You’ve spent the last two hours staring at a blank screen. You’re feeling uninspired, annoyed and frustrated that words aren’t naturally coming to you as they usually do. This seems pointless, but you also know you need to write. Your next post is due tomorrow, but it seems like an impossible task at the moment.
What is going on? You guessed it: writer’s block. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. No one can access to their creative juices 100% of the day, every day. You’re not alone.
You don’t necessarily need to take a break. Here’s a list of fun — and maybe a little unconventional — ways to get your writing muse back on track.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Use the F-word
This is the best way to release some of that writer’s block frustration you’re feeling. Don’t be so proper! Let out your inner sailor and let the f-bombs fly. It’ll be a cathartic expulsion of all that negative energy.
2. Change Your Writing Tool
Sometimes inspiration doesn’t come from a computer screen. Try your hand at free writing in a journal or with a simple piece of paper and pencil. One of the best ways to escape a writing funk is by journaling. It’s like physically connecting the words in your mind with the words you’ll write on paper.
3. Take a Coffee Break
Sometimes you need a little caffeine pick me up, and it’ll also be an excuse to step away from the glaring, blank screen in front of you. Changing your viewpoint for a moment can give your brain what it needs to reboot.
4. Get Out of the House for a Bit
Speaking of changing your viewpoint, you may need to step away and take a walk. Taking a walk in nature or engaging in a physical activity can reduce your stress levels and help you get those creative juices flowing again.
5. Embrace the Chaos
You don’t have to be perfect, so stop reaching for flawlessness. Everything you write isn’t going to be of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning caliber. The sooner you realize this, the easier it will be for you to revise your work and make it better. The important thing is to keep writing.
6. Have a Conversation With Yourself (or an Invented Character)
Trouble finding any inspiration from your own experiences? Invent them. How do you think fiction writers develop their many different characters in such detail? They make them real, believable people, which is often done by playing out scenarios. Sure, maybe you’ll feel a little silly, but perhaps your alter-ego, Tilda, has way more great ideas on how to travel through Nepal than you do. Give it a shot.
7. Switch Your Writing Environment
Maybe taking a walk outside isn’t enough. If that’s the case, try changing your work setting. Rotating between a few places can help you maintain maximum productivity. Try a library, coffee shop, bookstore or park for starters. You might even find you like the loud noise of a bar. Find a place that suits you.
8. Tackle Some Other To-Do List Items
The feeling of being unproductive can compound on your level of productivity. Don’t continue to stare at a blank word document. Instead, get up and cross a few other chores off your to-do list like washing the dishes or throwing a load of laundry in the washer. The positive vibes of productivity will return, and it’ll probably translate to constructive writing.
9. Use the Ideas of Other Bloggers
It’s not a crime to see what other bloggers are writing about. It’s inspirational to read other people’s work. You are one human being, and you don’t have the answers to everything. Take some great ideas that you come across, use them as inspiration, and put your own twist on them.
10. Revisit Your Best Work
Still lacking inspiration? Return to one of your favorite posts and revisit the style you used. This should help you get back in the groove of creating content that connects with your readers.
Motivating Quotes To Move Past Writer’s Block
Being burned out can be excruciating, especially when you absolutely have to get a writing task done. Whether it’s academic writing or freelance writing, you need to find a way to get through.
It’s at times like this where it’s best to look for encouragement and advice from those who have been where you are now. These quotes come from the mouths of some of the greatest writers who ever put pen to paper or finger to key. If you are feeling blocked or burned out, allow these words to help motivate you to find your way forward.
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” – Terry Pratchett
“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” – Mary Heaton Vorse
“Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper not eternal bronze: Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes.” – Jacques Barzun
“I write whenever it suits me. During a creative period I write every day; a novel should not be interrupted.” – François Mauriac
“Unfortunately, many people suffer from BPS – Blank Page Syndrome. Let’s face it: starting to write is scary. Seeing the cursor blinking at you on that bright white screen, realizing that you now have to come up with three or ten or twenty pages of text all on your own – it’s enough to give anyone a major case of writer’s block!” – Stefanie Weisman
“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” – Kurt Vonnegut
“’Writer’s block’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘I don’t feel like doing any work today.’” – Meagan Spooner
“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” – Charles Bukowski
“I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.” – Jennifer Egan
“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” – Paul Rudnick
“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” – James Thurber
“My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline.” – Mary Garden
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” – William Faulkner
“Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written.” – Walter Benjamin
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” – Maya Angelou
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain
“I’m a slow writer: five, six hundred words is a good day. That’s the reason it took me 20 years to write those million and a half words of the Civil War.” – Shelby Foote
“I write 2,000 words a day when I write. It sometimes takes three hours, it sometimes takes five.” – Nicolas Sparks
“Art is not in some far-off place.” – Lydia Davis
“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: ‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’” – Philip Sydney
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler
“When words don’t come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing.” – Strider Marcus Jones,
“Read a lot. Write a lot. Have fun.” – Daniel Pinkwater
“To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” – Gertrude Stein
“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” – Philip Roth
Writers of all backgrounds feel differently about writer’s block and the inability to write for whatever reason. Some call it laziness, others trying too hard. In any case, be encouraged: Other writers have been in your position and yet moved forward.
