How to Beat Writer’s Block: 5 Ways to Face the Blank Page

How to Beat Writer’s Block: 5 Ways to Face the Blank Page

Just as an artist wouldn’t be able to rework a blank canvas, a writer cannot edit a blank page. Making mistakes is part of the process; don’t smother your creativity out of fear and doubt.

Everyone has ebbs and flows in their creativity. Just as bamboo is strong but bends and sways in the breeze, be flexible in your approach to writing, maintaining an awareness of where you are going and the flexibility of thought to follow wherever your creative process takes you, unencumbered by resistance or doubt.

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can,” author Neil Gaiman told The Guardian.

If you struggle to overcome a fear of the blank page, take a deep breath and try one of these techniques.

1. Take action

For many, the blank page can be intimidating and overwhelming. Though just as when you worried about a monster in your closet as a child, to make the monster disappear, all you need to do is open the door.

Similarly, “open the door” to your creativity by starting to write. The trick — as with honing every skill — is to practice.

Don’t just plan to write — write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style,” author PD James said, when asked for her favourite writing tips by Guardian Books.

You wouldn’t trust a heart surgeon who has read books on how to operate, but never actually picked up a scalpel. Reading about writing craft is wonderful, but you also need to write — ideally, every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.

[bctt tweet=”Reading about writing craft is wonderful, but you also need to write, says @WriterJoMalby“]

“[The] Resistance knows that the longer we noodle around ‘getting ready,’ the more time and opportunity we’ll have to sabotage ourselves. Resistance loves it when we hesitate, when we over-prepare. The answer: plunge in,” author Steven Pressfield told Krista Stevens in this interview.

2. Stick with the process

Be prepared to tolerate the anxiety that comes with not being able to write as well as you’d like, and push through it. Suspending judgment when you’re writing frequently leads to unexpected creative gems.

“That freedom opens you to the surprising stuff you never saw coming; stuff that makes you smile as you sit there in the coffee shop, your mug of joe cooling because you’ve forgotten to take a sip in 15 solid minutes,” says author and Contributing Editor at Writer’s Digest, Elizabeth Sims.

“When beginning a writing session, new authors often feel that they must jump off to an excellent start, when all they really need is to start.”

3. Be willing to write badly

When we allow ourselves to let go of any preconceptions of what our writing should be, we loosen the creative faucet. Let go of your inner red pen and leave the editing until later.

[Be] willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly. Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows,” says novelist Jennifer Egan in an interview with The Days of Yore.

“The bad beginning is just something to build on. It’s no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well. That’s when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, where I think writer’s block comes from. Maybe good writing isn’t happening, but let some bad writing happen …

“When I was writing “The Keep,” my writing was so terrible. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: “How can I disappoint?”

4. Use freewriting to kickstart your creativity

Many authors advocate freewriting as a wonderful way of coercing your creativity out of its shell — whether you believe in the idea of a writing muse or not.

“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes … and somehow the activity of writing changes everything,” author Joyce Carol Oates told The Paris Review in 1989.

Whether you use a writing prompt, an image, or a line of text from a favourite book, set a timer, start writing and don’t stop until your time is up. The trick is to keep moving, even if you’re not sure what to say next.

5. Remember to enjoy yourself

When we feel barricaded in by deadlines or pressured by outside forces, it’s easy to forget the beauty, joy and fun of writing.

“Have humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life — and maybe even please a few strangers,” AL Kennedy told The Guardian.

Celebrate each writing accomplishment, whether it’s as large as finishing your first draft of a novel or as small as writing the first sentence. The more you enjoy your work, the easier it becomes to write the next sentence and tackle the next writing goal.

How do you deal with blocked creativity and fear of the blank page?

Filed Under: Craft


  • A really good high speed thesaurus can help too! Brainstorming words can inspire new ideas

  • Lee Sinclair says:

    What a load of crap.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lee. Is there a particular aspect of the advice that you don’t agree with? We’re always open to constructive feedback and new ideas.

      TWL Assistant Editor

  • Gina Harris says:

    Interesting article, but when did P D James become a man??!!

