18 Ways To Cure Writer’s Block

If you are experiencing writer’s block, keep this in mind: You’re not alone. Writer’s block happens to almost everyone.

Break Through Writer’s Block

Here are 18 ways to unblock yourself and put your creativity back to work:

1. Call It “Incubation”

The term, “writer’s block” isn’t completely accurate because it implies that the problem has been imposed upon you—it’s something you have.

Instead, I prefer the term, “incubation” because that’s something you do.  Incubation reflects the truth–that even if you’re struggling, you’re actively involved in the creative process.

2. Write Something Unusual

One of my clients, a spy novelist, takes creative breaks by writing children’s stories for his own kids—low pressure, doesn’t take too long, and is a refreshing change of pace.

3. Write Under A Pseudonym

Decide that you’ll write and send out the project that’s vexing you under an assumed name.

Take some time to decide on what your name will be, and include it as your byline.  This technique has worked for Richard Bachman, Mark Twain, John LeCarre, and more.

4. Get in the H2O

It worked for Archimedes–it can work for you.

5. Repetitive Physical Activity

  • Clean the kitchen
  • Do laundry
  • Sweep the floor
  • Wash the car by hand

By the time you get a flash of insight, something will be clean.

6. Creative Physical Activity

  • Cook or bake something you don’t ordinarily make.
  • Build something with your hands, e.g., a model airplane, a new desk.
  • Knit, sew, paint, collage.

“Incubation” is what occurs to me when I see those scenes where a guy is making one of those boats in a bottle.  It’s supposed to indicate someone who plans methodically, but I always think, “I bet that guy is stuck in Act II.”

7. Travel

I’ve read that when Steven Spielberg gets stuck on a movie, he takes a long drive in his car.  Composer Steve Reich rides around on the NY subway.  One of my favorite things to do is to be a tourist in my own town, drive around, and explore new neighborhoods.

8. Take A Long Walk

There’s something special about walking that allows your attention to wander in a valuable way.

9. Organize Your Books

The act of coming into contact with lots of other ideas and sorting them can trigger an insight.

10. Go On A Media Binge

Instead of your scheduled writing time, watch movies and TV, read books and magazines, and let enthusiasm be your only guide.

11. Go On A Media Fast

Don’t watch TV or movies, read books or magazines, or listen to podcasts or news. Take a break from consuming information and stories.

It’s amazing how much time and mental space you’ll realize you have, and when you make space, new ideas come in….

12. Take A Class That’s Not About Writing

Use your writing time to enroll in a weekly class that interests you, like:  photography, painting, improv comedy, rock climbing, krav maga, cooking, salsa dancing, or playing guitar.

13. Write In A New Environment

Famed writing teacher Natalie Goldberg is a big proponent of writing outside your home.

Some locations for you to consider:

  • A local café
  • The library
  • A park
  • The airport

14. Write With Other Tools

Most writers work on computer or typewriter. Here are some alternatives:

15. Prompt Yourself

Sometimes, you can shake up the problem by speculating from a prompt you give yourself:

Try prompts like:

  • What I’m trying to say here is (_____).
  • What I really want to write about is (_____).
  • The exact wrong thing to happen here would be (_____).

16. Create A New Title

One of the ways to figure out how to move forward with your project is to retitle it.  Create several possible titles and test them on your friends to see what stands out.

For a more detailed title-creation process, see Chapter 10 of Good in a Room: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas and Win Over Any Audience.

17. Hold The Question

“Holding the question” is a targeted form of incubation. Rather than completely removing your attention from the project, ask yourself a specific question throughout the day, e.g.:

  • What Act III “battle scene” best exemplifies my theme?
  • What would be a good introductory scene for my hero?

18. Break Down The Project Into Smaller Pieces

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Here are some smaller tasks that I have found to be helpful:

  • Organize project files
  • Brainstorm new ideas about (____)
  • Research (____)

For more ideas about how to break complex projects down into manageable tasks, see David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

Hang In There

Approach your block like a period of incubation. Let your mind take an active rest. Use the techniques above to encourage development and growth.

That’s how you get the most of the experience, get back on track quickly, and keep your creative juices flowing.

. . . . . . . .

