Breaking Through the Barriers

Ah, writer’s block. It seems to be a recurring problem for all writers, regardless of whether they’re professionals who make their living at the craft, hobbyists who dabble for their own enjoyment, or somewhere in between.

Unfortunately, I’ve never yet heard of anyone who’s discovered a magical cure that will effectively break through the block no matter what. What works – and what doesn’t – varies, depending on the writer and the situation.

That said, I thought I would share a few of the things I tend to find most useful, in hopes that it may help others as well.

1. Establish a routine.

This doesn’t have to mean sitting down at a certain time to write every day, although that can help.  I’ve found that it’s more important for me to set up cues to start telling my brain and body that it’s time start writing.

Sometimes, for me, it’s just a matter of moving my laptop from one room to another, to help me switch tracks from “other work” to “writing time.” If it’s a more difficult project, or I’m having a particularly hard time getting started, I’ll add other things: I get myself a fresh drink (whether it’s a cup of tea, a glass of water, or a can of soda). I put on some music – I’ve found certain CDs that I particularly like, which are the right balance between not putting me to sleep yet not so interesting that it distracts me. If I’m having a particularly hard time focusing, it can help to get up and exercise for 15 minutes or so.

2. Goals and artificial deadlines.

I’ve found that I really do tend to work well with deadlines, especially ones that are rapidly approaching. With a long-term project, it can help to break it into small, short-term self-imposed deadlines.

When I’m struggling with writing, though, it can be difficult to find a reasonable balance for goals and deadlines. Too often, I wind up either aiming unrealistically high – thus setting myself up for further discouragement when I fail to accomplish it – or so low that it’s not going to feel like any real accomplishment when I get there.

Sometimes, setting a goal of writing a certain number of words – pushing through to get something down, even if I hate it – is helpful.

More often, though, when writing is really a struggle, I think it can be helpful to set time goals: writing for half an hour, an hour, two hours, whatever you have time and energy for. The important thing isn’t the word count, or progress made, but the discipline. So long as you spent that time being focused and working at it, regardless of whether you dislike what you’ve written, regardless of whether it looks like a discouragingly small amount, you haven’t failed at your goal for that day. Eventually, as I keep to that pattern of just being there and working on it, the flow of words tends to come back and it’s no longer a matter of just putting in time.

3. Choose an assignment.

There are times when my difficulty with writing seems to come from discouragement in writing for a nebulous audience “out there” and feeling I’ve lost track of what may be interesting or helpful to them.

When that happens, especially with fiction writing, I often find it helpful to think small and pick up a project that I can finish in a short amount of time. I’ll ask my friends if they have a short story they’d like me to write. A lot of my writer friends, particularly, have more ideas than they do time – or have ideas they like, but just can’t see ever writing themselves. I also visit “story request” or “story prompt” sites, where people post ideas for stories they’d like to see written, and see if I can find something that catches my interest.

If I write a story geared toward a narrow, specific audience, and they like it, it can help re-energize and encourage me to go on with my other projects. And sometimes what begins as something to entertain or help just one person can develop into something much bigger.

For instance, a while back an acquaintance asked me to explain a particular digital art technique. As I started putting together information for her, I realized that I had a lot more to say on the subject than I’d originally thought. I’m now in the process of expanding that informal tutorial into a full e-book.

4. Write about writer’s block!

Hey, if you’re going to suffer through it, you might as well get some good material out of it, right?


What about you? What are some things you’ve done to break through writer’s block?

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