– By Marielle Cuccinelli –
I’d like to start by saying I had all kinds of writers block trying to get this article moving.
Seriously, as I write these first two sentences, I’ve been procrastinating for longer than I care to admit because I didn’t know what to say to start this article.
So here goes just jumping in. I should say right off the bat that I’m talking about writer’s block specifically from a fiction writer’s perspective. I would imagine some of the suggestions I’ve compiled would be helpful for any form of writing, creative or otherwise.
First, we should make sure to delineate the difference between procrastination and seeking inspiration. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m definitely guilty of convincing myself I’m trying to beat writer’s block, when what I’m actually doing is putting off the unpleasant task of actually beating it. Seeking inspiration to overcome writer’s block is a disciplined pursuit; it should always be intentionally directed to lead us back around to whatever we’re working on, with whatever extra bit of material or drive we need to get through the obstacle that stopped our progress.
I have a long list of suggestions that I’ve found helpful in combating writer’s block, but before I give them to you, let’s be super clear about the most important thing: 95% of the time, writer’s block doesn’t just go away. Do what you can to equip yourself for it, but ultimately, the only way to get over it is to buckle down and power through whatever part of your piece is giving you trouble.
With that said, here’s my non-scientific, non-exhaustive list of things that can help you deal with writer’s block.
1. Organize your closet. It doesn’t have to be that exactly, but accomplishing some organizational task always gives me a certain mental boost, like intellectual adrenaline. Which, as I write it, I realize is probably dopamine, but I said I’d keep the list non-scientific. Regardless, knocking out a straightforward organizational achievement, particularly one that requires physical activity, can be a great momentum boost with which to come at your writer’s block.
2. Go longboarding. Again, you can fill in the blank with whatever fun, sweaty, outdoor physical activity you like. If you’re a better dancer than me, try that. If you like chasing your dog around the park, perfect. If you’ve got a basketball hoop, great. If you want something more chill, go for a walk (ideally in nature, but if you’re a city dweller like me any old sidewalk will do). Or, take it up a notch with this next one…
3. Work out. If you’re like me, you hate working out. If you’re not like me, you like working out, and I literally don’t understand you. But either way, working out puts your body in the best possible state for creative productivity. It gets your lungs firing on all cylinders and oxygenates your brain or something scientific like that. If a full workout isn’t your cup of tea, but a bit of physical exertion helps you, try doing ten situps every time you get stuck.
4. Listen to new music. Alright, enough of that distasteful working out business. Music is a tricky subject on which to give writing recommendations. Some writers religiously avoid music while working, others listen exclusively to classical music, and others can’t focus without their playlist. I sometimes find it helpful to break away from my spotify library and listen to music I don’t know while I write. I’m not big on project- or character-specific playlists, but I do have them and every now and then they prove useful. If you’re in the can’t-listen-to-music-while-writing camp, it might still be helpful to pregame for your writing with new and different music to put you in a fresh creative space before you start. And of course, listening to soundtracks from films comparable to your piece can be really helpful.
5. Cook something. In a similar vein to #1, accomplishing a straightforward, productive task like making yourself some cookies can give you that dopamine intellectual adrenaline boost to tackle your writer’s block. I’ve also found that this sort of busy work, which keeps your hands busy but isn’t super mentally demanding, allows your mind to run in the background and has occasionally led to or planted the seeds for a breakthrough. Doing a puzzle is a similar sort of busy work. Plus, it provides you with delicious, hot, melty chocolate chip cookies to eat while you write.
6. Call (not text) your grandparent or sibling. Or your mom, or your high school buddy, or anyone else you might not have talked to in a while that you could benefit from catching up with. Conversation, like caffeine, can be a helpful stimulant.
7. Have a cup of coffee. Already did? That’s okay. Have another!
8. Have a cup of tea! You can feel all cute and British and healthy, and also get some caffeine in your system. Also, I think it helps to have a mug to reach for instead when your screen-addicted brain compulsively reaches for your phone.
9. Brainstorm “mad ideas.” Our Lord and Savior Christopher Riley teaches this as a screenwriting staple, so my swearing by it really can’t lend it any more gravity. If you’re not familiar with this exercise, it basically means that you come up with a list of absolutely random ideas, with no regard for whether they’re actually good or feasible or sensical. Even if you don’t come up with any actually good ideas, it can still be a good creative exercise. This tool is most commonly used in the development phase, but there’s no reason you can’t apply it to an individual scene.
