5 ways of overcoming writer's block

Image copyright Min Cooper, reproduced by permission

 

1. Step back. To write well you must be creative and critical – though not at the same time. If writer’s block looms, the critical side has taken control. Remove yourself from the source of conflict – take a cool drink, a hot bath, or a wet and windy walk.

 

2. Worry less. Any piece of writing is judged on the final version, not on the first draft. You are not a failed human being if you do not get it right first time.

 

3. Go back to the beginning. It is almost impossible to complete a task well if you do not really know what that task is. Jot down on a scrap of paper what you are trying to write – one idea, as precise as possible. Also jot down for whom you are writing – and why. You may well find you are stuck for a good reasonl, such as not really knowing what you want to say, or to whom. 

 

4. Have another think: Brainstorm. With your revised piece clearly in mind, spend five minutes writing down all the questions that you now need to answer. From this, work out a new plan.

 

5.Write quickly. Set aside about 20 minutes in a quiet place and, with your brief and plan to hand, start writing. Leave your detailed notes outside. Do not check details such as facts and spellings: you can do this later. When you have finished this draft, put it on one side. When you come back to it you will certainly have to do some revision. But you will have completed the first draft – and will have unblocked the brain.

Different types of writer's block

  • Early onset writer's block: you don't know where to start so you stop.
  • Writer's block by proxy: you don't know where to start so you do more research.
  • Perfect first sentence syndrome: you wait until the right one comes along, which it probably won't.
  • Mid-stream writer's block: you grind to a halt because you are not sure whether you are on the right track.
  • Boredom: you grind to a halt because you are . . . bored
  • Post writing traumatic stress syndrome: you have written something but you are so worried that it is no good that you put it in a drawer and keep it there.

'Get up very early and get going at once, in fact work first and wash afterwards' - WH Auden

'Don't wait for the muse' - Stephen King

'My prescription for writer's block: write badly. Bad writing is easier. And it must be popular, there's so much of it' - PJ O'Rourke

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