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Posted on Nov 06, 2019

How to Overcome Writer's Block: 20 Helpful Tips

If you've ever been afflicted with writer's block, you'll know it's no laughing matter — it can impede your writing for days, weeks, or even months. And while it's tempting to just ignore the problem and hope that it goes away, writer's block is one of those pests that requires active extermination.

That's why we've put together this post all about how to overcome writer's block, complete with info on what actually causes this conundrum, as well as what you can do to avoid it! Feel free to start with the video below for a quick primer, then move onto our detailed written tips.

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What is writer’s block?

Writer’s block is the state of being unable to proceed with writing, and/or the inability to start writing something new. Some believe it's a genuine disorder, while others believe it's “all in your head.” Regardless, we can all agree writer's block is a painful condition that's often difficult to overcome.

What causes writer's block, you may ask? Well, in the 1970s, clinical psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios decided to find out. After following a group of “blocked writers” for several months, they concluded that there are four broad causes of writer's block:

  1. Excessively harsh self-criticism
  2. Fear of comparison to other writers
  3. Lack of external motivation, like attention and praise
  4. Lack of internal motivation, like the desire to tell one's story

In other words, writer's block stems from various feelings of discontent with the creative act of writing. But these feelings are by no means irreversible! After all, every writer begins with a sense of purpose and excitement; beating writer's block is about getting those feelings back. Let's jump into our tips to see how you can accomplish that.

How to overcome writer's block: 20 tips

1. Develop a writing routine

Author and artist Twyla Tharp once wrote: “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” This might seem counterintuitive to some. Isn't creativity something that naturally ebbs and flows, not something you can schedule?

But the truth is, if you only write when you “feel creative,” you're bound to get stuck in a tar pit of writer's block. The only way to push through is by disciplining yourself to start creative writing on a regular schedule. It might be every day, every other day, or just on weekends — but whatever it is, stick to it!

Want to establish a regular writing habit, but not sure how? Check out this course on the subject, or watch this Reedsy Live from writing coach Kevin Johns, which shows how to create "non-negotiable writing time."

2. Use "imperfect" words

A writer can spend hours looking for the perfect word or phrase to illustrate a concept. You can avoid this fruitless (and block-engendering) endeavor by putting, “In other words…” and simply writing what you’re thinking, whether it’s eloquent or not. You can then come back and refine it later by doing a CTRL+F search for “in other words.”

3. Do non-writing activities

Children’s book editor Maria Tunney finds that one of the best ways to climb out of a writing funk is to take yourself out of your own work and into someone else’s:

“Go to an exhibition, to the cinema, to a play, a gig, eat a delicious meal ... immerse yourself in great STUFF and get your synapses crackling in a different way. Snippets of conversations, sounds, colors, sensations will creep into the space that once felt empty. Perhaps, then, you can return to your own desk with a new spark of intention.”

4. Freewrite through it

Freewriting involves writing for a pre-set amount of time without pause — and without regard for grammar, spelling, or topic. You just write.

Of course, what you jot down may be completely irrelevant to your current project, but that doesn't matter! The goal of freewriting is to write without second-guessing yourself — free from doubt, apathy, or self-consciousness, all of which contribute to writer's block. Here's how to get started:

  • Find the right surroundings. Go somewhere you won't be disturbed.
  • Pick your writing utensils. Will you type at your computer, or write with pen and paper? (Tip: if you're prone to hitting the backspace button, you should freewrite the old-fashioned way!)
  • Settle on a time-limit. Your first time around, set your timer for just 10 minutes to get the feel for it. You can gradually increase this interval as you grow more comfortable with freewriting.

If you're still stuck, take this quiz to get yourself a personalized writing playlist to power you past writer's block!


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5. Relax on your first draft

Many writers suffer form perfectionism, which is especially debilitating during a first draft. As editor Lauren Hughes says:

“Blocks often occur because writers put a lot of pressure on themselves to sound ‘right’ the first time. A good way to loosen up and have fun again in a draft is to give yourself permission to write imperfectly.”

Remember that “perfect is the enemy of good,” so don't agonize about getting it exactly right! You can always go back and edit, maybe even get a second pair of eyes on the manuscript. But for this first time around, just putting the words on the page is enough.

6. Don’t start at the beginning

By far the most intimidating part of writing is the start, when you have a whole empty book to fill with coherent words. (Seriously, just talking about it makes us break out in a cold sweat.)

So instead of starting with the chronological beginning of whatever it is you’re trying to write, dive into middle, or wherever you feel confident. You’ll feel less pressure to get everything “right” straight away because you’re “already at the halfway point” — and by the time you return to the beginning, you'll be all warmed up!

