How to grease the mental wheels and overcome writer’s block

Sometimes we're trapped in our own heads, unable to see a solution for our story. Here's how to grease those mental wheels.

Experiencing writer’s block can be a frustrating and demotivating experience. Although taking a break may seem like a natural solution, it can often make things worse. Instead of letting your work collect dust for weeks, it’s important to approach writer’s block with an active problem-solving mindset.

When we find ourselves stuck, it’s often because we’ve written ourselves into a corner and become inflexible. We may be unwilling to discard parts of our work that aren’t working for us, and as a result, we become trapped in our own heads.

Talk to somebody or something

One way to break out of this cycle is to talk to someone or something. Venting aloud to a good listener who will be sympathetic and ask open-ended questions can engage a different part of your brain, allowing you to see your problems in a new light. It’s important to find someone who won’t try to offer solutions or write the story for you, but rather, someone who will listen to you until you naturally come unstuck.

If you don’t have anyone like this in your life, you can be that person for yourself. Open up your notebook or word processor and start writing about the problem. Express your negative feelings and vent your frustrations, and then start brainstorming.

Ask yourself what else could happen in your story to cut the knot. Consider introducing new characters, changing the setting, having your protagonist make a different decision earlier in the story, or starting at a different place in the timeline. Involve your characters in the conversation and give them the opportunity to explain themselves. By prodding them, you may discover that they are more vocal and have valuable insights to share.

Write in a different format

If you’re struggling with a specific type of writing, it can be helpful to switch to a different format. For example, if you’re struggling with writing an essay, you could try writing a short story or a poem. This change in format can help to trigger creativity and break through writer’s block.

The benefit of writing in a different format is that it allows you to experiment with new writing techniques and styles. It can also help you to see your work from a different perspective. This can be especially useful if you’re stuck on a particular section of your writing, as the new format may help you to see a way forward.

Change your environment

Sometimes changing your environment can be enough to overcome writer’s block. You could try moving to a different location, changing your lighting or music, or even rearranging your workspace. This can help to reduce distractions and help you to focus on your writing.

For example, you might find that writing in a quiet coffee shop with a comfortable chair and a warm drink helps you to concentrate. Alternatively, you might prefer to write in a bustling public space, with lots of activity and noise around you. Experiment with different environments and find what works best for you. Remember, the goal is to create an environment that inspires you to write and helps you to stay motivated.

Don’t starve yourself

It’s important not to deprive yourself of the pleasures of reading, as it can ultimately harm your writing process. Once, I made the mistake of withholding the joy of reading from myself, thinking it would motivate me to write more. However, it only made me restless and unproductive.

After days of denying myself the joy of reading, I couldn’t take it any longer and dove into Hobb’s Ship of Magic which I had been wanting to read for a while. Guess what happened as I went for my run the day after? If you guessed new story idea you get a prize.

As writers, we are first and foremost readers. Reading is what motivated many of us to start writing in the first place. If we neglect reading, especially outside our chosen writing genres, we are depriving our brains of the necessary nutrients to create. Starving our imagination is another way of inviting writer’s block into our lives. Therefore, it’s crucial to make time for reading every day, as it can significantly enhance our writing skills and creativity.

Read something inspirational

Reading something that inspires you can be a great way to overcome writer’s block. It can be a book, a poem, a blog post, or anything that speaks to you. By reading something inspirational, you can discover new ideas, techniques, and perspectives that you can incorporate into your writing. It can help you connect with your own creativity and find inspiration in your own work.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to copy someone else’s writing style or ideas. Instead, use the inspiration you find to generate your own unique content. Analyze what you read, break it down, and see what you can learn from it. Then take that knowledge and apply it to your own writing.

Give yourself permission to write badly

One of the main causes of writer’s block is the fear of producing poor writing. To overcome this fear, it’s important to give yourself permission to write badly. Accept that not everything you write will be perfect, and that’s okay. Writing is a process, and it takes time to develop your skills.

By allowing yourself to write poorly, you can remove the pressure to produce flawless writing, which can be liberating. It can help you start writing without worrying about the quality of your work. Once you’ve got some words on the page, you can revise and improve them until you’re happy with the final result.

Cut, or “kill your darlings” as Stephen King put it

Most important of all, don’t allow yourself to be limited by what you’ve already written!
Stephen King famously advised writers to “kill your darlings,” which means that you should be willing to cut even your most precious sentences, paragraphs, or even entire scenes to improve your writing.

But cutting can be a daunting task, so it’s best to approach it with caution. Instead of immediately slashing your work, try opening a new document and experimenting with a fresh scene or a new point of view. Allow yourself to explore unexamined conflicts and to play with different ideas without the pressure of getting it right.

Reconnect with the joy of creating something new and remember why you started writing in the first place. Who knows, you might come up with a new scene that solves the problem you were struggling with.

However, if you find yourself still stuck and uninspired after trying various methods, it might be time to consider letting go of the project and starting something new. Remember that not every idea will work out, and it’s okay to move on to something different.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everything works.

The worst thing you could do is stop writing altogether.