How to Overcome Writer’s Block in 5 Simple Steps
October 7, 2019 § 12 Comments
by Sweta Srivastava Vikram
If you are a writer, you have most definitely met your worst enemy: writer’s block. Aside from the inner critic that wins at ripping apart the writerly confidence, writer’s block can be a real catastrophe too. It can make you question your creative abilities, send you into a spiral about your identity, and make you ponder over your future, amongst other things. Writer’s block, like the indignant cold & cough, is impartial; it impacts most writers from time to time. Be it because of waning passion or unrealistic expectations or burn out or real-world distractions, most of us get stalled in our creative work.
Getting out of this sterile, uncreative funk is in the writer’s hands. While some might think that procrastinating or waiting for the muse to show up or writing only when you feel inspired or wallowing in self-pity or watching nonstop television or making excuses for the dry, creative spell might help overcome writer’s block…that’s not the case. Overcoming writer’s block takes sincere efforts. To get out of the funk, you have to take active steps and create momentum:
- Create a routine: After months of not being able to write because of personal and professional commitments in life, I open my laptop and a journal. Guess what? Nothing happens. Not even a word. For six days in a row, I show up. I swallow my pride (After having written and traditionally published 12 books inside 9 years, battling writer’s block isn’t easy for me), embrace my frustrations, and deal with another non-creative day before leaving for work. On the 7th day, I show up to my words and this time, my words transform into sentences and inside an hour, I write this essay. I am not trying to tell you that I am a genius: This productivity is attributed to conditioned response, something I learned from studying Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov’s, experiment with his dog. In a nutshell, whenever the dog heard the bell, he started to salivate. This was an association that Pavlov cultivated. I don’t have the luxury of being a full-time writer, so I have been training my mind to make an association when it sees my laptop and/or journal at the same time every day. A simple trick to get words moving on the page using conditioned response. The only guaranteed way of overcoming writer’s block is by writing. So, create a routine and follow it diligently. Practice. Practice. Practice.
- Free write: I was telling a dear friend of mine—who happens to be a psychotherapist—about the unintentional distance between me and words of late. Between my day job, running a business, and managing the home front, I don’t always find the creative juices flow instantaneously. She suggested changing how I envision writing. “Write for the joy of writing. Write for yourself. Not for the editor or publisher or to sell a piece.” She continued, “It doesn’t always have to be a completed essay or a blog post or an article or X number of words from a new book. Don’t try to say or produce anything; just get some words on paper or your laptop. A scribble in the journal. A tweet. An Instagram post—they all make for writing.” Aah, the power of free writing. I have to say…there is something liberating about writing without an agenda or a deadline or filters. The catharsis is real. You start to see words pour onto the page and morph into sentences and then paragraphs.
- Create bullet points on paper for ideas and brainstorming: I always bring a tiny journal with me wherever I go. Writing by hand connects you with the words and allows your brain to focus on them, understand them, and learn from them. Bullet points helps to stay organized and work as sunken treasures you can dip into when looking for ideas on a barren day. Writing down ideas in an organized way by hand gives your brain the space to think and concentrate on what it is you are writing about. Handwriting can be particularly useful during goal setting and brainstorming because it’s slower and more deliberate. It also helps improve memory. Research shows that writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters…the sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with processing and remembering information. Writing on paper also allows us to break predefined formats and layouts.
- Change your environment: One other thing that helps me get out of the non-writing funk, aka writer’s block, is being mindful of my environment. What do I mean by that? Given that I haven’t hit the jackpot yet (*inserts sarcastic smile*), there is only so much space my New York City apartment can offer. I find parks and coffee shops and trains and make them home to my writing. But here is the deal: I keep each environment sacred to a particular genre. For instance, if my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood is where I write nonfiction, I would never bring my poetry or fictional writing into that space. If poems pour in subways, nonfiction and fiction stay buried during the commute. Changing the environment can help with creativity.
- Walk away the block: Walking offers unique advantages to improve health and boost creativity. Research tells us that when a creative professional doesn’t get to write and express their creativity, they can get into depression. A nice brisk walk might be just what you need to stimulate your brain’s creativity and get you back in writing mode as walking unleashes creativity. Researchers from Stanford University have found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined the creativity levels of persons while they were walking and while they were sitting down. On average the creativity level of the walking people increased by 60 percent. Walking helps release creative juices along with endorphins. It circulates more oxygen and blood to the brain.
In the end, don’t wait for the perfect moment, optimum word, or seamless spot to start writing and overcome writer’s block. Start somewhere, anywhere. A few words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Write something. Anything. Definitely don’t make excuses or justifications for not writing. Don’t be bogged down by perfectionism and eloquence. Start today wherever you are. It’s easier to pick up speed when you are in the habit of writing. You’ll be writing before you know it—conquering writer’s block and returning to creative work in due course. The idea is to get words on the page. Eventually, the writer’s block will become a distant memory.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a mindset & wellness coach, global speaker, and best-selling author of 12 books, including, the recent Louisiana Catch. She helps entrepreneurs and creative professionals increase productivity through health and wellness. Winner of the “Voices of the Year Award” (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton and founders of the #MeToo movement), Sweta is also a five-times Pushcart Prize nominee. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, among other publications, across nine countries on three continents. A graduate of Columbia University, Sweta lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. She is also the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, which helps women share their stories, heal from trauma, and empower their mental health and lives using Ayurveda, yoga, and storytelling. Find her on: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.