Overcoming Writer's Block
Written by Natalia Knowlton
This blog focuses specifically on overcoming writer’s block, but it applies to anyone who creates or devises work, regardless of the medium. Hope this is helpful.
Being a writer involves writing, right? And yet, I spend the majority of my time struggling to do that even though I'm a “writer.” It’s astonishing and somewhat worrying how much I have to discipline myself as if I were a toddler. Thanks to some productivity techniques I’ve learned over the years, it has gotten easier but sitting down to write still feels like a battle sometimes.
When I experience writer’s block, I read plays/books or watch films to spark some inspiration. But then I hit the worst creativity block a couple of weeks ago. No matter how many scripts I read for inspiration, I still felt frozen when I went back to my writing. I instantly despised anything I created and couldn’t get out of my “everything I write is crap” mood.
I had to really think of the tools and techniques that have helped me in the past to get over this block. I revisited two of my favourite books on creativity: Steal Like an Artist and Keep Going by Austin Kleon (highly recommend!) for a refresher. Although I still have to fight the urge to nap every time I write after lunch, here are the techniques that I rediscovered to help me with writer’s block.
Put your phone away
Sometimes it feels like my attention span and creativity get worse as I get older. When I was in university, I would write late at night for hours without any interruptions. Sure, Facebook and breaded cat memes were a distraction from my university work but not my creative work, that was the fun escape from essays. I wrote my first script over one night (which was about 30 pages long) and it was your standard first draft but it was material I produced without interruption or difficulty. And I had a lot fun doing it.
If my attention span is getting worse, it’s got nothing to do with age and everything to do with my addiction to my phone and social media. Like a lot of people, I find myself going on social media more during lockdown and it does nothing for my mental health or my creativity. Going on my phone first thing in the morning makes me feel anxious and unprepared to take on my day as I’ve been mindlessly scrolling through cat pics and stupid twitter rants.
As I dedicate more time to my writing now, I’m actively tackling my phone addiction. I started putting my phone in the living room at night so I don’t go on it as soon as I wake up. Instead, I have my kindle and an easy-going quote book on my nightstand. You can also have a journal to jot down your dreams or doodles.
I recommend putting your phone in another room while doing creative work as well and disabling all notifications on your laptop. You can take the extra step and block certain websites on your laptop or unplug your internet router altogether.
The problem with social media is that it doesn’t give you the opportunity to get bored and daydream, which is where creative ideas come from. Social media has filled every minute of our lives with stuff. So take a break from your phone and carefully choose the times when you go on it (ideally after you've done some writing).
Like most writers, I use my laptop to write. Laptop is great for editing and polishing your work but it can be debilitating for your creativity (you’re also much more likely to go on social media and waste time on the internet if you’re creatively stuck).
The solution? Go offline. Write new scenes on a journal or print your script to redraft it offline. Not only is this healthier for the eyes but there’s just something about seeing my work printed that allows me to get a better understanding of my writing. By laying it all out, I’m able to actually see the structure of a scene and what's missing between scenes.
There’s also something quite freeing about writing on a piece of paper. You’re able to go with the flow of your ideas without censoring yourself. It’s easy to edit as you write on your laptop, an instant creativity killer.
Done is Better Than Perfect
Perfectionism is toxic for your creativity. Take this blog for instance, I usually write my posts over three days. On day one, I write a very rough draft without worrying about grammar or coherence. On day two, I do a thorough edit and expand further on my thoughts. On day three, I do a final edit and publish it.
If I tried writing the perfect blog post from the get-go, I’d find myself frozen and unable to write anything (textbook example of writer’s block). So just get it all written before you start judging yourself. Even if you don’t know what your intro looks like, start with the middle or the ending. Just get it done, polish it later.
Stay light and play
I think we can all agree that we felt our most creative when we were children, where you fully immerse yourself in another world and outcome is the last thing on your mind. As adults we have a fetish and obsession with outcome, another cause for writer’s block. You write and you hate yourself while doing it because all you can think is “it’s not coming out how I want to, it’s crap.”
Reconnect with your inner child. Get messy with your materials and create without thinking. Do it because it's fun not because you think it will be good. Don’t worry about creating “high quality art” - stay light and play. Great art is created over days, weeks, months, years of hard work and showing up without giving up.
So keep going, as Austin Kleon says. Don't take it seriously, put your phone away and remind yourself of what made you fall in love with writing in the first place.