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Writing Decongestant: 10 ways to unblock your writer’s block

So here’s a thing you should know: writer’s block doesn’t really exist.

That’s not to say you won’t experience agonising periods of writing difficulty, but the moment you start thinking of yourself as ‘blocked’, you’re setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. No – worse than that – let’s be honest: you’re letting yourself give up. 

Since I’m sinus-deep in the throes of hayfever right now, here’s a handy analogy for you: you don’t have writer’s block – you have WRITER’S CONGESTION. Nothing a bit of Olbas Oil and some antihistimines can’t fix, right? Right.

So, how do you decongest yo’ literary self? Well, let’s clear your way back to easy-breathing – I mean, writing

1. Stop trying to force it

Did you know blowing your nose doesn’t actually help to unblock it? It just makes everything sore and swollen until your face explodes. Just breathe. Let it be blocked for a while. It won’t last forever.

2. Self-medicate

Stop writing and dose yourself with a new book. Or caffeine. Or cheesecake. Get happy, somehow. Whatever causes your large iron vessel to remain afloat.

3. Change your location

Get out of the goddamn house/cafe/library/cave – and go and actually look at some real, living people, instead of writing about them. Talk to someone who isn’t an imaginary person made of ink or computer pixels.

4. Get moving

Travel. It doesn’t have to be anywhere exciting (though if you’ve got the cash, why the fuck not?) – just walk, get on a bus, a train, a boat – preferably something you don’t need to steer or drive yourself, so that you have maximum people-watching opportunities. The BEST ideas I’ve ever had have all popped up on commutes. Oh, and bring a pen and notepad (or a dictaphone if you like to look like a private detective and/or crazy person).

5. Chop wood

How many books would a woodchuck write if a woodchuck could write books? Lots, probably. If they only had opposable thumbs. There’s something incredibly mind-freeing about performing something repetitive, menial, and rhythmic. And if lumberjacking ain’t your scene, then wash up. Cook. Knit. Paint a wall. Sweep a floor. Wax on, wax off. Do some frickin’ yoga for fuck’s sake. Which leads us nicely onto…

6. Exercise

If I knew anything about statistics I’d tell you something like: My productivity is 87.3% higher when I’ve cycled to my local writing cafe than if I drive there. I’d believe that percentage – blood is rushing, brain is going *meep meep meep meep use me use me use me* like the little byte from Tron. And of course if physical exercise isn’t within your abilities right now, you can always exercise your BRAIN instead! Do a puzzle, do a crossword, play solitaire, meditate – use that brilliant muscle in your head (I realise the brain isn’t a muscle but just go with it, ok?) and get things flowing again.

7. Seek inspiration

Read/watch something that makes you go “faaaaaaaaark I wish I could write like that” – then get depressed, think you’ll never amount to anything and you might as well shred your manuscript for insulation. But don’t. Go take a bath, take a week or so, then go back to your work and go “heeeeeey its not actually that bad… I can work with this.”

8. Kickstart your brain

Source prompts, suggestions, nudges, pointers, critiques, reviews, comments and ideas from other writers and writing sites. Check out our collection of writing exercises, maybe take a freebie course or, y’know, sign up for the full WHQ treatment. Need I say Google? Wikipedia? The latest newspaper? Your own bookshelf?

9. Cheat

Skip the chapter that’s doing your head in. Go look at the end, or jump to your favourite scene. Read from the beginning and make a note of phrases and sections you’re really pleased with – work out what you like about them and learn how you write best. Give yourself a break and get on with life for a while, because if you’re really a writer, you’ll get back to it eventually.

10. Retreat!

Writing alongside other fluff-brained writers, either virtually or physically, can be brilliantly motivating. Not only does the soft tippy tap of keyboards and the scritchy scratch of pens provide some calming background noise, it also kinda peer-pressures you into getting the fuck on with it instead of clicking over to Twitter the minute you open your document. PLUS you have someone or several someones to chat to when your plot is going sideways and your characters are being dicks.

And breathe…. Count to 10. Try each of these listicle things and see how you go. Unblocked? Ahh, but you were never blocked int he first place, right?

Jo Gatford

Jo Gatford

Jo is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. She looks exactly like her avatar.


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