There are many names for the mental state of being unable to write or lacking creative ideas – being stuck, brain-fried, coming to an impasse, throwing your laptop at the wall, and of course, as it’s most commonly known, writer's block. I once heard someone from my university writing society describe this infamous writer's syndrome as "writer's cube." I always thought that that humorous twist was an appropriate way of describing something almost indescribable, as if chasing a word that's right in front of you but as if standing on the edge of a cliff without falling one way or the other. And I haven’t even broached, of course, the frustration, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompanies it.
But, as the name suggests, we can become "unblocked"—an almost utopian state of being assaulted with a hundred ideas at once and free to let the words flow from our pens and keyboards. Of course, there is no one cure-all method, so I've compiled a list of strategies that have helped me and others to overcome this mysterious condition.
Get Outside: Having a change of scenery or a breath of fresh air could be all it takes to jumpstart your brain. A walk through a park with trees changing into their fall leaves or strolling on a beach beside a calm sea can be a relaxing, and even inspiring, experience. Stepping away from the blank page can help relieve stress and frustration, and leave you feeling fresh and ready to take on the challenge anew.
Map It Out: For some writers, it's crucial to know where they're going before they put words down on the page. Do you find yourself stuck thinking about what will happen next? Then it might be time for you to map out your story with a basic (or intensive) outline. Write out the plot on computer or paper and have it somewhere accessible so you can reference it whenever you get struck. Mapping is a good visual method and reminder for remembering that your story always has "somewhere to go."
Change the POV: What might this story look like from the perspective of the side-character? The villain? 1st person? 3rd person? Changing the POV of a story may help get some creative juices flowing and force you to re-visualize your story and unblock your mind in the process.
Use a Prompt: Sometimes we need a little "kickstart"—some help to get going. Find a website of prompts (such as reedsyprompts: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/) or look for prompts in real life. E.g. Write a piece about your favorite song or that painting hanging on your wall. What's happening in it and why? Who are the characters? What's the setting? Description can often be a source of inspiration.
Read: Sometimes I find reading a book that uses a similar style or genre as what I'm trying to write helps "unblock" my brain. My go to sources of writer's "inspo" are Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; I grab them, flip to a random chapter, and get to reading. Reading reminds me how to keep prose moving and more importantly, why I write at all. It can also lead to more inspiration or enthusiasm for the art of writing that jolts you back into creativity mode.
Think About the Source of the Problem: It's important to think about the root of the issue. At times, realizing what it is that's holding you back and how you can overcome it may be enough. Is it perfectionism that's holding you back? If so, it's crucial to remind yourself that you can't edit a blank page. Is it fear? Write something nobody else is going to read, something solely for yourself. In the end, you might just decide it's worth sharing. Or is it simply procrastination, in which case you just need to get yourself to the desk (maybe grab a mug of your preferred choice of caffeine as well!) and write.
Free Write: And we come to at last the final, perhaps least desirable, method. This involves "grinding through" the process—writing whatever comes to your mind. Granted, this doesn't work for everybody, but sometimes it's simply necessary in order to get the words out—no matter how unpolished they may be.
And of course, remember those famous, ubiquitous words: You can only overcome writer's block by writing. You can do it!
Edited by Becca Masch