A good writing quote can give me goosebumps.
For those days when the well is feeling dry and a tad echo-y, I keep a running list of my favorite quotes—things I’ve read, things I’ve edited, things I’ve found in the WD archives, things people have said to me in interviews.
Such tiny, perfect revelations.
A couple of years ago, I posted a portion of this list on my old WD blog (around the same time we ran a great quote feature on 90 tips from bestselling authors in the magazine). Recently, someone asked if I was still collecting quotes.
Here’s the latest iteration of the list. (I’d love to expand it, too—please share some of your favourites in the Comments section of this blog post.)
Happy Friday, and happy writing.
“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
—William S. Burroughs
“All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.”
—Steve Almond, WD
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac, WD
“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
“I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”
—Roald Dahl, WD
“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
—Stephen King, WD (this quote is from an interview with King in our May/June 2009 issue)
“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”
“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.”
—William Zinsser, WD
“If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us.”
“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen
“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”
“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”
—John Updike, WD
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King, WD
“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.”
“I’m out there to clean the plate. Once they’ve read what I’ve written on a subject, I want them to think, ‘That’s it!’ I think the highest aspiration people in our trade can have is that once they’ve written a story, nobody will ever try it again.”
—Richard Ben Cramer
“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.”
“Style is to forget all styles.”
“I do not over-intellectualise the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
—Tom Clancy, WD
“The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.”
—Eudora Welty, WD
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block, WD
“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
—Leslie Gordon Barnard, WD
“If you tell the reader that Bull Beezley is a brutal-faced, loose-lipped bully, with snake’s blood in his veins, the reader’s reaction may be, ‘Oh, yeah!’ But if you show the reader Bull Beezley raking the bloodied flanks of his weary, sweat-encrusted pony, and flogging the tottering, red-eyed animal with a quirt, or have him booting in the protruding ribs of a starved mongrel and, boy, the reader believes!”
—Fred East, WD
“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
—Leigh Brackett, WD
“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, WD
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King, WD
“Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or Van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again. Born writers of the future are amazed already at what they’re seeing now, what we’ll all see in time for the first time, and then see imitated many times by made writers.”
–Jack Kerouac, WD
“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
—Jim Tully, WD
“All stories have to at least try to explain some small portion of the meaning of life. You can do that in 20 minutes, and 15 inches. I still remember a piece that the great Barry Bearak did in TheMiami Herald some 30 years ago. It was a nothing story, really: Some high school kid was leading a campaign to ban books he found offensive from the school library. Bearak didn’t even have an interview with the kid, who was ducking him. The story was short, mostly about the issue. But Bearak had a fact that he withheld until the kicker. The fact put the whole story, subtly, in complete perspective. The kicker noted the true, wonderful fact that the kid was not in school that day because “his ulcer was acting up.” Meaning of life, 15 inches.”
—Gene Weingarten, WD
“Beware of advice—even this.”
—Carl Sandburg, WD
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD
“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.”
—Andre Dubus III, WD (this quote is from an interview with Dubus in our July/August 2012 issue)
“Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.”
—Jack Kerouac, WD
“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
—R.L. Stine, WD (this quote is from an interview with Stine that ran in our November/December 2011 issue)
“I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
“Writers are always selling somebody out.”
“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
—Robert A. Heinlein
“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.”
“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”
“Anyone who is going to be a writer knows enough at 15 to write several novels.”
“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
—William Carlos Williams
“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.”
“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
“You do not have to explain every single drop of water contained in a rain barrel. You have to explain one drop—H2O. The reader will get it.”
“When I say work I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.”
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
“I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.”
“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”
“A book is simply the container of an idea—like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.”
“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. … Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
“Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”
—Henry David Thoreau
“You don’t actually have to write anything until you’ve thought it out. This is an enormous relief, and you can sit there searching for the point at which the story becomes a toboggan and starts to slide.”
—Marie de Nervaud, WD
“Whether a character in your novel is full of choler, bile, phlegm, blood or plain old buffalo chips, the fire of life is in there, too, as long as that character lives.”
—James Alexander Thom
“Writers live twice.”
Zachary Petit is an award-winning journalist, the senior managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, and the co-author of A Year of Writing Prompts: 366 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block.
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