After you’ve identified potential causes of your writer’s block, you can try other ideas for working through it.
If you’re spending most of your writing sessions revising partial drafts instead of writing new material, try setting a timer each time you sit down to write. Pick a relatively short amount of time—maybe 10 minutes—that you’ll use to reread and think about what you wrote previously. When that time is up, put your focus on moving forward. Your initial drafts won’t be perfect, but writing a full first draft will help you reach your goals more quickly than continually revising a partial one.
Similarly, if you find yourself staring at a blank page, try setting a timer and giving yourself permission to write anything that comes to mind for that set period—no matter how off topic or unusable it may be. Simply putting words on the page and allowing yourself to write imperfectly can help to loosen the creative muscles and ease the transition into working on your manuscript.
Another technique for combatting the blank page is to start your sessions by reading a page or two of another book you admire. Immersing yourself in great writing can help to get your creative juices flowing and can remind you of some of the reasons you want to write. If you try this exercise, be careful to choose a book that doesn’t lead you to compare your first drafts to another author’s published work or to subconsciously mimic their writing.
You might also try ending your future writing sessions with a leading sentence, a partial scene, or a few lines about what will happen next. The idea is to give yourself a clear starting point for your next session that will make it feel easier, rather than starting a wholly new scene or chapter.
If you struggle with comparison and find it affecting your creative work, consider how you can create guardrails for yourself or remove the temptation entirely. This might mean limiting your social media usage or unsubscribing from newsletters that prompt anxiety and self-doubt. You might decide to ask your agent not to send reviews while you are drafting a new book. Or you might take a break from reading comparable books during certain stages of your writing process.
You can also try replacing these habits with ones that energize you and hone your creative skills. For instance, you might replace your social media use with in-person events, smaller group discussions, or one-on-one connections. Rather than reading books that feel similar to yours, you might try reading books in less familiar genres.
Problems on the Page
If you feel overwhelmed or distracted by problems within your current manuscript, try completing a brain dump. Set a timer for five or ten minutes and use the time to write down everything on your mind, without editing or limiting yourself. Nothing is too small or large for this process.
After completing the brain dump, try to give yourself some time away from what you’ve written. When you feel ready to return, you might decide to choose one concrete question, idea, or issue to work on during your next writing session. Or, you might find that completing the brain dump has freed your mind to think of new directions for your next writing session. Often, putting your thoughts down on paper allows your mind to stop worrying about simply remembering problems and to begin solving them.
If you are still feeling stuck, try changing some other aspect of your writing sessions. You might change your physical writing space, switch to outlining instead of writing, or try one of these other ideas for breaking out of a writing rut. I also highly recommend that all authors read Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird; it’s an eloquent, reassuring reminder of the universal challenges and triumphs of the creative life.
Your Editor Friend,
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