7. Take a shower

This isn’t a personal hygiene suggestion. Have you ever noticed that the best ideas tend to arrive while in the shower, or while doing other “mindless” tasks?

Well, there’s a scientific reason for this: research shows that when you’re doing something monotonous (such as showering, walking, or cleaning), your brain goes on autopilot, leaving your unconscious free to wander without logic-driven restrictions. In other words, you’re more able to daydream and make creative connections that you might otherwise miss. Just lather, rinse, and repeat until you’ve kicked that block to the curb!

8. Balance your inner critic

Ah, the inner critic! Always there to bring your writing to a screeching halt with a big dose of self-doubt. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and Charles Bukowski all struggled with it — indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who hasn’t been blocked by their inner critic.

What successful writers have in common is the ability to hear their inner critic, respectfully acknowledge its points, and move forward. You don't need to completely ignore that critical voice, nor should you cower before it. Rather, you must establish a respectful, balanced relationship, so you can address what's necessary and skip over what's insecure and irrelevant.

If you want to know more, the Harvard Business Review has some great tips on how to make peace with your inner critic!

9. Switch up your tool

As you may already know, a change of scenery can really help with writer's block. However, that scenery doesn't have to be your physical location — changing up your writing tool can be just as big a help!

For example, if you’ve been typing on your word processor of choice, try switching to pen and paper. Or if you're just sick of Google Docs, consider using specialized novel writing software. (Personally, we'd recommend the Reedsy Book Editor, which comes with a built-in goal reminder system that you can enable if you find that you're falling behind your writing schedule!) Even the smallest shift can make a huge difference to your productivity.

10. Change your POV

More great advice from editor Lauren Hughes: “When blocked, try to see your story from another perspective ‘in the room’ to help yourself move beyond the block. How might a minor character narrate the scene if they were witnessing it? A ‘fly on the wall’ or another inanimate object?

“Temporarily changing your perspective can give ‘new eyes’ and help you more clearly see the areas you could improve in the scene, and how to proceed from there.”

If you're like to see point of view in action, here's an in-depth look at what POV is and various examples of it.

11. Exercise your creative muscles

Any skill requires practice if you want to improve, and writing is no different! So if you’re feeling stuck, perhaps it’s time for a strengthening scribble-session to bolster your abilities. Check out these lists of creative writing promptswriting exercises, creative writing examples or writing strategies to get started and inspired.

12. Map out your story

If your story has stopped chugging along, help it pick up steam by taking a more structured approach — specifically, by writing an outline. Figuring out your story's trajectory will not only solve your current block, but also prevent more blocks in the future!

As author Tom Evans says in this interview, “What happens [when you start outlining] is that the information that you need to write that following chapter has an uncanny way of just showing up. There are a few reasons for that, but basically your brain tunes in to what you need to write... and the chapter just flows.”

Sounds pretty great, right? So even if you've always eschewed outlining, give it a try; it might be just the thing to cure your writer's block.


Which famous author do you write like?

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13. Write something else

Though it's important to try and push through writer's block with what you're actually working on, sometimes it's simply impossible. If you've been banging your head against your story for ages, feel free to push your current piece to the side for now and write something new.

This will both a) maintain your writing routine and b) allow your thoughts to subconsciously simmer. That way, even if you're not actually writing what you should be writing, you can still make some conceptual progress — and come back to it with new ideas to try.

Not sure what else to write about? Check out some of these short story ideas, or this amazing new plot generator! (Warning: highly addictive.)

14. Work on your characters

At their core, most stories are really about characters. It follows that if your characters are not clearly defined, you’re more likely to run into writer’s block. But if this sounds like you, don't despair! Here are some great resources for getting your characters up to code:

  • Character development exercises — these will help you flesh out your characters into three-dimensional people with strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, fears, and more.
  • Character profile — this post walks you through how to create a detailed character profile. It also comes with a handy template you can use to really get to know your cast!
  • Character motivations — motivations are a crucial part of every character; this post explains why you need them, and how to implement realistic motivations in your own characters.

15. Stop writing for readers

If you're an experienced author, you've probably come across the advice to “write to market.” And while this is important if you're looking to publish, the pressure of other people's expectations can be a huge inhibitor that — you guessed it — manifests as a major block.

So throw the market out the window for now and write for yourself, not your potential readers. This will help you reclaim the joy of being creative and get you back in touch with what matters: the story.

Indeed, it may even help your writing in the end! Disregarding what readers expect, especially if your genre is particularly “literary,” often loosens your prose into sounding less pretentious and more real.

16. Try a more visual process

When words fail you, forget them and get visual. Create mind maps, drawings, Lego structures — ideally related to your story, but whatever unblocks your mind!

