Writer’s Block. The inevitable bane of every artist’s existence: when the words simply refuse to flow, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to unjumble and translate what’s in your mind onto paper. You’ll stare at a blank page for a veritable eternity with your hands hovering apprehensively over the keys. You write a sentence–maybe even two–then immediately decide it’s the worst string of language you’ve ever seen, and quickly delete it. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. It may go on for so long, even, that you begin to wonder if you’ll ever be able to write again…

We all experience writer’s block from time to time, in both our professional and personal pursuits. And it sucks. But where does it come from, and how do you deal with it?

Ultimately, the root of all writer’s block is fear and insecurity. It’s a paralysis of the creative mind brought on by a fear of judgment for your work. This may not be consciously recognizable–sometimes it even disguises itself as a “lack of inspiration” or energy–but somewhere deep in your mind, you’re worried about what others will think of your creation. In the event that you pour your blood and sweat into something, and people don’t like it… well, that would only confirm all those doubts you carry deep down within yourself, right?

So, how do you get rid of this fear?

Unfortunately, you can’t. Fear isn’t something you can expunge from your soul–it’s something you overcome, and push through. People will often suggest that the way to do so is to ‘let go’ of the fear, or by learning to ‘write for yourself:’  but I’ve always thought that’s bad advice, at least generally. Not only because of how abstract it is, but because I firmly believe it’s disingenuous. Outside of a few exceptions like journal writing or ‘hobby’ arts we might practice on the side for therapeutic benefits, ‘writing for yourself’ is just another coping mechanism: a willful lie, a clever disguise for that fear. 

Art, in whatever form it takes, is a story–and stories are meant to be told. Deep down, we as artisans must all understand that. The urge to create and the urge to share unavoidably go hand in hand.

So here are some practical tips and techniques to help you take that fear in stride, clear that mental blockage, and share your story.

Free Writing

Just write: about nothing, anything, or everything–whatever you want. This practice is similar to journal writing in that sense–but free writing differs in that it’s prompted and time-sensitive. If you can’t come up with a prompt yourself, look up a random writing prompt generator (like this one, or many others), set a timer for 10-15 minutes, hit generate… and write. Don’t stop until the timer goes off, no matter what. Even if you run out of things to say after minute two, keep writing. Fill your page with blabbering, nonsensical filler–you can even repeatedly write something like “I have no idea what to write,” if you must. You don’t have to read what you wrote when the alarm goes off. Keep it or delete it: it doesn’t matter. Then carry the flow, and transition to your actual writing project. 

Free writing is a brute-force method of overcoming writer’s block. It’s like blasting water through a clogged pipe to clear it; it forces the creative juices to flow, and it can be remarkably effective.

Be a consumer

One of the best ways to overcome writer’s block is to read and evaluate a high-quality text or piece that shares the same genre as what you’re working on. You’ll be inspired not only by the subject matter–but in seeing a great story being told, you’ll feel subconsciously motivated to tell your own.

Take yourself out of the driver’s seat.

Sometimes, the best way to overcome writer’s block is to stop trying so hard. As I said earlier–writer’s block is something you take in stride. If you try to defeat or conquer it outright, you won’t win; you have to overcome writer’s block. So take a break. Step away from your workspace and do literally anything else. Go about your day–enjoy life. Over time, the subconscious trickle of your thoughts will wear away at that clog: the passive pressure will build, and then BAM! Like a dam, it will burst–at which point you must drop whatever it is you’re doing and get back behind the wheel. 

Frankly speaking, about 80% of my best ideas have come to me while I’m in the shower, walking my dog, absent-mindedly watching TV, or lying in the pitch-blackness of my bedroom after a long day, staring at the ceiling. I’d wager your experience is much the same.

Admittedly, this piece of advice is more for personal, creative projects and may not be practical in a professional context. An impending deadline might not be able to accommodate such passivity, and betting on that idle ‘eureka’ arriving in time is a risky gamble. But if you have a deadline coming up, say, a few days away, and you feel yourself bogged down and struggling to work on the related task… then take a break. You can’t always force creativity, and besides…

There’s nothing more unproductive than staring at a blank canvas for hours on end.