10. Relocate. This could mean either changing environment, or just changing location within your environment. Find somewhere with more light, better airflow, less noise – whatever you need. If you’re at home, relocate to a coffee shop or library. If you don’t have an office, relocate from your bedroom to your kitchen. If you’re a psychopath, relocate from the couch to the table. Or, if you’re like me, relocate from one couch to the other – writing at tables sucks.
11. Set tiny goals with time limits and rewards. Sometimes the only way I can make any headway is by literally babying myself through it. I’ll promise myself that I just have to write one solitary sentence through without stopping. And then, once I wring that one out, I tell myself I just have to write one more. If I can finish a paragraph in under five minutes, I get to make another cup of coffee.
12. Pinterest (with caution). Pulling together some reference material can be really helpful, but beware: Pinterest is a bottomless void of inane artistic diversion, and it’s very difficult to stay north of the line between seeking inspiration and procrastinating.
13. Use Comic Sans. Wait, let me explain! I hate Comic Sans too. But dammit… it actually maybe works. I don’t know why. I saw someone on a tumblr post I stumbled across on Pinterest talking about how they started putting their piece in comic sans whenever they hit writer’s block, and for some reason it let them reliably crank out material way faster than they used to. I’ve been dabbling in this dark art recently, and so far despite all lack of scientific justification, I’ve actually found it to work. As a matter of fact, remember when I said at the beginning of this article that I was struggling to get started on it? Well, I set the font to Comic Sans and I haven’t hit a single hitch since. Sorry.
This is getting long, so here are the rest rapid-fire:
13. Talk to your dog.
14. Ask someone to read your piece and give you feedback.
15. Read (not watch) another movie script or a chapter of a book.
16. Clean your kitchen.
17. Download a temporary social media blocker to keep distraction at bay.
18. Have another cup of coffee.
Okay! That’s enough positivity for the week. Here’s the flipside.
1. Walk away. Unless it’s a quick detour to do one of the things listed above, don’t run away! The piece isn’t going to write itself. Sooner or later, you have to buckle down and do it. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can get back to enjoying the writing process. Some writers will recommend switching over to a different piece and making some progress there, but that’s never worked for me; if I bounce to a different piece to escape writer’s block, I’ll soon develop writer’s block on the other piece as well, and it won’t go away until I solve the first one. I’ve gotten stuck on four or five pieces at once by trying to avoid the original problem.
2. Boredom-eat junk food. Guilty. You guys, I love my junk food. And I’m a hypocrite for putting this on the don’t list, because I definitely do it consistently. But it’s not helpful at all – neither in a long-term sense for your health and well-being, nor in the immediate sense of getting productive writing done. Crappy food does no favors to your creativity, alertness or energy. I strongly endorse healthy snacking, though, for the same reason that it’s good to have a mug nearby.
3. NEVER, EVER skip to another scene.* I asterisk because, while this is one of the surest ways to kill a piece for me, some writers swear by this as a really helpful method. If that works for you, congratu freaking lations. All I know is that for me, looking forward to writing the exciting bits is what gets me through the difficult bits. Jumping around and doing the exciting stuff first is like eating dessert before dinner. If I write the fun stuff first, I’ll NEVER write the rest of it.
4. Drink alcohol.
5. Watch Netflix.
6. Scroll through instagram.
7. Play games on your phone.
8. Write and delete the same post on your instagram story four times about how much writing you’re getting done.
9. Look at memes.
10. Write in a room where someone’s watching TV.
11. Anything, actually, that involves looking at a screen. I’m telling you, all the entertainment and social media are a writer’s worst enemy (besides herself, if she’s your standard-issue restless, angst-ridden storyteller). Probably 95% of my procrastination is sponsored by instagram and the internet. Pretty much any time you catch me on social media, it’s a safe bet I’m procrastinating.
Look how much shorter the don’t list is than the do list! So positive! So optimistic! Surely all your problems are solved! I’ll accept your thanks via venmo.
Let me leave you once again with the most important reminder: writer’s block is not like high school drama or annoying solicitors. This shit is real life.
You cannot ignore it until it goes away. At some point, you’re going to have to buckle down and slog through whatever you’re stuck on. Grab another coffee, put your piece in Comic Sans, and power through it.
About the Author
Marielle Cuccinelli (class of 2019) is Virginia-bred storyteller who’s been obsessed with action movies for as long as she can remember. She graduated with a degree in Media Communications with a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing at JPCatholic in 2019, and hopes to live out her ambitions of bringing the female action heroes she looked for as a kid to life on the big screen. She spends her free time writing feature films and choreographing fight scenes.