Weekly Write Tip: 6 Ways to Beat Writers' Block

So you're a writer.

Or you would be, if your darn brain would just work with you.

Because right now, it's not. Right now, your brain is refusing to write. Your fingers are refusing to type and your hand is refusing to pick up that pen.

Now what?

Well, first things first.

1. Remember: you are not alone in this. I promise.

I get writers' block all the time. So does your favorite novelist. So does your English teacher. So does your favorite fan fiction author, and so does your favorite TV show writer.

I know it doesn't feel okay: I know it feels super lousy.

But writing anxiety -- because really, that's often what we're talking about here -- does not make you a "fake" writer. Having a spell of "non-productivity" does not strip away your writing credentials. Not writing doesn't make you a bad person. It just means you're having a bit of a hold up right now. And we all do. And that's okay. I promise.

2. Don't force it -- practice some self-love and be gentle with yourself.

The most counter-intuitive advice I've ever gotten about pushing through writing anxiety? Don't. And there's a lot of truth there.

Let yourself explore your world; take some photos, lift some weights. Take a stroll, stare aimlessly out the window of that thrumming subway car, that noisy pickup truck.

Phone a friend. Talk about nothing in particular. Gush about the latest Black Panther trailer. (Really. Check it out.)

Be gentle with yourself. Some of the best writing writers do? Is when we're not writing. Because when we're not writing -- when we're living, as best as we know how, as best as our bodies will allow us -- is when our energies recharge, when our souls rejuvenate. And they have to: writing takes a lot out of us!

Just last Sunday, I had scheduled a five-hour block of writing for myself. But I was so depressed I could barely get up to refill my glass of water. So what did I do? I cancelled my writing spree. It's not something I usually do -- I'm a "push through it" kinda person, for better and for worse. But I read Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spiderman for hours on end instead, and wow, was it worth it.

3. Try some music -- or some quiet.

Okay, okay, I can hear you saying. 

Sure Jenn, love myself, yadda yadda. I do love myself. And I've tried giving it breaks. I've tried doing other things. But when I come back and try to write, I just... can't.

Fair enough! And good for you: I'm glad you're practicing good self-care.

So. What now?

If you usually listen to music while you write, try switching it off. Or try different tunes. Tunes that are so familiar that you can listen without listening. Tunes without lyrics. Tunes from a playlist you put together about the characters you have in mind, the scene you have on hold, the emotions roiling inside you.

If you don't usually listen to music and you want to, try some! (See above note about playlists, etc.) 

Sometimes when my students are writing in class, they ask me to turn on soft music. A Lauryn Hill playlist on Pandora usually does the trick. Maybe it'll work for you, too!

4. Switch up your space.

When I go on eight-hour writing sprees, I can only do it in one chair. 

It's a specific chair -- a big grey lump that I can fit my whole body in, complete with a New York City skyline pillow, facing away from the windows, away from the TV. Toward the rest of the living room, but without a real focal point. 

For me, the room needs to be pretty darn neat (so, sometimes -- tip 4.5, if you will -- clean your room! Unclutter the space, unclutter the mind, one might say).

But sometimes I get lonely. Sometimes I want to be near people without actually having to interact with anyone (that extroverted introvert -- or is it introverted extrovert? -- life!). So, sometimes I'll shell out three bucks for an iced tea and use that as my entry fee for five hours of coffee shop writing time. 

Or, if I want the free version, I'll go to my graduate school's library. 

If I'm feeling extra hands on, I'll sprawl out on my living room floor. It turns out, I can't work on my academic writing in the same spots where I write my fiction.

Listening to your body can be hard, but it's talking -- perhaps, it's writing -- to you. Try to hear what it's saying!

5. Find a buddy.

I can never advocate for writing communities enough.

Yes, they can be hostile and yes, they can be pits of casually racist, heterosexist critiques ("I just can't relate to your character"; "can you explain that?"; "I think this is only for a niche audience, so it might help to expand to more universal themes"; "but if your character is Black, shouldn't your book be about slavery or civil rights?" [no, I haven't heard people directly say this last one, but take a look at the book shelves in your local bookshop]).

But, unfortunately, those things aren't unique to writing communities. Those things, horrendously, are the world.

And we have to carve out spaces where we can.

You can find affirming spaces online and you can find them in person. You can find an affirming writing space with your best friend -- you know you text each other in math class anyway, and that's a writing community of sorts! -- or with a teacher or a colleague or that girl you met in Dunkin Donuts who asked you what you're reading (cue Coffee Shop AU). There are free writing workshops in some cities, and never underestimate the power of your local libraries.

Hopefully, you can find writing community here on this site, or over on my tumblr, twitter, or goodreads!

Wherever and however you find it, creating writing communities is well worth it. Some of my most generative writing experiences have happened without a pen in my hand; on the beach with one of my dearest friends (and one of my favorite writers), just talking and laughing about our characters, our plot lines, our worlds.

Those conversations -- and the friendly accountability that can come with them -- can really be the saving grace, that kick of inspiration, that you're looking for.

6. Write anyway.

When we talk about writers' block, we're often talking about anxiety.

Anxiety about what other people will think.

Anxiety that we are not good enough.

Anxiety that we will never be published.

Anxiety that if we don't write, we are not real. That if we don't write, we are worthless.

But we are always -- no matter what we're told -- so much more the sum of our work, the sum of our grades, the sum of our book deals.

I was at the Slice Literary Conference in Brooklyn last fall, and someone said that if your fear has a shape, you are concerned about a legitimate problem with your writing. If your fear is, "this dialogue sounds stilted," it might be (it also might not be, but it's worth having someone else read it -- and/or reading it out loud yourself -- to play with your style and find out).

But if your fear is shapeless -- if it's just an endless pit of anxiety, stemming from formless terror of not being good enough -- then remember that the world needs your voice. The world needs your words. They can always get better -- because we can always get better, and we will, with practice -- but they will never make you worthless. They will never make you not good enough.

I say these things so blatantly because I know that my own anxiety, my particular array of mental health issues, makes me very, very inclined to tie up my sense of self-worth into tangible "accomplishments" or levels of "productivity." I think, as writers, we are almost encouraged to think and feel this way, too.

The way to fight it? 

Know that it's not just you. Know that your writing can't be bad if it's not there; but it also can't be good if it's not there. 

We talk -- and write -- so much about editing for a reason. If your writing isn't up to par? That's literally what editing is for. So try to get it out, try to let it out: no one has to see it but you, if that's the way you need to start. 

Whatever process works for you -- if it's something on this list or if it's the complete opposite of everything on this list -- you do you.

You got this: I know you do!

Write on.

You can start, if you want to, in the comments below -- how do you beat writers' block? Bet you can come up with more awesome ideas than I ever could!