I went to speak with English classes in my high school today about my journey as a writer and journalist. I received many questions about how to find opportunities to publish work, which I have been addressing in the Break into Publishing series. If you’re a new visitor, thank you for dropping by and feel free to leave a comment. Today’s post shares my suggestions for dealing with creative blocks.  

As I work on improving my writing through deliberate practice, I’ve been reading books about craft and discussing the creative process with friends. And the number one problem people face when trying to create something–whether a story, an artwork, or an original composition–seems to be a creative block.

In literary circles, a creative block is sometimes treated like a mysterious disease that hinders writing. But in reality, it’s actually a term coined by people like us. Once we stop seeing it as an external force outside of our control, it simply becomes a challenge to overcome.

Ray Bradbury gives advice to creative writers in a speech at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea:

Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and celebration. You should be having fun at it. Ignore the authors who think it’s work… If it’s work, stop it, do something else… What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Then it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing… If you’ve a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by doing something else.

Ray Bradbury’s advice appears simple, but is invaluable. Rather than forcing ourselves to write when we have a creative block, or not writing at all, we should realize something is not working. Then, we can identify the problem and find a way to solve it…

If you lack inspiration:

Try reading, learning, or doing something you normally don’t do. The key is to look for fresh experiences and to take risks. Whether you grab a new magazine, go to an art exhibit, work with prompts, or talk to strangers, you will slowly start to accumulate ideas over time. Write down anything that interests you, makes you curious, or stirs strong emotions. Then, you can take these ideas and start writing.

If you experience a creative block while writing:

Reread what you have written so far and ask yourself why you started writing this piece.

Perhaps you don’t really want to write it…

In this case, you should consider giving up on it or find a way to develop interest. If it’s an assigned piece of writing for school or a publication, you can work on connecting it to something you’re interested about. If it’s an optional piece for your own interest, then modify the content until you feel passionate about it. Forcing yourself to write something you dislike will result in mediocre work at best.

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with your topic…

If you are trying to write something you are unfamiliar with, you’ll probably have to research a lot and develop knowledge. For non-fiction writing, you can try to interview sources, talk to reference librarians, or visit websites to gain more information. For creative writing, you can also research to better understand characters, settings, and themes. As your understanding of issues deepen, the writing would become easier.

Perhaps you’re struggling with the writing…

If you struggle with a problem such as describing a character, developing dialogue, or writing a hook, try to identify the problem and explore ways to solve it. You can read books on the craft, study your favorite authors to see how they write, attend a writing workshop, or join a critique group. You can also reinvent the wheel and find your own creative ways to solve the problem.

Perhaps you’re burned out…

Sometimes, when we spend too much time immersed in writing, we need to take a break and rest. Try to relax by doing something different for a while. Take a long soothing bath. Go to the beach and chill. Relax by the fireplace. Give yourself the gift of a holiday. Catch up on sleep. Read the works of your favorite authors and look at the works of artists you admire. Try reading aloud inspirational quotes and poetry. Think about your writing ideas and goals, then get back to work when you are rested.

Perhaps you’re worried about your writing or lack confidence…

A creative block can happen when we’re stressed. Maybe the piece you’re writing is very important, so you fear rejection or failure. You may feel that your writing is not as strong as you like it to be. You may be dealing with a controversial or difficult topic and worry that readers will criticize it. If this is the case, you need to have faith in yourself and write on–the best way to improve your writing is to write more. You can also attend literary events and seek out other writers to find encouragement and advice.

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    The Physician's Palette

    February 22, 2012

    “perhaps you don’t really want to write it…”
    so true for many high school manuscripts…maybe that explains it!
    Thanks!

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