  • Since I started work on my first novel, I really have not experienced writer’s block, even though I’ve been working on it for nearly two years. This is largely due to things I learned about writing during my years of teaching writing to college students — lessons I apparently learned better than any of my students ever did.
    1) Writing is a process, of which producing a draft is only one small part. I think a lot of writers feel very guilty of they are doing anything other than applying fingers to keyboard to produce a continuous stream of prose, because they don’t believe that research and planning are “writing.”
    2) Drafting only works when you are willing to devote time to both “prewriting” (planning, outlining, brainstorming, etc.) and revision. I keep a writing journal, which is where I start each day, writing out a plan for the day, writing through any difficulties I’m experiencing or anticipating. I follow this up by reading through and lightly revising whatever I wrote the day before. It’s amazing how these activities prime the pump for the day’s new writing.
    3) Once I’ve identified any problems I’m having, I spend a little time reading advice by other writers on that aspect of the writing task (dialogue, pace, etc.) That usually gives me plenty of ideas to get back into it.
    4) I write down ideas as soon as they occur to me. I have a diary app on my Kindle Fire that lets me quickly jot down ideas and categorize them with keywords for later reference. I carry the device with me wherever I go and never lose a good idea. I keep it by my bedside at night — often I wake up in the morning with a writing problem magically solved by my sleeping brain, so I jot down the solution before I forget it.
    5) I take breaks, not to get away from writing, but as a necessary part of the writing process. It’s amazing how a refreshing walk in the sunshine or even just a few minutes washing up the dishes after lunch can reset my brain for writing.
    6) I never set word count goals for myself. Some people are motivated by such goals, or deadlines, but I find them stressful and stress shuts me down creatively. But my prewriting in my journal helps me articulate my creative (not quantitative!) goals for the day, which I find more helpful.

    All these things help me keep writing, even through the rough patches. I think they can help other writers, too.

    • Thanks for sharing your strategies, Lisa — hopefully they can help other readers as well.

      I love short breaks as well; a quick walk or non-writing-related task is often enough to refresh my mind and help me get back to work. Best of luck with the rest of your novel!

      TWL Assistant Editor

  • Alexis Grant says:

    “Be willing to write badly” — I love it! So important! Thanks for a great post, Jo.

    Alexis Grant
    The Write Life founder

    • Jo Malby says:

      Thank you so much, Alexis — and agree, being willing to write badly and letting go of a little control of how it ‘should’ be always seems to allow the good stuff to appear (even if it does require a little editing!). Thrilled to be featured on here and delighted you enjoyed it too.

  • Desiree says:

    Really good stuff here.

    I’ll admit, this is something I struggled with for awhile. Tips 3 and 4 really speak to me. I find that turning off my inner editor and giving myself the permission to write badly really helps a lot. There are times that I cringe even as I’m in the middle of writing a sentence because it’s so bad, but I force myself to keep going and just get it all down. Then later on, I fix it.

    I’m also a huge fan of freewriting. When I’m stuck on a project and am not sure what to write next, I find that just writing about the project (or anything really) in a structure-less, stream-of-consciousness way helps me get over the hump every time.


    • Jo Malby says:

      Thanks Desiree! So happy you enjoyed them, and especially using those two techniques to liberate shy writing. I think it was Julia Cameron who said that writing wants to be written (love that!). Sometimes it’s only that inner editor you spoke of who is stopping the flow. Free-writing is such a favourite technique and your description of the structure-less, stream-of-consciousness is so fitting. So lovely to read your comment. 🙂

  • Marcy McKay says:

    Terrific tips, Jo. Another trip I do to banish writer’s block is to write gibberish, complete gobblydeegook: The angry cranberries vomited monsters and balls. The orange ran round the field, then drank sparkling soda. A patchwork quilt danced on elephants.”

    Odd, but it works for me.

    • Jo Malby says:

      Love this! A writer friend has a similar technique that she calls ‘barfing on the page’, forgive the graphic nature of the name (!) but agree, it’s such a wonderful trick. Loosens the creative facet rather brilliantly. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great tips!

    If I’m writing a book:
    1. I think about the scene(s) minutes before I sit down to write them
    2. I take five minutes to hand write a summary of the scene: who, what, when, how, and where.
    3. Start brainstorming by asking what if questions about the plot, characters, etc.

    If I’m starting from scratch:
    1. I flip through my journal to find stories ideas
    2. Use writing exercises: questions, images, etc. to spark ideas or get started

    • Jo Malby says:

      Ooo I love those tips too Elke 🙂 That’s a lovely writing process. I think anything that works personally and helps you to slip into that writing space where it’s just you and your writing or story, is wonderful. Thank you for your great comment, *jots down tips* love the summary idea especially.

  • Great ideas thanks! Also, go through your favorite books, movies, guides, etc. for inspiration. Now, don’t copy these of course, but often times great stories will come from inspiration from other ones.

    • Jo Malby says:

      Thanks Ben – So happy you enjoyed it and agree, films, books and other creative offerings can ignite inspiration in an instant. I especially love reading little excerpts of favourite books, poets or authors to initiate that creative buzz, leaves you itching to write. Thanks for your comment.

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