Has this ever happened to you?
You sit down at your computer to begin writing, but instead you find yourself having a stare down with the blank screen.
You may type a few lines, but after several minutes you delete everything. You just can’t seem to find the right words to continue.
It’s as if your inspiration inkwell has suddenly dried up.
If you are suffering from writer’s block (or have suffered in the past), you are not alone!
Even famous writers have struggled with creative blocks at some point in their careers. Thankfully, many of these writers have also shared their methods for how they overcame these dry periods and became successful writers.
Read on for the different strategies five famous authors have used to overcome writer’s block and keep typing away.
1. Maya Angelou’s “Just Write” Strategy
Writing is like any art or sport. Practice makes perfect. Inspiration will only come if you push yourself to keep putting pen to paper.
Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, believed that when you are suffering from writer’s block, you should force yourself to continue writing every day, no matter if you’re pleased with the final product or not.
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’
2. Neil Gaiman’s Hibernation Strategy
What happens when you’ve been chugging happily along on your novel, but suddenly you have absolutely no idea how the story should end? Or you’ve been working on a blog post, but you can’t figure out how to write the conclusion?
Neil Gaiman, the award-winning graphic novelist and children’s author, offers this advice:
Put it [your writing] aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.
3. Mark Twain’s Outlining Strategy
Back in grade school, your writing teacher probably told you a hundred times, “Outline, outline, outline!”
That was famed American author Mark Twain’s strategy too: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
This strategy attempts to outmaneuver writer’s block. If you already have your writing project broken down into manageable steps, you don’t have to worry each day about what to write or how to find inspiration since you already know exactly where you are going.
4. Ernest Hemingway’s Hoarding Strategy
If you’ve suffered from writer’s block, but suddenly find all of that inspiration flooding into you again, don’t exhaust your resources! Always make sure to keep some inspiration in reserve.
Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway explained,
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.
5. Hilary Mantel’s “Get Away From Your Desk” Strategy
Sometimes the best way to conquer writer’s block is to clear your mind. Writer’s block often happens because your mind is overwhelmed by all of the thoughts about your daily life that are crowding your brain.
You need to create a space for your inspiration to fill.
Award-winning British writer Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, offers this advice,
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.
The Takeaway: How to Avoid Writer’s Block
Writer’s block can be quite discouraging, but the bottom line is to not give up. Look for creative ways to inspire yourself out of the doldrums. When you finally do start writing, don’t judge yourself too harshly. Just let your creative juices start flowing.
Once you’ve found your lost inspiration, make sure you examine your creative process to see why you had run into writer’s block in the first place. Make changes to your writing process if you have to. This will help you avoid writer’s block in the future.
Have you used any of these authors’ strategies for fighting writer’s block? Or maybe you have your own tried and true method that you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.