You sit down at your desk, ideas flashing through your skull like shooting stars on a dark night. Excited, you fire up your writing app and pull up a blank page. Your fingers hover over the keyboard, the sparks of creativity leaping from their tips. And then—nothing. Blank. Gone.
Writer’s block, that old enemy of writers everywhere, has reared its ugly head. Unfortunately, your deadlines aren’t going to wait while you sort out your issues.
What’s a poor writer to do?
There are two basic schools of thought: you can leave it alone for a while, or you can try to power through. Nearly all the advice you can find out there boils down to one of these two strategies. I’ll explain each of them and give you my take.
Leave it alone
The first school says that it’s best to leave it alone. Go do something else for a while; come back later, when your thoughts have had some time to marinate. You can forget about work completely for a while, or you can do something you know gets your creative juices flowing. Some common suggestions:
- Read a book or a favorite blog.
- Have a cup of coffee.
- Go for a walk.
- Try writing at the opposite time of day.
My favorite way to leave it alone is to take a break and take care of some of the less-exciting tasks that come with running a business—updating financial spreadsheets, tidying up my website, dealing with email. Because these tasks often don’t require a lot of thought, I’m able to knock them off the to-do list while I let ideas bang around in my head.
That said, I don’t think this is the best way of dealing with writer’s block. Personally, I find that “leaving it alone” often means “avoiding the problem,” and it is a tactic that can lead to procrastination if I’m not careful. It’s easy to say you’ll come back to something when you feel “inspired,” and then fall behind schedule because the inspiration never came.
The other school of thought says that it’s best to just power through the block. Just write. Everything you come up with might seem dumb—oh well. Shut up and write. In fact, some people don’t even believe in writer’s block!
A common tactic among successful writers is to set a daily writing goal—maybe a certain word count—and then write until that goal has been met, inspiration be damned. They treat their words as a bricklayer treats his bricks, and they set them down one after another until the wall is built.
Of course, there are still things you can do to help work through a blockage:
- Change environments. If you’re on a laptop, go outside and work! Or, if you don’t mind being a living cliché for a while, try a coffee shop.
- Put on some music.
- Try a different writing app.
- Switch medium completely and write by hand.
This is my preferred method of beating The Block. I’ve found that when I just start writing, regardless of whether I know where I’m going, things start to come together. Ideas order themselves. Eventually, the winds of inspiration will find you, and it’s smooth sailing after that.
How do you beat writer’s block? Let me know on Twitter!