Top 10 tips on overcoming writer’s block

writers block

The existence of writer’s block is something that divides writers. Some say there is no such thing, others that they have suffered from it and often. Regardless of whether you believe or not, I don’t know of a single writer that hasn’t struggled at some point to get words on the page. I know I have. So here are my top 10 tips on overcoming this hurdle so you can get back writing again.

1 Sit down and be ready to write

If you are the type of writer who has to ‘wait for their muse’, then I can’t help you. You can’t write if you don’t want to write. We are often at our most creative when finding excuses not to do something. As Dorothy Parker once said, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” If you can’t do this, nothing else will help you.

2 Set up a routine

Before I write I make a cup of tea. This ritual allows me to switch from whatever I’ve been doing or thinking about to focussing on the task at hand. I also like to eat biscuits, though I’m not sure if that helps or is just an indulgence. As people we like routine and are conditioned to do certain things in a certain way. Most of us have a morning routine to get us ready for the day. If it is altered our whole day feels out of synch. It’s the same for writing. Get yourself into the practice of doing the same things before you write and you will find writing comes naturally.

3 Allow yourself to write badly

I’ve never been in a situation where I found myself staring at a blank screen. Maybe I’m lucky. However, I have often spent the day writing a sentence then deleting it. Writing another then deleting it. And again. And again. And again. It was only when I allowed myself to write badly that this practice stopped. Any writer will tell you that a book is created during the edit, not during the first draft. You can correct anything during the edit, except a blank page, so even if it feels like you’re writing the worst scene in the world, let it out. You can always go back and change it afterwards.

4 Music

I know a number of writers that like to use music to get them in the mood, whether before writing a scene, or while writing a scene. I have to write in silence as I find myself distracted by what I’m listening to, often ending up with a song’s lyrics in my manuscript. I do, however, have certain songs for certain characters in my books, almost like their theme tune, and I often listen to one of the songs before writing a scene, to help me get into that character’s mindset.

5 Visualise the scene

For me, the biggest reason for struggling with a scene is because I can’t picture the location. I may have an idea of where it is but I can’t visualise it. It’s at this point I’ll do a google image search on the type of location I’m thinking about, just to get some visual clues. It doesn’t take a lot but once I have the location clear in my head I can go ahead and write the rest without a problem – well, almost without a problem.

6 Change the point of view

Another good way to overcome writer’s block is to write it from a different character’s perspective. Even if you are writing a book set purely from a single character’s point of view, writing the scene from another’s perspective can help identify what happens and how. You can then always change it back, using the first scene as the framework for your edit.

7 Just write dialogue

Most scenes are driven forward by dialogue. If I’m really, really stuck on a scene I just write dialogue. I may put in some attributions, a couple of beats if they come easily to hand, but I keep going until the scene reaches its conclusion. Afterwards, I’ll go back and add in description, action and whatever else is required.

8 Work on a different scene

There is no right or wrong order in which to write your book but most of us start at the beginning and follow some form of chronological order until we get to the end. While this works most of the time, sometimes this can cause us to struggle, especially with scenes that are either difficult to convey or not clear in our minds. If that’s so, write something else. If I get stuck I’ll choose to write a scene containing a character I enjoy writing about (we all have our favourites, don’t we), or one I’m looking forward to writing. It doesn’t matter when it appears, if it gets you writing again it’s a good thing.

9 Stop writing at a point you want to finish

I learnt this tip quite late but it’s a really good one. We’re often told to strike when the iron’s hot but stopping when you’re getting to a crucial and exciting part is a good way to get you raring to go the next day, and as we know, once you start writing it’s much easier to keep going.

10 Prepare your next scene the day before

I always like to have sketched out a rough order of play for any scene I’m about to write. It doesn’t mean I’ll always stick to it but it at least gives me a start point. I find the best time to do this is the day before you plan to write because I then have the rest of the day, and night, for my subconscious to chew it over and come up with ideas I’d never otherwise have thought of.

So, these are my top 10 tips to overcome writer’s block but what works for you? When the words fail to appear, what do you do to get things moving? I’d love to hear from you.

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27 thoughts on “Top 10 tips on overcoming writer’s block

  1. Thank you – useful ideas. With your permission (and with the promise to give credit), I’ll include a few of these when I’m talking about ‘Getting Unstuck’ in writing workshops.

    • Hi Robert, I’d be delighted for you to include them. I’ve received a number of these tips from other writers so I have no issue with you sharing them at all. The more we can help each other, the better. 🙂

  2. Wonderful tips, as always. I find the following two the most helpful for me: “Allow yourself to write badly” and “Prepare your next scene the day before.” Thanks to these two practices, I never have writers block. Now, shutting off social media and opening up Scrivener so I can write is a whole other thing. I must get better at that…

    • I agree with you, allowing myself to write badly was the biggest leap for me in terms of productivity. What I found most interesting is that once I read back what I’d written, much of the prose I’d found so difficult to write turned out not to be so bad after all and only needed a little spit and polish. Most, but not all 😉

      • Agreed. And I don’t always add enough for the senses the first time around, but if I throw in a cliche just to get me by and serve as a place marker, I can improve on it the next time around.

  3. Great list, Dylan. I’m just now learning to write a crappy first draft (after 8+ books) and although I still have a hard time, it’s getting a bit easier. Thanks for these 🙂

    • I can imagine it would be difficult after 8 books! For me, the Hemingway quote “the first draft of anything is shit” was really liberating. If a great writer felt that way, it was OK for me to feel that way too.

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