8 Quick Tips for Battling Writer’s Block

What to do when the well runs dry.

Laura Todd Carns

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Some days, the words seem to come unbidden from the magical land of sentences, and you feel like nothing more than a vessel, whose role is to simply transcribe these messages from the ether.

Most days, it’s not like that. At all.

I’m a big believer in the butt-in-chair philosophy of creative work, meaning that the work won’t get done unless you are working. But what do you do when you’re staring at a blinking cursor or a blank page, and just… nothing is coming? If you’ve reached a point in your novel or your story or your essay and you just cannot figure out what the next words are? If you’re crippled by self-doubt and you can’t summon up the chutzpah to keep going? (Because let’s face it — it takes some serious confidence-bordering-on-arrogance to think you have anything worthwhile to say.) We’ve all been there. Here are some practical, tactical ideas for getting the pipes unclogged.

  1. Free-write. If your internal censors are the problem, try free-writing to simply get words flowing out of your brain again. You can start with a prompt, or just start brain-dumping. The idea is to keep your pen/pencil/keyboard in constant forward motion — no deletions, no re-reading, just write write write any old garbage for a set amount of time. (Start low: two minutes. This is harder than it sounds.) Occasionally, some really gorgeous stuff comes out of free-writing sessions. Most times, it’s nonsensical trash, but it can help get the kinks out so you can return to your work-in-progress fresh.
  2. Write something in a different genre. If you’re stuck on your novel, work on a personal essay. Stuck on an academic essay — try some flash fiction. Write something completely unrelated to what is holding you up. This engages different parts of your brain, keeps your sentence-building chops honed, and may yield some fun experimentation with forms you haven’t really worked in before.
  3. Write a scene from a different point-of-view. This really only applies to fiction writing, but try looking at your story through the eyes of someone other than the narrator. Is there a minor character in the scene you’re trying to write? How would they see the events unfold? What does their voice sound like? Or if the…

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Laura Todd Carns

Freelancer & fictioneer. Contributor to Medium pubs Human Parts, GEN, Curious; bylines elsewhere in WaPo, Quartz, EL, The Lily & more. www.lauratoddcarns.com