We all know writer’s block – that infuriating mental wall you hit when your fingertips are frozen on the keyboard. What’s an aspiring writer to do?
Try these tricks to get your brain into writing mode
1. Prompt yourself.
They might seem cheesy, but prompts are great tools for getting your mental wheels turning when they’ve been at a standstill for too long. Asking yourself or an imaginary character, “What was the best (or worst) part of your day?” can be fuel enough to run through a page or two of writing. If you’re struggling to conjure a prompt, try these suggestions:
- Grab an opening sentence from a novel and use it to begin a paragraph. Don’t let the sentence restrict you, but incorporate your writing so that it flows naturally from the tone of whatever opening line you’ve chosen. Maybe the writing that follows will ultimately be completely different from the content set forth by the first sentence. The beauty is, none of this matters. The point, plain and simple, is to get yourself writing again.
- Begin a paragraph with the phrase, “I remember…” and write until you’ve constructed a satisfying vignette, recalling a particular moment from your past. Then, harnessing the same memory, write another paragraph beginning with, “I don’t remember…” You may even hit upon a notion about the function of memory that can work its way into your future writing.
2. Re-read something you wrote a long time ago.
It can be anything— from an unfinished blurb, to a perfectly polished chapter from your novel. If you’re a new writer and don’t have a large body of work to reflect on, an old email or text message conversation can even do the trick. Find one sentence that strikes you as eloquent, and remind yourself that before you wrote it, it didn’t exist. Sometimes all it takes is a little reminder that you’re really just doing something you’ve already done before — it’s that whole bike-riding notion, you know?
3. Read, and then read some more.
This one is pretty easy. As a mostly regimented but occasionally vacationing writer, I’ve found that the hardest mental vacations to come back from are the ones during which I haven’t been reading regularly. If this is the case for you, pick up the nearest book. The more you start filling your mind with words, the more they will be at the ready when you next sit down to write.
4. Be a sponge.
Any writer inevitably absorbs specific moments and experiences throughout his or her day. Rebooting the writing part of your brain means making note of these particularly poignant moments. Carry a notebook, type a note on your phone, or even just spend a minute contemplating compelling moments as they occur. You will find that, later on when you sit down to write, the most inspiring of these life experiences will often surface and influence your thought process. The more you let yourself soak up your surrounding world, the more material you’ll have for your writing.
Even if you don’t know what a free-write is, chances are you’ve done it before. It’s writing — freely. Find a quiet or calming place, pull out a paper and pen, and begin writing. Don’t let the pen tip leave the page or cease moving from one side of the paper to the other for 10 consecutive minutes (or 15 or 20, or whatever time frame suits you). This is an ideal exercise for any writer feeling intimidated by the blank page.
As a general rule, I find free-writes work best the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. There’s something about the backspace key on a computer that can interfere with the organic flow of your thoughts.
More than anything, resist the urge to criticize yourself if you don’t produce a work of pure genius everyday — this is the best gift you can give yourself. Explore through your writing, and enjoy the suspension of your surrounding world as your pages fill with words. When you hit your stride again, you will remember that writing is, more often than not, a holiday in itself.
Brianna Flaherty is a Write to Sell Your Book Team Editor specializing in creative writing, women’s fiction, poetry and narrative nonfiction.