At one point or another, we’ve all found ourselves in front of the dreaded blank page. Writing an essay, starting a novel, or plotting a short story may seem like fun activities until you sit down to write the first few lines and nothing comes to mind. Faced with this situation, there are several options: you can abandon the project, wait for a sign of divine inspiration or do something about it. Next, we bring you a possible guide to overcoming writer’s block.
What’s the Cause of Writer’s Block?
First of all, it’s useful to identify what’s causing the block. Are you going through a breakup? Are you falling asleep in front of the computer? It’s been ages since you had something to drink or eat? If you can identify where your mind is when you cannot form any productive ideas, you’ll be able to meet that demand and resume your activity as soon as possible.
Many times, feeling stuck with a project to the point of not being able to make any progress is related to a lack of free time to devote to your own personal projects, or to not knowing how to prioritize them. Another common mistake is having very high expectations: if you want your first work to be a masterpiece, you’re going to give up too quickly. In the same line, if your goals are focused solely on creating something that others will like, you’ll be putting extra pressure on yourself from the beginning.
Getting Organized is Key
Although we don’t always take this into account, staying hydrated and well-fed is essential to face long hours of mental work. Constantly writing on an empty stomach or only drinking coffee can be harmful to your health.
Also, it’s ideal to have a good sleep routine and to set small goals. You can’t expect to have a long day of creative writing if you haven’t slept for two nights in a row. Whether it’s a text that you are writing on a deadline or something that you are creating for pleasure, you have to keep a work schedule in mind and adjust to it as much as possible.
Besides, it’s essential that these goals are achievable. You can’t set out to start and finish a novel in one night, but you can decide to maintain a constant and daily advance. It’s important to deal with frustration and not get carried away by helplessness or stress. Trying to take it easy is one of the most effective medicines—and one of the hardest to apply.
What Exercises Can you Try?
Before letting helplessness take over, there are many exercises you can try. Meditation is highly recommended to unlock ideas or to help you shape them. If you’ve never done it before, it’s advisable to start with 3-to-5-minute meditation.
To do it, you have to focus on the midpoint. Draw an imaginary line from the middle of your eyebrows to your occipital bone (that is, the nape), and another line from the center of the upper part of your skull in a vertical direction: the point where those two lines intersect is the midpoint. The exercise consists of concentrating on that point while you observe your thoughts go by, without embracing any of them.
Another recommendation is doing other activities: tidying up the house, going for a walk or cooking a new dish can generate moments of relaxation where unexpected ideas arise. On the other hand, doing the opposite can also help: delving into all kinds of content (music, articles, movies) related to the topic can evoke inspiration for our project.
Making an Action Plan
Once motivation is established, it’s ideal to use that energy to create a sketch of your work’s structure. You don’t need to start at the beginning of a story if you are able to write a draft that organizes the text as a whole. Making an introduction, development and ending mockup will help you organize your writing. In turn, building the main characters and their biographies will give your text more complexity.
Leave Space to Play
A common activity in creative writing workshops is having a conversation out loud with one of your characters. If you can’t spend the afternoon writing about them, you can at least try spending the afternoon talking to them. Imagining a conversation with a character on any subject is a good way to work on the depth of your character development.
You can also try telling your story to a being from another planet. If you had to explain every detail to someone who doesn’t understand how our society works, how would you do it? Sometimes, we take for granted that any reader will understand the world we lay out, but it can be very useful to unravel the entire web of causes and consequences that motivate our characters.
Turn to Your Loved Ones
It is essential to talk to your loved ones so that they support you and don’t underestimate your goals. Having close people encouraging you to continue will help you feel more motivated. You can spend time telling your friends about your new stories and seek inspiration from their feedback. Let them read your first drafts, and even ask them to encourage you not to procrastinate in your free time.
Once you come to terms with the idea that your projects need long periods of work and accept that each one is going to involve an extensive process, you have to maintain a rhythm of work. Don’t give up if one day you can’t make progress according to your plan, but bind yourself to continuing it the next day. Ultimately, for your projects to become real, it’s essential that you are working on them.
Lastly: Trust Yourself!
While your projects are in the development stages, their future depends on you. If you doubt what you are doing or don’t feel capable of continuing, you can be your own worst enemy. Therefore, it’s important that you trust your words. Keep in mind what brought you to the project in the first place. Clinging to the reasons why we started our adventure is necessary in times of fear and doubt.
Having writer’s block is completely normal when we are under pressure and overwhelmed by the anxiety of wanting to see our projects finished. However, if you keep trying, in time you will learn to develop your own ways of escaping it and meeting your goals.
By Brune Alzogaray, translated by Flora Bosch