We’ve all had that dream: it’s an important day and you show up totally unprepared and, probably, naked. For writers who take the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, this most commonly occurs on Day One: you’ve brewed your warm, comforting beverage of choice, assembled your meticulously curated writing playlist, filled the bathroom with catnip and locked the cats inside, and carefully arranged all the implements and tchotchkes on your desk into a pleasing geometric pattern. Then you sit and stare at a blinking cursor and have no idea what to write.
Whether it strikes at the very beginning of a novel or right at a crucial middle part, writer’s block is frustrating and potentially devastating. The most essential tool any author can have is a list of surefire ways of breaking out of its cold, clammy clutches. Here are ten creative ways to smash out of a creative funk.
Read Great Books
Your first step, always, should be to read a few of your favorite books. Since NaNoWriMo goes pretty fast, don’t try to read a whole novel, just skip to your favorite parts. Spending a few minutes with a beloved story usually gets the juices flowing. Alternatively, read a hot new title everyone’s talking about to stoke those fire of jealousy, one of the best motivators known to man.
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Get Some Pro Advice
Another approach is to sit down with some of the best writers in history and ask their advice, which you can do by picking up a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Or, depending on your taste in literature, a wilder example—Charles Bukowski’s On Writing, or Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art of Writing.
Write About Yourself
A great trick is to start writing about a frustrated writer. Writers as characters can be lazy, yes, but even if it’s a false start that has to be scrapped, writing about your own situation might offer a glimpse of an escape route.
Another trick is to simply begin writing without any concern over what the story is, who your characters are, or how in the world you’re going to get to 50,000 words in thirty days. Just start describing something, or sketching a scene—anything. Just using your fingers and brain to put words on the screen can act like a starter motor, cranking your engine into gear.
Change Your Method
All writers develop a mechanical way of writing—the software used, the specific pen or pencil, the location of their work space. If you’re blocked, try changing things up. Switch to longhand if you work on a computer, or go sit in the garden with a laptop instead of rigidly upright at a desk. A change of mechanics can shock your brain into exploring a new way of working—and thinking.
Sometimes what blocks a writer is the pressure of getting 2,000 words in every day for a month. Try not paying attention to word counts for a week, just concentrating on telling a story, and often the pressure relief will un-crimp your creativity. And don’t forget, some incredible novels are less than 50,000 words—The Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse-Five among them.
Change What You’re Writing
Sometimes writer’s block isn’t some mystery brain injury; sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you you’re headed down the wrong path. Back up to the last major plot decision you made and see if there’s a more interesting choice you missed. Or, while it might break your heart, ask yourself if you should be writing something else entirely.
Read Some History
No novel, no matter how creative, can beat actual events for sheer twists and turns and thrilling drama. If the story won’t come, seed your brain with some of the most interesting—and true—stories ever told. Bonus: reading history trains you in how things actually happen, ramping up your verisimilitude skillz.
Change—or Make—the Routine
Some writers like to work randomly, plopping down when the mood strikes and scribbling out a few hundred words here, a few hundred words there. Some go weeks without writing a word, and then hole up in their office for a month straight. As romantic as that sounds, you may work better with a rigid schedule. Try swapping your approach: go rando if you normally have a schedule, and treat it like a job if you’re normally a rando.
Feed Your Senses
Taking breaks is one of the most powerful tools a writer can use. Sometimes that panic over lost time is what’s blocking you in the first place. Take an hour and listen to some great music, or eat something delicious, or go for a walk by a beautiful spot. Feeding the senses stimulates creativity—think of Proust and the Madeleine!