It’s a situation many writers know all too well: You’re making progress on your next big project until suddenly … you aren’t. The words just don’t seem to come, and every time you start to jot down a new sentence or phrase, it just feels inadequate. Or maybe you can’t even bring yourself to sit down at your desk at all.
Wordsmiths — even the most talented ones — occasionally battle writer’s block. For some, it might even be part of their creative process. The good news is there are lots of ways to push through roadblocks and start moving forward again. Here are some tried-and-tested strategies.
1. Try freewriting exercises.
Sometimes, our own expectations are at the root of feeling like we can’t write. “By setting a timer for 10 minutes and just writing anything — without stopping — you're subverting your ‘inner editor’ and tapping into a creative flow state,” explains Amy Suto, a TV writer and novelist. It’s a great way to generate some new material to work with, even if you end up only actually using a small portion of it.
2. Change your perspective.
“If you are not making progress with your idea or story, try a different approach, ”suggests Suzanne Wylde, author of Feeling Happy, Feeling Strong: Exercises for Transforming Stress, Anxiety, Worry and Fear into Deeper Connection with Ourselves. You might switch from typing on your laptop to writing by hand or drawing a mind map of your writing topic. You could even imagine yourself as a reader, and write out what you think they would be expecting or hoping for, Wylde says. Anything that helps you come at your subject matter from a different angle is likely to help.
3. Look back at your personal highlight reel.
When Joe Diorio, author of A Few Words About Words, a common-sense look at writing and grammar, feels stuck, he turns back to some of his past writing he’s happy with. “Better yet, I start to rewrite those things just to flex my writing memory,” he adds. Reminding yourself what you're capable of might just be the boost of confidence and inspiration you need.
4. Develop a strong writing routine.
This is a long-game strategy, but the payoff is huge. “A strong writing routine means writing at the same time every day for relatively the same length of time so that it becomes routine,” notes K. M. Robinson, author of many YA books including Cindrill. “Creating consistency and not allowing yourself to step outside that consistency (except for emergencies) trains you as a writer the way an athlete builds up their endurance to perform their sport.” When writing truly feels like a habit, you’re less likely to get stopped up.
5. Leave yourself something to say.
A small investment in your current writing session can save you from experiencing writer’s block in your next one. “Rather than writing until you’re out of ideas, write until you have one last good idea or a great sentence, and make yourself stop before you finish,” explains Luanne Smith, a fiction writer and former creative writing professor. “Make notes if you need to. The idea is to leave yourself with a starting point when you come back to the piece.”
6. Imagine what your favorite writer would do.
If there’s a writer you look up to, try to pull some inspiration from their work and style. “Wonder how they might move forward with this part of the book and why,” Wylde suggests. “If you like, you can imagine speaking with them about it in your mind's eye, asking them questions and imagining how they might answer.” This approach helps you get out of your head and engage with another point of view — even if it’s imaginary!
7. Give yourself permission to write out of order.
Very few works get written in order from start to finish. “If you get stuck, rather than trying to figure out what comes next, jump ahead to a new scene or idea you have,” Smith says. There’s no rule that says you have to power directly through.