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On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

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It happens to every writer — it’s inevitable. Your prose has turned to mush, you don’t have a creative bone left in your body, and you want to throw in the towel.

Writer's Block

Photo credit: Erin Kohlenberg

Writer’s block. Every writer struggles with it. But what you do with it is what really matters.

Common causes of writer’s block

The reasons for your block may vary, but here are some commonly-occurring ones:

  • Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. Your ideas may need to stew a little longer before writing them down.
  • Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid — with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Fear is a major reason some writers never become writers.
  • Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin.

How do we vanquish this enemy?

It’s a tough question to answer, and I’m afraid I don’t have a great solution. I’ve personally wrestled with writer’s block on many occasions, and each victory looked different.

That’s the thing about writing: it’s an art, not a science. And you’ll have to approach it as such. There is no formulaic fix, no “7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer Now.”

Well, except one. But you already know what it is: Start hacking away. Begin trying stuff. Sometimes, the quirkier, the better. The trick is find something that works for you.

Creative solutions to writer’s block

Here are a few ideas to help you work through your creative constipation:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Eliminate distractions (I use Ommwriter to focus on just writing).
  • Do something to get your blood flowing. (I like running.)
  • Play. (My personal preference is LEGOS.)
  • Change your environment.
  • Read a book.
  • Freewrite.
  • Listen to music (try classical or jazz to mix it up).
  • Brew some coffee (my personal favorite).
  • Create a routine. Many famous writers have daily routines to summon the Muse.
  • Spend time with someone who makes you feel good.
  • Call an old friend.
  • Brainstorm ideas in bullet points.
  • Read some inspiring quotes to get you started.

The possibilities are endless, but movement is critical. You need to generate momentum to get out of your funk.

Once you start heading in a direction, it’s easier to pick up speed. And before you know it, your block will be a distant memory and you’ll be doing what you once thought impossible.

You’ll be writing.

How to not overcome writer’s block

And just for fun, here are some anti-solutions to this problem:

  • You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by watching TV.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by reading articles on how to overcome writer’s block. (Kinda shot myself in the foot there, huh?)

The fail-proof solution

If you’re still not satisfied, you have one last resort, an ace up your sleeve. The silver bullet solution. The fail-proof way to overcome writer’s block is one you already know. In fact, you’ve been avoiding it this whole time, because it’s precisely what you don’t want to hear.

You overcome writer’s block by writing.

Start somewhere — anywhere. Write a few lines. Say anything. And see what happens. Don’t think about it too much or make any fancy announcements. Just write. It doesn’t need to be eloquent or presentable; it just needs to be written..

Write for the joy of writing. Because you can’t not do it. Don’t try to say or produce anything; just get some words on paper — now. No excuses or justifications.

You can write. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Just type a few words. They don’t have to be good (all first drafts suck). It just has to be written. Then you have something to work it. You can tweak from there.

If you do this, you’ll get past the hump. I promise. The difference between professional writers and amateurs is this: Both encounter blocks, but one pushes through while the other gets paralyzed.

You can do this. Just write.

(One caveat: This technique only works if you’re truly blocked and not “empty,” which is an entirely different matter altogether.)

How do you overcome writer’s block? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Ben Girdler

    this is what i needed. have have felt “blocked” for several months now. i need to just write, something, anything.

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    i agree, ben. just go for it. you’ll get re-inspired. why not start and see what comes out?

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    Thanks.

  • http://www.ArialBurnz.com Gina Henderson

    I stumbled upon your blog and I believe I can help eliminate Writer’s Block!

    Writer’s block is when our conscious mind – that critical and analytical part of our brain – gets in the way of our subconscious mind – the creative and free-flowing part of our brain that speaks in images and symbols. After all, the subconscious is where our stories are birthed.

    I have step-by-step instruction on how to unlock the subconscious on my blog and eliminate writer’s block. I hope it helps for anyone who runs into writer’s block.

    Happy writing, everyone!!

    That’s my two pence…
    Arial ;)

    • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Gina.

  • http://adammclane.com adam mclane

    For me, writers block tends to come when I’m stressed by deadlines. I do agree that writers block is sometimes overcome just by writing. And taking time off isn’t really the solution, especially if you get paid to write. (‘cos the rent is still due!)

    I deal with it a few ways.
    1. I write about something fun. Whatever comes easy. Just get something done… even if it isn’t getting published.
    2. Try to maintain my writing routine. When I miss that I tend to be less productive.
    3. I write a lot when I’m in the zone. I’ve noticed that I get excited about a project when I pitch it, but when the deadline comes for it I tend to no remember why I was so excited. So now I make writing a big chunk of it a prerequisite for myself submitting an idea. That way… I just have to go in and finish my thoughts, edit, etc and not start over!

    Other than that, the normal stuff works for me. Change of venue. Taking walks. Eliminating distractions. Yada yada yada.

    • Jeff Goins

      Love that, Adam. It goes along with Anne Lamott’s thoughts on writer’s block being creative “emptiness” (not simply a “block”). If that’s true, then going somewhere or doing something that fills us up is a necessity.

  • http://eileenknowles.blogspot.com eileen

    When I finally started writing again a couple years ago (fear and perfectionism held me back for years) I came across this post. When I saw the title to the blog post, I thought it would give me the secret to becoming a better writer. The short cut. Haha. I now have the 10 simple rules to becoming a better writer taped to my desk. http://www.copyblogger.com/become-a-better-writer/

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      great post! i loved that. thanks for sharing, eileen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joebunting27 Joe Bunting

    This is really good. All the good tips are there.

    Once, I had writer’s block so bad I lay down on the floor of my apartment / office and starting saying out loud, “I hate this. I hate this book. I want to quit. I never want to write again. How do I make that happen?”

