From Blank to Brilliant: Strategies for Overcoming Writer’s Block

By Erin Harris, StoryArtisan

The living room is dark outside the sphere of light from the lamp on the table behind me. I look up at the clock as the hands slowly progress around its face. 12:35 a.m. 

Standing up from the floor where I’ve been sitting at the coffee table, I attempt to click away on my laptop. I say “attempting to click away” because the page is mostly blank. I have no idea what to write. 

Hands on my lower back, I stretch and move my head from side to side. My muscles are sore from hunching over my keyboard, and I don’t have much to show for it. Despite my good intentions and my calendar reminders, I have nothing to share in my writer’s workshop the next day. 

Normally, I’m terrible at meditating, at clearing my mind, but right now, whenever I sit down to write something, everything goes blank. No thoughts, words, opinions, or memories swim to the surface. I tried to work on this last week and the week before that, except the words wouldn’t come.

I’ve come down with the worst case of writer’s block

When Your Mind (and the Page) Is Blank

Even thinking of those two words fills me with doom and dread. Writer’s block has no rhyme or reason. It comes and goes as it pleases. One day you may bang out three full wonderful pages, and the next day you’ll be sucked so deep into writer’s block, you feel like you’ll never have anything to say ever again.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever had a paper or project due for school or work and whenever you sat down to work on it, nothing happened? Your mind went completely blank as if you’d never had a thought before in your life? 

Can you recall the tension building in your neck and shoulders, beads of sweat popping out on your forehead from the stress of sitting in front of an empty screen, the cursor tick tick ticking as it waited for you to fill it with information or words? 

Or maybe you like to draft with a pen or pencil on a blank sheet of paper before transferring to an electronic source, in which case, you doodled pictures in the margins just to make the page less scary, less glaringly white?

Show me a writer, any writer doing any kind of writing, and I’ll show you someone who’s experienced writer’s block at least once in their lives. 

Writer’s block plagues everyone. You are not alone.

Why Do I Get Writer’s Block? 

There are any number of reasons why you may have writer’s block. Maybe you don’t have an opinion about the subject. Maybe you’re afraid of what other people may say when they read your words. Maybe you’re afraid that you’re not a good writer. Maybe you’re scared to just start.

If you let writer’s block win, if you sit down day after day for only a few moments waiting for inspiration to fill you, and when it doesn’t, you stand up and walk away, you’ll certainly never write again. 

Okay, so how do I write if I’m not inspired? you might be thinking. How can I overcome the power of the blank page?

After that workshop, I set out to solve my writer’s block problem, and I’ve spent more time scouring the internet for the answers than I’ll admit here. But all of that searching led me down a path of self-discovery and creating a mindset of curiosity and acceptance that helped me develop a process for curing my writer’s block that I know can help you too.  

Strategies to Overcome Writer’s Block 

First, tell yourself that first drafts are terrible.

Really. Stand in front of a mirror and say, “First drafts are terrible.” Follow up that statement with, “But that’s why we revise.”

Many times we’re too preoccupied with the results to even get started. Remember that no one has to see this version of the work other than you. You have no obligation to show a first draft to anyone or even to tell people you’re writing something. This is just you, the page, and the words. And you’re all friends, so you have nothing to worry about.

Next, sit down to write (but don’t start yet). There are a couple of different approaches you could take: 

Finally, put your hands on the keyboard or place the pencil on paper. Without thinking about what you “should be” writing, write anything that comes into your head, literally anything. 

Sometimes my paper will look like this: This is stupid. The screen is blank. My mind is blank. I don’t know what to write. What should I eat for lunch? Darn it, I forgot to call my mom back. I should do that later.

The purpose of this stream-of-consciousness writing is to open up your mind and get thoughts moving. It’s your not-intimidating warm-up routine to writing. 

After you’ve given yourself permission to put anything down on the paper for a few minutes, move into writing about the specific subject.