blessings. Perhaps he wanted to feel connected with his music or get his fingers moving.
“After so many years, I’ve learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That’s why writers, for example, like to establish routines for themselves. The most productive ones get started early in the morning, when the world is quiet, the phones aren’t ringing, and their minds are rested, alert, and not yet polluted by other people’s words. They might set a goal for themselves — write fifteen hundred words, or stay at their desk until noon — but the real secret is that they do this every day. In other words, they are disciplined. Over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit.”-Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
3. Understand How To Get Into Flow
Writers block can manifest itself as a disconnection or a sense of lack of flow with your writing.
Research by the eminent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shows that flow happens under unique conditions.
When you are engaging your undivided attention in an attempt that tests the limits of your skills and still challenges you, you experience flow.
Flow is a state of intrinsic motivation and the experience is self-rewarding.
To bust through writers block and connect to your flow state:
A. Engage your undivided focus and attention on a well-defined writing project.
B. Write at the edge of your skill level attempting to slowly increase your skills by pushing the boundaries. This makes the writing difficult and yet enjoyable.
C. Dial up the challenge level and take up writing projects that challenge you instead of staying within your comfort zone.
D. Receive real time feedback from your writing by reading aloud to keep you engaged and inspired.
“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
4. The Power Of The Bed, Bath and the Bus
When you are experiencing writers block, remember the 3 B’s of creativity where ideas abound. The three B’s are the Bed, the Bath and the Bus.
If you are not able to generate any new ideas or plots for that writing piece, sometimes the best thing you can do is to sleep on it. The key is to leave a notebook and pen close by on your nightstand. If you do receive that next idea, you can wake up and jot it down.
The bath and bus work to shake up writers block because they are relaxing activities. You do not need to drive and there is something about deep relaxation that gets the gears of the mind going.
In an interview given to Time magazine, psychologist R. Keith Sawyer talks about the 3 B’s of creativity research- the bathtub, the bus and the bed. The three B’s are singular places where creative ideas abound.
This involves taking time off the problem or changing the context. Sawyer explains that usually many tiny sparks of insight add up to the solution.
Sawyer provides examples of the incremental building of small strokes of insight in the work of Wright brothers, Charles Darwin, T.S. Eliot and Jackson Pollock.
5. Let Go Of Resistance
When you are experiencing writers block, you may increase the emotional charge by making the block a big deal.
Become aware of the idea that every writer experiences blocks in some form or manner.
When you allow your thoughts, feelings and actions to dwell in the energy of the writers block, you are adding fuel to the fire.
If I tell you “red car” over and over, you are more likely to notice all the red cars around. But until I brought that to your attention, you were not aware of the red cars moving on the street.
Like the famous quote goes, what we resist, persists.
Are you resisting writers block or are you allowing it and giving you some time to clear through it?
“Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Twyla Tharp calls the process of getting a toehold in the creative process as scratching.
The initial steps in the creative process are random, fuzzy and chaotic. Tharp believes that it is not enough for her to begin dancing but she needs a tangible idea that she can get a foothold and get going.
Tharp gives the example of a fashion designer as scratching when she is watching videos, visiting stores and sits in a cafe to observe what people are wearing.
Tharp says that we get ideas from everywhere.
If you are experiencing writers block, stop writing and scratch for ideas to get a better foothold in the writing process.
You may want to do extra research, visit places or find other sources to scratch away.
7. Create Structural Tension
In my opinion, a lot of blocks arise from not knowing how to proceed forward with your creative project.
Do you know where you would like to go in your creative writing process?
Identify clearly where you are at the current moment and where you would like to be at the end of your creative process.
Identifying the start and the end creates structural tension according to Robert Fritz in his book, The Path of Least Resistance.
Robert explains that like a rubber band wanting to return back to its original shape, structural tension seeks resolution.
When you do not create the tension in your writing efforts, your focus may be diffuse and the manifestation of your writing may be weak.
Of course, if you are writing fiction, you may not have a clear end goal in sight. You may still be able to create structural tension for each chapter that allows the completion of that chunk.
8. Write, do not edit
Perfectionism is one of the most common reasons for writers block. When you want your work to be perfect and feel terrified of scrutiny and feedback, you are setting up for blocks.
One of the best ways that I have found to get over the tyranny of perfectionism is to just write.
Write bad work but write nonetheless.
Keep writing and do not go back to edit. Often, you find your work more appealing later on.
Ditch Perfectionism by doing the best you can and creating a deadline to launch.
9. Use The Power Of Personas
The use of personas is a creative way to step out of your ideas and perspective and enter the boundless worlds of imagination.
You can choose to think from the perspective of your characters for some new ideas.
In classic Jungian persona and archetype style, you can explore different perspectives.
Try thinking from the perspective of the following:
The devils advocate.
You may also ask what your favorite writer would do.
What would Hemmingway do or what would Charlotte Brontë do when they experience blocks? What habits and mannerisms do your favorite writers have in common?
10. Go to the Coffee store or change the environment by taking a walk
The coffee store or taking a walk are great ways to get through writers block. This works because you experience a change of scenario and stimulate your brain to form new associations and relax.
Staying at the same keyboard and typing away may cause writers block if you do not allow any change of environment.
Shake up things by going for a brisk walk in nature and see how invigorated and enthusiastic you feel about your writing project.
Now over to you! Let me know in the comments below if this post resonated with you and how do you get beyond writers block?
About Harish Kumar
My name is Harish and I have been fascinated by the power and potential of the human spirit for over two decades.
I am a self-development blogger, teacher and writer. In the past, I worked as a scientist and t-shirt designer. I am very interested in behavioral psychology, creativity and innovation. I have been passionately interested in personal-development for over 2 decades now and only recently I decided to launch my work and share it with the world.
I am also very interested in ancient knowledge and also contemporary works including zen buddhism and mindfulness, yoga, positive psychology, human behavior, marketing and business and others. Most importantly, I am interested in using and synthesizing the knowledge of the ages and creating bite size pieces that are hopefully relevant and useful to you-the reader.
You can connect with Harish over at his blog at Launchyourgenius and sign up for free inspiring updates about launching your creativity and genius.
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