Writing Is Hard Work

Musings of a Hard Working Writer...

  • Roger Colby

5 Surefire Ways to Melt Writer's Block

Updated: Feb 16

I suppose you landed on this article because, like this berry on the end of this branch, your ideas for your novel, short story or other writing project are frozen in place. Hopefully, if you follow these five simple steps, you can break the writer's block that is keeping you from experiencing the joy of moving forward with that project.

I have written everything from poetry to short stories to novels for most of my life. I'm pretty prolific, but now and again I hit a snag. I used to tell myself that writer's block doesn't exist, and I even wrote a blog post about it many years ago. As I sit in my living room writing this, I can't help but look out the window at the current snowstorm and think of it as a metaphor for how the pandemic has basically stymied my efforts to write.

I've started this new website, moved all of my Wordpress blog posts over, and have started the journey of writing a novel again, but somehow I'm hitting the wall of figuring out how to proceed with this germ of an idea my brain developed one night while I was trying to sleep. With that, I'll share the five ways I break the ice of writer's block. You may feel like Fran Leibowitz, who famously claims to have suffered from decades-long writer's block, but maybe some of these tricks might help you.

  1. Distract Yourself - Yeah. I know. This is probably the last thing you want to do, but when I'm stuck trying to figure out where to take my writing project next I go watch a gripping television show or movie (one with good writing) or I read a good book. I also do some woodworking sometimes or play Dungeons & Dragons. A Harvard study showed that "divergent thinking and convergent thinking, which influence the novelty and feasibility of the creative product, respectively" help with creativity. In other words, they found that the more one distracted themselves with other things when in a creative slump, the more their brain began to work on the problem in the background. I can't tell you how many times I've been in the middle of teaching Langston Hughes or Chaucer and suddenly something I read or something a student says somehow causes my brain to rekindle the creative fire again.

  2. Sit In Silence - Yes. I just told you to distract yourself, but there are also very good studies out there that posit that sitting in silence and doing absolutely nothing - and thinking absolutely nothing - will increase creativity as well. Lawton Ursrey writes in Forbes that " the exact same regions that deactivated during concentration become super active when not focused on a specific task—this means increased blood flow in your brain—this means a healthier, happier, more creative brain." Sitting still in a quiet place and just not using your brain causes more oxygen to go to your brain which then rekindles the creative fire.

  3. Read a Good Book - This might fall under distractions, but Stephen King has been quoted as saying that "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." According to Paul Heavenridge at "Literacy Works", "Neuroscientists have discovered that reading fiction can increase brain function on a variety of levels." I know that reading great fiction can indeed help with creativity as I have been sparked and inspired by various authors over the years. The more I read great fiction, the more I am shown example after example of how to set up scenes, write dialogue, create subplots, develop interesting characters, and a host of other techniques. Great writers are indeed the best teachers and can teach us more about writing than any college course.

  4. Journal or Blog - One way that I break writer's block is by writing this blog. When I have to research around to offer something that not every blog is writing, figure out what topic I'm going to write about, and organize the post in a way that will hopefully be the most SEO friendly thing I can write (thank you for reading this, by the way), it really causes me to break the ice surrounding my ideas. If you don't want to throw your random thoughts on the internet, then check out one of these apps for journaling. I use one called "Memories" for Apple and it will not only send you notifications reminding you to write, it encrypts everything to keep your thoughts private. I don't know if it's on Google Play, but it can be found here for Apple users.

  5. Take a Nap - Of the five, this one has been the most beneficial to breaking through the ice. There are mountains of science to back this up, but from personal experience, some of the best ideas that have sprouted from my mind usually wake me up in the middle of the night. I wake up, write them down on a notepad by my bed, and then go back to sleep. Sometimes I wake the next morning and find a non-sensical scribbling, but most times it is something that turns the creative furnace to overdrive.

What are your go-to techniques to break writer's block? I always love to share these with others. Post below in the comments with thoughts, or just work out your writer's block in a word-salad. Either way, comment!

Happy writing!

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