The key to outwitting writer’s block is to attack when its back is turned. Ironically, when you lull yourself into a safe place in which you don’t expect to produce writing of value, you will make a breakthrough.
How do you accomplish this? It helps to know why you’re stuck. Here are four common types of writer’s block and ways to get around them:
1) You can’t write out of fear of failure.
There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. Shouldn’t writers be able to produce verbiage 24/7? Don’t worry; this happens to everyone.
Write in a different genre, try a new poetic form, scribble something just for fun. Give yourself permission to take your writing less seriously.
As an undergraduate, my professor stressed the importance of long, narrative poems. I became so obsessed with literary quality that I couldn’t write! I didn’t publish any new poetry for nearly ten years.
Instead, I switched to working on creative nonfiction and magazine articles. I started a family-friendly science blog. While researching topics for my blog, I stumbled onto scifaiku – a curious and oddly specific poetic form. Before my conscious mind could take over – and remind me that I couldn’t write poetry any more – I began to crank out scifaiku. It was so wildly different from narrative free verse that it slipped past my mental filters. That was eight years ago, and I am now a published short-form poet, with awards for both haiku and scifaiku.
2) You can’t write because you don’t know where to begin. You have too many ideas!
The best way to escape this block is to write outside of your comfort zone. Tailor your work to a specific market. Search for “poetry contest” or “fiction contest” on Twitter and hit up calls for submissions in places like NewPages.
I made my first speculative flash fiction sale (apart from microfiction) to Mad Scientist Journal, a publication that seeks stories about – you guessed it – mad scientists. I wrote about a sweat sock researcher who got arrested for hiding in a communal dryer. Quirky? Sure. But it helped me to get past my writer’s block AND I made a sale.
3) You’re out of ideas.
Take a writing break. Don’t write anything – not even a shopping list – for a few days. Muses hate to be ignored. Similar to not chasing after a promising date, running will scare your muse away. Ignoring them has a way of making them return to woo you with flowery words.
4) Your writing career has suffered a setback that causes you to doubt yourself.
If this is your situation, you have my sympathies. Writing is a solitary business and nothing is harder than facing a word shortage when you have doubts about your ability to produce quality work.
If steps 1-3 fail, start another creative endeavor, one entirely outside the field of writing.
In 2015, I finally broke into a paying poetry market that I had been trying to crack for months. But by the time my work was set for publication, the editor was embroiled in controversy and some poets boycotted the journal. I found the whole situation so uncomfortable that I couldn’t write poetry. Again!
So, I turned to crafting. Instead of writing small poems, I made tiny wreaths, hanging adornments instead of adjectives. It took a few months – and over 100 ornaments – but finally, the shock wore off and the lure of writing called again. Only now, I also have to keep track of an Etsy shop too!
Do you have a technique for outwitting writer’s block? Let’s talk about it. Tell me in the comments or tag me on Twitter (@MamaJoules).