1 Take a break. Get some space from your writing. Switch everything off for the rest of the day, for several days, for a few hours. Give yourself some room – stop stressing about how you’re not achieving anything, put everything down, and just let yourself breathe. Give yourself a chance to rest and recharge – a long lunch, an evening off, a day outside, whatever you need. Then come back to where you left your writing, you’ll find that it’s much easier to pick up and continue.
2 Break the Wall (or, if you prefer, ‘Hulk It‘). Writers tend to know exactly what I mean when I say ‘The Wall’. It’s that towering obstacle that prevents you from moving forward – much like a full-size mountain appearing in the middle of a narrow country road. It’s really hard to get past it, but it does have one redeeming feature: it’s presence is relatively short-lived. My usual advice/tactic for dealing with The Wall is to take a break, and put some distance between you and your writing. Go for a walk, have a bath, and just breathe. But for those times when space, or taking a break, just isn’t an option: keep going. Just keep writing. It will be hard, it will be heavy, but eventually – one word at a time – you can move the mountain.
3 Change your routine. Alter your surroundings. Break the cycle. Sometimes a change of scenery is enough to stir your creative juices, and provide some much needed inspiration. You know that phrase “A change is as good as a rest”? It’s not true. But it does go some way to re-invigorate your mind. Try finding a new writing place – a cafe, a picnic blanket in the sun/a park, a public bench, a library, in the garden, on your dining table, on your bed. Find somewhere comfortable, somewhere different to your usual writing place.
4 Walk. This is my go-to ‘I’m stuck’ solution. I’ve never encountered a writing-related obstacle that I couldn’t resolve with some fresh air and a nice walk. My walk of choice is along a little public footpath that cuts through corn fields of a local farm. Choose somewhere local to you to walk, and explore your surroundings. Look up at the trees, feel the breeze, jump in puddles, identify every smell you come across.
It sounds simple, just going for a walk, but it’s really effective to get you through that block and clear away the cobwebs from your mind. Bonus: it gets you moving and away from your desk for a short while, which is good for your health and circulation.
Aside: A few years after I started incorporating walking in my general routine, I was speaking with a few local writer-friends about how to deal with this exact scenario. I was surprised to find that every single one of them used walking to ease the writing-block.
5 Unplug. Sometimes we all need a break from the throb and pulse of the screen – from the computer monitor, to the phone, to the television, we’re bombarded by electronic images and artificial lights almost all of the time. If you’re anything like me, you’ll sometimes need to step away and give your eyes and mind a rest from this constant visual display. Try turning off the computer, putting your phone on silent/vibrate, and leaving it on your desk. Pick up a pen and notepad, and write by hand for a little while. You could write at a table, on a couch, on your bed, in a cushion fort, on the floor, wrapped in a fluffy duvet, you could even write in the bath (if you’re careful with the water/paper!). I love to switch off and write outside during the summer, when I can take my notepad and pen out to the garden and sit in the sun for a few hours.
6 Join in. If you can, it is definitely worth getting involved with like-minded people in your community. Look around and see if there are any writing, or maybe reading, groups in your area. Look around at your friends – are any of them interested in writing or stories? Are there any creative writing-based events happening? Any groups or open-entry meetings at your local library or coffee shops? If you can’t make any in-person events, consider joining online writing forums and/or groups. Or, consider setting up your own group for others to join.
I tend to be quite shy when it comes to meeting new people. The same goes for getting involved in public activities; the idea of joining a community group would once have made (and, to a slightly lesser extent, still does make) me really nervous. Over time, I’ve spotted a few writing groups around in my local area that I’ve thought about joining, but – to be honest – the structure seemed always a little too formal for my liking.
Then, a few years ago, an opportunity to ‘lead’ a local group became available, and I took an impulsive step to become involved. And I’m so glad I did. Being a part of a community writing group can boost your motivation, confidence, and output, and gives you a friendly and encouraging support base that can also work (if you so choose) to provide you with useful constructive feedback and hold you to account with your own writing.
7 Remove distractions. Try minimizing the distractions that pull you out of ‘the zone’, and/or away from your work, when you are busy writing. Identify what these distractions are, and then find the most suitable way to address them.
Perhaps re-locate your writing area to a part of your home that is less used/populated so as to be less disturbed by general passing traffic. Maybe change the time of your main writing sessions to a period when there are fewer people around/awake, or put a sign on your door to say ‘I’m writing, do not disturb’. Be open and honest with your family/room mates/friends – tell them you need a few hours of alone or quiet time at certain times each day/week, and make it up/thank them by spending quality time with them when you’re not writing. If you experience a lot of intrusive noise from outside of your house, try putting on some classical, instrumental, or otherwise relaxing/background music and listen with a pair of headphones. Put your phone in a drawer, in another room, or turn it off until your writing session is over. Maybe use an internet-blocker app/programme.
Find different ways to reduce the distractions that pull you away from your writing.
8 Experience. Depending on what, specifically, is causing the block in your writing, consider researching and investigating various elements of your story more thoroughly. You might arrange a few research trips to give you first-person experience and description-information on locations, objects, etc that you are incorporating into your story.
Consider your point-of-view, and seeing things from your character’s perspective. How would they approach the situation you are currently (not) writing about?
9 Stream-of-consciousness. An easy exercise to do every day, first thing in the morning or as you sit down to begin your writing session, is ‘Stream-of-consciousness’. Set a timer for 20 minutes, or choose a specific number of pages (2-5), and then just write anything and everything that comes into your head until the time/number of pages is up/complete. It doesn’t matter what you write, you might bin it the instant you have finished it, but you’ll definitely notice the improvement in your writing. You’ll also find that your ability to get into the writing-mindset (or, ‘zone’) is much easier, and it’s quicker to pick up from where you last left off in general. This exercise helps to put you in the right frame of mind for writing and clears away the messier thoughts in your head, getting them out of the way, and allowing you to fully concentrate on your writing.
10 Read. If in doubt, read. There is no writing problem so great that reading can’t help to address it. Reading provides you with a rest, inspiration/motivation, and entertainment all at once. It works on your language skills without you even noticing, and keeps your mind agile and active. Try reading books in the same genre you are writing in to keep your mind focused and on -track.