Writer’s block is an illusion… one that seems to gather more power if you allow it to fester. It could relate to fear of failure, perfectionism or bad timing and can be crippling. The trick is to take proactive steps to shake off the illusion or feeling that you’re grabbing at fresh air.

You can find 25 ideas on how to avoid or overcome writer’s block at the end of this article.

The term writer’s block has come to mean a dead-end for authors and screenwriters who have reached a point of stagnation, in which a lack of inspiration or a permanent break prevents them from continuing to craft their story. This generally relates to a single project, yet can apply to an author who is struggling to start a new project too.

While the visual of an author who is constantly throwing balled up paper into a wastebasket or over the shoulder has come to be popularised in films and on TV, the idea of writer’s block has settled in pop culture, allowing authors to lean on the term to describe a stumbling stone or natural cessation. More often than not, it becomes a valid excuse, a crutch or scapegoat for the struggling writer to blame or hide behind rather than alleviate.

According to Wikipedia, “writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

While the metaphorical concept is built around a block, which makes it seem clogged or insurmountable, it should really be thought of as a lock. As you may have experienced, locks can get jammed, rusty or require lubricant to release the locking mechanism. Our minds can experience similar issues, requiring a reset or practical solution to unlock them.

As host of The Three Wells podcast, in which screenwriting expert Matthew Kalil and I interview a number of authors and screenwriters, it seems that the notion of writer’s block is more of a nuisance than an actual problem. Perhaps one could explain it away as more of a psychological block, in which the creative juices have started to pool rather than flow. Ideas can be generated from a number of places and The Three Wells of Screenwriting provides some valuable and inspiring exercises, which help inspire writers to overcome so-called writer’s block.

Re-framing the idea, character or scene using the imagination, external sources or memory well can help alleviate an apparent lack of inspiration. Observing life, prone to experiencing an array of emotion, gifted with the power of dreams and able to stimulate one’s imagination, it seems that the simplest solution is to reset (see some ideas below) and carry on.

Setting goals, even if one aims for a fixed time period or a number of pages, is one way to self-motivate and gather momentum. Crossing off small, sometimes seemingly insignificant goals, empowers the writer so that they can move forward and make them receptive to fresh ideas.

Another option is to force yourself to write, even if you are churning out reams of rubbish since it’s better to have something on the page then nothing at all. Some writers, often thought of as extreme, rely on software that forces them to write to the point that it starts deleting backwards if a writer stops for a certain amount of time.

Usually, the act of simply pouring ideas onto the page leads to more fertile thoughts and one is able to springboard into the right frame of mind. It also helps to have a level of consistency in terms of where you write, how you write and tailoring the environment to suit your writing needs. Some authors and screenwriters find it inspiring to listen to fresh or atmospheric music, others find it distracting and prefer ear plugs and absolute quiet. It’s important that you find your groove since new places and environmental settings will have a bearing on your work.

So when the mirage of writer’s block (or lock) appears on the horizon, the best solution is to keep calm and carry on. If this moment arises during your writing process, perhaps it’s time to look at resetting goals, re-focusing your environment or simply taking a coffee break to stretch your legs, get some fresh air and reset your mind.

Realising that it’s normal to feel like you’re out of ideas and that writer’s block is more of a writer’s lock is a healthy approach. Taking a practical and proactive approach ensures you’ll overcome what is more of a phase than a purgatory.

Perhaps the secret is to find the right combination of things that work for you. Some writers work better under deadlines, which would necessitate stricter goal-setting. Others find the comfort of an old chair to be most conducive, while others have a special writing nook where they find they can get most productive. Cultivating the right setting, realising when you are simply needing a break or having some exercises on standby in order to flex your creative muscle… it really comes down to whatever works best for you.

Here are 25 ways you can reboot and avoid or overcome writer’s (b)lock.

  • Stand up and stretch every 30 minutes.
  • Get some fresh air into your lungs.
  • Have a coffee or tea break.
  • Create a chart to mark your progress and set realistic goals.
  • Break your writing down into a to-do list.
  • Clear your mind, use your senses and be present in the moment.
  • Take a sensory walk to soak up new sights, sounds and smells.
  • Minimalise your workspace, get rid of unnecessary distractions.
  • Only allow inspirational objects to live in your writing space.
  • Play with your pets or a stress ball.
  • Doodle or switch to a different creative medium for a bit.
  • Phone a friend.
  • Take regular 5 to 15 minute breaks every 25 to 45 minutes.
  • Use writing software to keep you in the zone.
  • Use gamified apps on your mobile phone to help motivate you.
  • Disconnect from the internet.
  • Switch off your phone.
  • Try writing in a different room or in a coffee shop.
  • Switch lanes to write freely or by association.
  • Listen to some fresh or unfamiliar music.
  • Use highlighters and create a mind map to brainstorm new ideas.
  • Pretend you’re one of your characters.
  • Surf the web for some inspirational artwork.
  • Exercise regularly to eliminate excess energy.
  • Use earplugs to refocus your attention.
The Illusion of Writer’s Block
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