You might also try the Inkflow app, which works like a visual word processor, so you can easily move your ideas around/doodle on them as you wish. If you’re the kind of person who likes to outline by placing sticky notes on the wall, then this app might be your new best friend.

Check out more great apps in our list of the best writing apps for authors, screenwriters, content creators, and more!

17. Look for the root of it

As Singer and Barrios pointed out, writer’s block often comes from a problem deeper than simple “lack of inspiration.” So let's dig deep: why are you really blocked? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I feel pressure to succeed and/or competition with other writers?
  • Have I lost sight of what my story is about, or interest in where it's going?
  • Do I lack confidence in my own abilities, even if I've written plenty before?
  • Have I not written for so long that I feel intimidated by the mere act?
  • Am I simply feeling tired and run-down?

Each of these problems has a different solution, of course. For example, if you feel pressure to succeed, you should remind yourself that writing anything is an enormous accomplishment, and literary recognition isn't the end-all be-all of success. Or if you're feeling tired and drained, you should take a few days off from writing! But you have to get to the root of the block first: once you identify what's wrong, it'll be so much easier to fix.

18. Quit the Internet

It’s a small miracle that writers can get ANYTHING done on machines designed to access a world of distraction. If willpower isn’t your strong suit and your biggest challenge is staying focused, try a site blocker like Freedom or an app like Cold Turkey. The latter is a particularly cool solution to writer's block — it turns your computer into a typewriter until you reach your writing goal, so you literally can't do anything else.

19. Let the words find you

When you can't find the words, let them find you! Meditate, go for a walk, take that shower we recommended, or (the eternal refrain) use an app to get the words flowing.

Word Palette is a great “fridge poetry-esque” app that features a keyboard of random words, allowing you to simply click your way to your next masterpiece. You can also try AI auto-completers like Talk to Transformer, where you can enter a phrase and let the app “guess what comes next.”

Even though these tools result in mostly nonsense, they're still a fun reminder not to take writing too seriously — which, again, is a major cause of writer's block.

20. Write like Hemingway

And if your biggest block is your own self-doubt about your prose, Hemingway offers suggestions to improve your writing as you go. Advice includes things like: “too verbose,” “use a forceful verb,” and “use active voice instead of passive.”

This app is so sharp, it even provides editorial feedback to the writing of its namesake: Ernest Hemingway! (Try pasting the line: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self” into the app.)

Of course, there's no magic trick or formula when it comes to overcoming writer's block. But if you add these 20 tips to your creative arsenal, you’ll be well on your way to kicking it to the curb. Good luck and may the muse be with you! ✍️

What are your best methods for eliminating writer's block? Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below!


6 responses

heath shedlake says:

12/07/2018 – 15:40

A very informative and encouraging piece - thank you. I have completed a trilogy and am now working on the fourth in the series. Whilst I feel my characters are well-rounded, I've lost a little steam as my sales have virtually dried up! I know this happens to many writers, and it's hard to rekindle one's 'mojo'. But I shall refer to your piece when I'm beginning to doubt myself. I shall retweet also:)

Anna says:

22/06/2019 – 15:30

Very helpful! But what about creative burn-out? I don't think it falls under the four main causes/types of writer's block. I'm a violinist and composer as well as a writer, and when faced with writer's (or artist's) block, I can normally cycle through my different creative tasks. They feed each other. My go-to when I'm truly burned out is to enjoy others' art -- read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, etc. But sometimes I'm so far gone that nothing helps me recharge. (I wonder if try to be a musician and a writer is actually detrimental, rather than helpful? That being said, I'm not giving up either of them.) Does anyone have any tips for when you're well is dried up in the middle of a drought?

↪️ Candace replied:

01/08/2019 – 23:53

I wanted to write a poem, but I'm very bad at it. So I decided to try my hand at creating one about how I couldn't write poetry! I simply wrote down the images that popped up in my head, and to my surprise, they actually sounded like poetry! That being said, perhaps it was just a moment of inspiration. Perhaps your music will help you gain traction in your writing and vice versa; both help you describe sensations. Good luck!

Dorothy says:

08/08/2019 – 14:37

Create a rough draft, similar to 'school reports. Let them pose as temporary chapter markers. This is especially helpful if you are distracted easily or find your mind daydreaming, or get frustrated easily.

David says:

27/01/2020 – 22:19

I enjoyed many of the tips in this article: Particularly about outlining, self-criticism which gets ramped up when reading feedback by one of its relatives, and reminder to relax during the first draft. There is a "wealth" of info herein, thanks much!

Laura B Sherman says:

23/03/2020 – 02:17

Excellent points! I believe a writer should write. I find it helps to switch things up sometimes. If I'm working on a novel and get stuck, I will sometimes pen a blog article. It can even help to email a friend. I consider it priming the creative pump. Thank you for your article!

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