    Later that night, over beer and wings, I told my friends my story, and as I was talking about it I realized what I was feeling. “I didn’t want to write again because I didn’t ever want to feel as stupid as I did in that moment.”

    The best advice about writer’s block I’ve ever heard doesn’t come from a writer but a Jungian therapist in Hollywood who charges his oscar winning clients over $300 an hour for his services.

    The article is from the New Yorker and it’s free:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/03/21/110321fa_fact_goodyear

    He says writer’s block comes from an inability to live with your shadow, the dark side of yourself you hide away in the corner.

    My shadow is a 9 year old boy who is the biggest dork you’ve ever met. He wears short red shorts and pink t-shirts and is completely oblivious to “the rules,” those guidelines of normal human relationship. People think he’s a stupid wimp.

    But I love him. Or, I’m trying to learn to love him. Not just because I can’t write without him, but because he’s really me.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      GREAT comment, Joe. Thanks for sharing. I like that dork, too…

      • http://www.facebook.com/joebunting27 Joe Bunting

        Thanks Jeff. Yeah, he’s a cute little squirt.

        • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

          hah!

  • http://katieax.blogspot.com Katie Axelson

    One thing I’ve found is that unproductivity yields productivity. That is to say doing something totally unrelated to writing often leads to writing. I like to cut the grass because I can ponder whatever I’m working on without the pressure of staring at the blinding blank paper. Unless I’m freewriting, I don’t get the paper out until I have a few sentences or a nearly-complete thought because it’s stifling to stare at it.

    Katie

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      I agree. The lack of productivity is (sometimes) just a creative stewing.

  • http://beingministry.com Paul

    I steal this from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. Take yourself on a date. Do it alone and do whatever you want. My preference leans towards gardens and hiking.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      I just started reading that book, Paul. SO good.

    • http://eileenknowles.blogspot.com eileen

      I love that book. I also liked her book The Right To Write. Good stuff!

      • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

        I’m definitely interested in her other works.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joebunting27 Joe Bunting

      I agree Paul. She’s awesome.

  • http://movethemountains.blogspot.com Chad Jones

    Sometimes when I’m not “feeling it,” I will cannibalize comments I’ve left on other blogs, and turn them into posts. This has worked on numerous occasions. I find also that I can’t write first thing in the morning, but need to wait until about mid-morning for things to gel (and the coffee to kick in!). This makes for long bathroom visits at work, but hey! at least the muse is visiting! ;-)

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      nice! i like the pragmatism of that, Chad. way to use your “byproduct.”

      • http://movethemountains.blogspot.com Chad Jones

        For me at least it gets the gears rolling again. When I respond to a
        post that seems to come from a different part of my brain than when
        I’m composing a post of my own.

        If I could point to a similar example in the professional world, I’d
        say look no farther than Brandon Sanderson, who’s got to be one of the
        hardest working writers around today (he’s finishing Robert Jordan’s
        Wheel of Time). Anyway, Sanderson composes new works in the morning,
        and does edits on another at night–saying each exercises a different
        area of his brain.

        • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

          very cool, chad.

  • http://www.gritandglory.com/ Alece

    i’ve been intrigued by ommwriter forever now. i need to give that thing a try.

    and your ending distinction between being blocked and being empty is HUGE.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      you’ll love it. i’ve had friends who were skeptical about it become instant believers. it’s pretty magical. no joke. (I was one of the skeptics.)

  • http://taminprogress.com tam

    so, very, helpful!

    i’m gonna check out omm right now.

    thanks, jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      thanks, tam!

  • MandyThompson

    I LOVE me some Ommwriter!!! And bravo for writing a “How NOT to Overcome” list! That’s just as important as the “How-To” list. Oh man I’m a fan of this blog. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      thanks, mandy

  • http://louisebroadbentfiction.wordpress.com/ Louise Broadbent

    True, dat.

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      thanks, louise.

  • http://bryan-hills.blogspot.com bryankhill

    These are some great ideas here. I love the “anti solutions” section…

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      thanks, bryan.

  • http://twitter.com/PeterPaluska Peter Paluska

    I’m still not sure Writer’s Block exists. I think it’s a myth, like Santa Claus and the Lemony Snicket.. oh wait, they’re real? But I did enjoy reading this article, Jeff. Good ideas to break through the down moments. They sure do happen.
    Here’s one: what do writer’s who live on the same street do when they can’t write? Have a writer’s block party!
    Haha! Thanks as always, Jeff.

    Peter

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      Thanks Peter.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnYates John Yates

    Not sure the source of this quote but I’ve heard it from several people “No one likes writing, but everyone likes having written”

    • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

      Amen

    • http://simon.weston.over-blog.net Simon

      Writing has to be a passion, but more importantly when you start and end each day in prayer, God always blesses you with fresh ideas, motivation and creativity!

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  • http://twitter.com/vicktorya Vicktorya Stone

    “You do not overcome writer’s block by reading articles on how to
    overcome writer’s block. (Kinda shot myself in the foot there, huh?)” 
    Can you overcome writer’s block by looking for a mentor to help kick one’s ass into gear?

  • http://www.friv10.co/ friv 10

    This is what I’ve been looking for. Thank you!

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  • Sigh…

    I so needed to hear this! Was unable to get anything done, blamed my multiple sclerosis which was stupid. Started writing yesterday, like you said, just write. Today looked up writer’s block online and found your website (again) the best of all for writers. Thanks again!

  • Rajani Arya

    Mr. Jeff, You are the Best. I read many articles and blogs but everytime i come here, i feel so connected and inspired. Thank u so so much for sharing your words, your knowledge with us. Love you. God bless.

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