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4 Effective Strategies for Tackling Writer’s Block

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4 Effective Strategies for Tackling Writer’s Block

Whether you write for a living or just enjoy getting creative in your spare time, writer’s block is without a doubt one of the most frustrating problems to run into.

Researchers are still divided on whether the problem is neurological or can be chalked up to anxiety caused by pressure to produce, and some psychologists are even convinced that writer’s block is simply an excuse we make for poor discipline.

Regardless of what causes it, though, experiencing a creative block is only natural from time to time, and while there are many different ways to tackle it, what works for one person may do nothing for another. So if you’re in need of some inspiration, here are a few strategies you can try.

1. Allow yourself to daydream

Your subconscious mind is good at coming up with creative ideas and solutions, which is why sometimes, it’s best to stop thinking about what you’re going to write and let your mind wander.

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In one study, researchers found that when writers are unhappy, either due to stress and anxiety, anger and irritation or apathy and disengagement, they are more likely to experience writer’s block and less likely to daydream in a constructive way.

To tackle this problem, they asked a group of writers experiencing writer’s block to sit in a quiet, low-lit room and visualize specific things such as a piece of music or nature setting. Then they would try to describe it. After becoming accustomed to the exercise, the writers were asked to do the same thing some aspect of their current writing project.

Sure enough, those who participated in the intervention found that they were more motivated and self-confident in their writing and were able to get more done.

2. Experiment with different brainstorming techniques

There are countless brainstorming techniques, and these days, even apps you can use to generate ideas, but it’s important to find a technique you feel comfortable with. For writers, some effective brainstorming techniques may include:

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  • Mind mapping

Mind mapping can help you develop vague ideas into something more concrete. Start by drawing a circle with your main topic or idea at the centre, then, use lines to connect as many related thoughts and ideas to the main circle as you can think of.

  • Free writing

Get out an empty note book or open a blank word document and start writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about whether you’re making sense or even staying on topic, the goal is simply to free up your mind and push past whatever anxiety is preventing you from writing.

  • Star bursting

Star bursting involves coming up with as many questions about your topic as possible. You can start by answering the journalistic 5Ws and 1H: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? Once you’re done, go down the list and answer each question as best as you can.

3. Try social writing

Writing is usually a solitary activity and most writers wouldn’t have it any other way, but if you find yourself stuck, it can help to write in a more social setting.

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You could either find a writing partner or create a little writer’s group, but the goal is to find someone who can critique your work, listen to your ideas or just provide some moral support. Social writing isn’t for everyone, of course, but sometimes simply getting another writer’s perspective could be just what you need to move forward.

4. Do something completely unrelated

This might be difficult if you have a hard deadline coming up, but since writer’s block often stems from the pressure you’ve put on yourself to produce, it can help to step away from your writing for a while and do something completely unrelated to give your mind a break.

Psychologist Susan Reynolds explains that when you’re feeling pressured to write, your anxiety level rises and your brain releases stress hormones, which triggers your fight or flight response.

Once this occurs, the limbic system stops transmitting messages to the cortex, which is responsible for conscious thought and creativity. So the more you pressure yourself to write, the more anxious you’ll feel and the worse your writer’s block will become.

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So whether you go for a run, listen to music, paint, make a scrapbook or clean the house, doing something unrelated for a while will help calm the anxiety you’re feeling and help you get over the mental blockage.

Figure out what works for you

This is one point that just can’t be emphasized enough. We’re all different and that means there is no right or wrong way to get creative in your writing. Once you’ve experimented with a few different techniques, you’ll have a better idea of which one helps you generate the most new ideas or leaves you feeling less anxious and ready to get back to your writing.

Do you have any weird or wacky techniques of your own for tackling writer’s block? Let us know about them in the comment section.

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Featured photo credit: Picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

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Marianne Stenger

Writer, Open Colleges

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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