If you’ve ever needed to write a thesis, piece of fiction, poetry, client manifesto, or begin that oft pushed to the side memoir, then you know this feeling all too well. It may not be curable, but it is treatable, and if corrected in time, you may just save your project (or your job) before it’s too late.
So, what to do? Nearly every source online will tell you to take a hiatus from your work for a while: Go for a walk, meditate, exercise, anything to reset your mind, and get back at it with a refreshed perspective. In many cases, this might be all that it takes for you to press past your blockage. If you run into a dead end in a maze, you need to get yourself back to a point in which you have other options. But there’s more than just dead ends to worry about: what if you get distracted in the maze and suddenly forget which way you came from? Which is the way forward? Problems with developing a new idea rather than grinding away with a failed one is an entirely different matter.
First off, while a distraction might draw you away from a flawed thought in your writing, you can also be pulled away from a thought that might have had great potential. For this reason, it is absolutely imperative, regardless of whatever other methods you take on to mitigate writer’s block, that you take every step necessary to put a lid of petty annoyances and distractions. Close your office door, put your phone away and out of reach. Maybe music really doesn’t help you concentrate. Experimentation and modification of your writing methodology is a surefire way to see an improvement in your habits.
If you feel as though nothing can pull you out of the zone, try looking back on some of your earlier works. How did you overcome this block the last time it happened? Where did your efforts take you? Whose critiques of your writing did you really take to heart often leading to the best changes? Learning from the past, and knowing where you’ve been can keep you from walking over your tracks.
Speaking of tracks, if there is one thing that I keep telling myself as a creative, and time and time again I neglect to do when I really need it most, it’s to jot down any and all novel ideas that come to you throughout the day, regardless of what they are – jokes, one-liners, poetic lines, names, otherworldly concepts, anything that makes you go, “Whoa, I need to use that later.” Assume you’ll forget, because you probably will. If the biggest hurdle you face in your writing is a deficit of original material, what you need is a storehouse of ideas, something you’ll have on hand at all times once you get use to capturing fleeting, content-rich thoughts.
Lastly, if all else fails, remember for whom it is you’re writing. If you’re a columnist or a blogger, then this is obvious, but if you’re writing for leisure and don’t have an audience, find one. Speaking from personal experience, I can confidently say that I’ve produced my best work when I knew that my work was going to be picked apart in a workshop setting or by a coworker. Make a contest out of it with other writers you know or work with, and put your pride on the line. Overcoming the fear of criticism and allowing your skills to temper in the heat of competition, just like with athletic ability, will show you exactly how you stack up. Do this, and you just might find that the clogs that make life as a writer bleak, will happen less and less often.