Just a page. Just a paragraph. Just a word.
When you have a case of writer’s block, you’d take anything, any progress to get the creative juices flowing again. But it can seem like the well’s run dry.
Overcoming a creative block is a process. Sometimes the fog suddenly lifts, but more likely you will have to work until the sun shines again. It will take some willpower. Part of that process is understanding what causes writer’s block and the scientific ways it can be improved.
What Is Writer’s Block and Why Is It Happening to Me?
Creative blocks of all kinds are prolonged periods of being unable to create or being deeply unsatisfied with the quality of your creative output.
These difficult periods are usually temporary, often reflect emotional or mental state changes, and are characterised by unhappiness, lack of motivation, and limited creativity. Research by Michael Barrios and Jerome Singer, two Yale University psychologists, showed that writer’s block derives from four mental roots: anxiety/stress, interpersonal frustration, apathy, and anger/disappointment. The logic works out this way:
- Writers blocked by anxiety or stress are usually hampered by self-criticism.
- Writers blocked by interpersonal frustration worry about the comparison with others—good or bad.
- Writers blocked by apathy seem to have truly run out of ideas and are unable to find inspiration.
- Writers blocked by anger or disappointment most often are searching for external motivation or reward.
Now with this understanding, you might be balking at the idea that there is some deep-seated emotional trauma you need to work on or that writers suffering from a creative block must schedule time with a therapist.
It’s not like that at all.
First, writer’s block can pop up during times of change and doesn’t necessarily reflect a profound mental or emotional crisis. Second, further research by Barrios and Singer showed that while mental and emotional states seem to block creativity, creativity unblocks such states. Art itself can be therapy.
So, what can you actually do about writer’s block? It turns out that science and experienced writers have come to the same conclusion:
Focus on creative exercises of all kinds to get your writing mojo back.
Activities to Boost Creativity and Stop Writer’s Block
1 Just write.
Experts agree that one of the best things you can do to unblock your writing is to keep writing, even if it’s painful and terribly boring stuff.
“When one feels writer’s block, it’s good to just keep putting things down on paper—ideas, knowledge, etc.”
—Scott Barry Kaufman, Wired to Create
Maya Angelou said the same:
“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.’”
In fact, many professional writers insist on writing No. Matter. What.
2 Try something else creative.
Just because you’re blocked in one creative art doesn’t mean you can’t stimulate your brain with other artistic ventures. Art can serve as a form of therapy, so why not try your hand at something new? Drawing, building, and singing are all easy ways to get inspired. Inc.com has compiled a helpful list of creative outlets for you to try in thirty minutes or less.
Go ahead. Try something. We’ll wait.
“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.”
3 Get moving.
Creative output nearly doubles when you’re walking versus sitting. It’s still not clear whether it’s the increased blood flow that helps or the change of scenery. Nevertheless, physically getting out can help get your mind out of the box.
4 Build your creative confidence.
Increased confidence is particularly helpful for people who are concerned with criticism—their own or other people’s. David Kelley has some helpful thoughts for silencing the critics (or at least turning the volume down) and learning to trust yourself again.
. . .When we track them down and ask them what’s going on, they say something like, “I’m just not the creative type.” But we know that’s not true. If they stick with the process, if they stick with it, they end up doing amazing things. And they surprise themselves at just how innovative they and their teams really are.
In fact, TED, has a great creativity playlist to wake your inner creative genius and unblock your writing.
Regardless of the cause of your writer’s block, all writers can succeed with some creative development and a dose of determination.
What kind of writing block do you identify with? What techniques help you write more and be more creative?