What is writer’s block and how do you overcome it?
It’s not unusual to sit and stare at the computer screen without anything smart to write down. Whether it’s your thesis, bachelors or perhaps any other big assignment, writer’s block can happen to anyone. And more often than not, it comes when you have the least time for it. So, we are taking a look at how to overcome your writer’s block.
What is writer’s block? You want to write, you are ready to write, you start writing… and then… you can’t get anything on paper. How does that make sense? In this blog post I will explain what writer’s block is and why it happens as well as give you good tips to overcome writer’s block.
I’m not going to lie. I struggled finding a good way to start this blog. And I think part of it was the idea of writing a blog about writer’s block (try saying that five times quickly) and that manifesting itself. Oh well, even more reason to write I guess.
I have previously written a blog post about how to stop procrastinating and felt that I also wanted to explore writer’s block. Procrastination kind of makes sense – I mean – it makes sense to postpone things you don’t want to do, and I can see the logic in that.
4 reasons behind writer’s block
Putting yourself out there
Whilst gathering information about writer’s block I found it to be quite similar to procrastination in some areas. More specifically, the part that makes us procrastinate and the part that results in writer’s block.
4 reasons behind writer’s block
Writer’s block is not caused because your creative battery has run out or because you aren’t clever. Writer’s block is a reaction to feelings… See where I’m going with this? Writer’s block is a psychological issue way more than just being a blockage from writing. And all of the issues result in one primary feeling and that is not being good enough.
The first, perhaps not that surprising, the issue is self-criticism. Of course, you will have a tough time writing if you keep criticizing every word and sentence that you write down. You may not like your way of describing certain theories or the way you go about analysis but truth is that your writing is unique and most likely perfectly fine. Think about your favorite book and author. What if they had changed their writing because they thought their own way of writing didn’t meet the standards of their peers?
Afraid of putting yourself out there
The second point will most likely apply if you’re writing something new or possibly a bit more vulnerable. You are putting your ideas out for everyone to see, and if this piece of writing means a great deal to you – well – then the risk of embarrassment is suddenly much bigger. In other words, this is also fear of not having your idea accepted.
Perfectionism is quite close to the point of self-criticism. This has been a struggle I have had to overcome in order to get writing. The idea of having the perfect sentence the first time you write it down makes it almost impossible to write anything at all. Nothing is perfect the first time we do anything but the more we revisit, practice, and learn the better it becomes. The same goes for writing. You are able to edit, delete and rethink before posting, sending, or printing it.
External pressure from peers
With the other three points being rooted in yourself and your feelings this fourth point stands out. As you can read from the heading, this fourth point regards external pressure. So, the external pressure stems from, funny enough, people around you. You parents, friends, colleagues, teachers you name it.
Some may expect you to get a certain grade or impress people a certain way. This pressure is obviously enough to make even the greatest writer doubt their abilities. And then there is the type of pressure where you’re not exactly expected to perform but rather just deliver. You know, when a teacher asks for a hand-in that doesn’t really interest you. It’s no surprise that writing a paper on something that doesn’t have your attention is a tough task to complete.
Surprise! Turns out that writer’s block is also linked to bad feelings – great. Unfortunately, you can’t just isolate yourself from external pressure or change your feelings instantly. With anything else regarding mental health, you need to work on it. So, the following is a mix of my own tips but also tips from other people with, perhaps, a bit more ethos backing them.
What helps to overcome writer’s block?
Personally, my writer’s block often stems from perfectionism. I very often write a sentence, then delete it because it isn’t perfect – and then rewrite it until I think it’s good enough. That means that the rest of my thinking flow is put on hold, and to be honest, I am pretty sure some great ideas are lost in that process.
What helps me, but also challenges me, is writing and keeping sentences despite them not meeting my requirements for a perfect sentence. Luckily, my computer allows me to go back and edit those sentences – thank god for electronics. The reason this works for me is that I don’t disrupt my flow of thinking.
If you’re a bit riskier than I am, you can try Freewriting. Freewriting is more or less just intense writing for a timeslot of 15 – 30 minutes. Everything you think is written down (which stresses me out – but you do you). You can read more about freewriting.
What does science say about writer’s block?
I obviously need to mention how exercise helps writer’s block. Hate it or love it, exercise seems to be the way to go when facing difficult tasks. And that isn’t just me saying so, studies show that exercise can boost creativity. Personally, I prefer to go for a walk and listen to some podcasts or, if I’m feeling energetic, go to the gym. But really, anything that gets you out of the house works. Running, cycling, swimming, power walking, etc.
Okay, a second scientific way to avoid writer’s block. And let me tell you – this is a tough one for me to go through with. Be bored! Let’s be honest – you’re never really bored in today’s society.
If you’re starting to feel bored you grab your phone and visit Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and the rest of your online echo chambers. But, research has actually found that being bored leads your brain to wander off and daydream. Daydreaming is quite effective when it comes to generating creativity and inspiration.
A way I imagine doing this is to change my scenery, perhaps go to a park, or beach or maybe just lie on the floor, and then have my phone far away. And then just… be bored I guess.
What works for some may not work for you
Bouncing back to my own tips for overcoming writer’s block. Leave it when you get frustrated. Clearly, not everyone is able to just leave their work – lots of people are bound by deadlines. But if you have the time and opportunity to leave your research paper, novel or blog post (yep, I have done this several times already), do it! Close down the tab and move on with your life.
When you get an idea, you can either write it down by hand and keep it as a note or you can reopen the tab and start writing. Often, I find myself preaching that I should write for three hours straight before I can watch Netflix. But what actually happens is that I don’t really produce anything and actually waste those hours instead.
However, when I get a spark of creativity in the midst of cooking or a great idea in the middle of a film, I find myself being motivated and can produce much more text in a short period of time!
These are some of the ways I get over writer’s block as well as some scientifically proven ways. Despite some of them working for me, your friend, or because science says so, everyone is different and they might not work for you. The internet is filled with tips and tricks – but my blog post is getting rather long so I will let you get back to that paper – it won’t write itself (learned that the hard way).
If you want more advice, read our 5 good habits to adopt as a student.