Do you have creativity techniques you use to get yourself out of a rut?  Please share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks!

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Discussion About 18 Ways To Cure Writer’s Block

  1. Dana Udall-Weiner

    The idea of incubation is great–it sounds empowering and productive, and it just might get us off the treadmill of feeling like we “have” to write. I also like the idea of using a different tool to write, such as pen and paper. Although I find that hard to do, it’s so useful!

  2. Cindee

    When I’m stuck, I relax and read books. Whether it’s a spy novel, a business book or a biography, I always find some level of inspiration and it’s never directly related to what I’m looking for. But it starts a creative thinking process that wouldn’t otherwise present itself.

  3. Laree'

    These are all great ideas! I find 5, 6, 7 work great for me. I also just came across this quote today that I’m going to try:

    “I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through.”Hemingway taught me the finest trick : “When you are going good, stop writing.” You don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? You make yourself stop and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you
    want to say next.” Roald Dahl

  4. Jeff

    Stephanie, I just found your blog about a week ago — and I love it! I think you’ve created a fantastic resource here.

    So when I was searching for “Writer’s Block cure”, it came as no surprise that this article came up.

    I’ve just uploaded the Writer’s Block Instant Cure to YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcKtcXbjwD4 — hopefully anyone looking here will see it.

    The fact is, writer’s block is nothing more than our inner critic judging our work before it’s been written (or even conceived!). We can cure it instantly, forever, by simply giving ourselves permission to write garbage. Have a look at the video, and see what you think. And please keep up the great work — I really am a huge fan of your blog!

  5. Bust Out of Writer’s Block | Kaitlin Watterson Online

    […] Write in a new environment. For weeks, I’ve been writing wherever I can. At my desk, at the library, in a café, on a random bench in between classes, anywhere. I never had any trouble getting the ideas flowing no matter where I was. Today though, I’m sitting on my roof as I write this. Though hopefully not all my future writing adventures will have to be as precarious as this one, placing myself in an entirely new environment, outside in the sunshine with birds chirping (and almost two stories above the ground), has given me new inspiration. […]

  6. Ashley John

    Brilliant post. I agree that writing is the best way to cure Writer’s Block. It’s the only thing that works for me. I just put my head down and write until I stop thinking about it and the words just flow naturally!

    I wrote a similar post of Writer’s Block tips and tricks over on my blog ashleyjohn.co.uk

  7. Valory Troike

    i have an amazing story. Filled w love loss. Illness and defying all odds. I was a professional boxer. I’m gay and I’m sporty and pinky yet fem too, and my girlfriends (lots)are all real femine. My childhood was me protecting my mom n 3 sisters against my father. This story has it all. My best friend died. Everyone loves me for my attitude and my outlook on life.

  8. Four unconventional cures for writer’s block. | thirtyseven

    […] that’s inspired a veritable deluge of books, ebooks, prompts, studies, articles, web sites, blog posts, and unsolicited advice [and if you’re a subscriber, I guess that’s what I’m […]

  9. Angel Duncan

    I haven’t written my book just yet, but I believe I’m ready.
    Thank you for the words of wisdom.

    Angel

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    […] incubating is a great way to break through writer’s block, but it’s an even better way to sustain […]

  12. R. Allan Worrell

    My idea is “randomness”. The totally off the wall, random idea is the truly creative one because it is one you could never come up with by thinking rationally.

    I learned this trick from my brother who when trying to think of a name for a new business, just stuck a pencil into a dictionary to see what he came up with. If you think about the name of rock groups this begins to make sense. Who would ever think to call something “The Beatles”, “The Rolling Stones”, or “Cheap Trick”, “Pink Floyd”??? See? They are nonsensical names, but now they are world-wide brands.
    So how do you come up with something totally new and undiscovered? Make a list of characters, and action verbs, objects and places. Then combine them in every possible combination and see which ones are interesting.

    This is similar to the old game of Clue in which we say, “The Butler Killed the Horseman’s Wife with and Axe in the Kitchen!” And now you have the start of a murder mystery in which to build a story around. You can ask questions like, Why? How? Where? When? and with Who?
    If nothing else, the exercise will get your creative juices flowing in ways you could never have imagined before.

    Big Al

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Love this idea, Big Al!