How to break through Writer’s Block

vintage typewriter on desk scrunched up paper pens

The great novelist Isabelle Allende says, ‘Show up, show up, show up… and then the muse shows up.’ But what if you do exactly that, you show up at your desk day after day, or night after night (if you’re a nocturnal animal), and the muse does not show up? What if the muse gives your writing room a wide berth, or she seems to have taken a very long vacation from your writing life? What if she fails to bless your project, and seems to show no signs of ever coming back? What do you do, if it looks like she doesn’t even care…?

Should you go back to your day job, presuming like most writers, you have one? How long can it keep going on like this, this dearth of inspiration, this feeling so uninspired? Is there a time when a writer should call it quits, hang up their hat, trade in their Mac Air for a one-way ticket to Nepal, and take up mountain climbing instead? Or should a writer keep on blindly showing up, facing the blank page each day, and hoping against hope, that one day the Muse will come again? Only you can decide. But writer’s block is real… and painful… and many great writers have experienced it at some point in their careers. Oddly enough, being uninspired has inspired some great books and movies about the subject. Movies like Charlie Kaufmann’s ‘Adaptation’. Steve Koves’s ‘The Wonder Boys’. The Coen Brothers ‘Barton Fink’. Billy Wilder’s ‘The Lost Weekend’. Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’. But you don’t have to take to the bottle or sit there tapping out thousands of lines of ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,’ like Jack Nicholson’s demonically blocked writer.

There are better ways. Other things you can do.  You can leave your room. Get out of the office and change your environment. Go for a walk on the beach or in the bush, and let nature inspire you. If you’re not big on nature, take a walk down to your favourite café, have a double shot of your coffee of choice, and bring your notebook with you in case the muse should suddenly decide to drop in. You wouldn’t want to miss her… Try a trip to the Art Gallery for a Modern Masters exhibition… losing yourself in the work of great artists can be incredibly inspiring. But if that feels all too highbrow, go and see a good movie in the genre of the project you’re desperately trying to write. A horror movie or a comedy, for a good scare or a belly-laugh… maybe you’ve been taking yourself too seriously and you need to shake yourself out of it. If you’re broke as well as uninspired, stay home and read a gripping book… or binge watch that SBS on Demand or Netflix series you’ve been wanting to see… if you only had the time. Well now you do. If that doesn’t work, try writing something about a completely different subject. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky said: ‘There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it.’ Try writing with pen on paper, and as Jason Rekulak advises, “resist the urge to plan, outline, chart or map, and just get the pen moving”.  Or try some practical exercises from Jason’s book ‘The Writer’s Block’ – a little block-shaped cube with 786 helpful ideas for unblocking writers. Where I found these useful…

Writers Unblocking Exercises

1/ Describe your first brush with danger.

2/ Tell the story of a job interview that goes badly. The more your character wants the job, the better the story will be.

3/ Write a story that begins with a phone call. At 3 o’clock in the morning.

4/ Write an argument between two characters that begins in bed.

5/ Take revenge on your least favourite teacher in high school. Write a character sketch that exposes his or her worst flaws.

6/ Write about your pets. (Why not? Maybe they’re bolder, more adventurous characters than the ones you’re writing about.)

7/ Write about a near-death experience.

8/ Describe a time you peeped in someone’s diary. What did it make you feel about them? How did you feel about yourself?

9/ Write about the biggest secret that you failed to keep.

And if that fails to get you going…

10/ Take a writing vacation. If you’re really agonizing over writer’s block – ie. if you break into a cold sweat over the very thought of writing – then make a conscious decision not to do any writing, or any creative work period, for one whole week. Firstly, you’ll stop feeling stressed out because you will have given yourself permission not to write. Secondly, you’ll allow your creative well to be replenished… And while you’re idling away on the beach or at the movies, your subconscious will already be starting on the next scene or short story. Or TV script. And when the week is up, you can return to your desk and start transferring all these new ideas down onto paper.

Try some of these, and repeat after me: “2019 will be a fabulous year for my writing!”

Greg Woodland,