Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 16, 2012

Chipping Away At Writer’s Block

I admit it. This winter, I worked my way through a long, chilly case of writer’s block.  Using the term ‘block’ to describe what I’d been going through the past few months seemed appropriate, because in my mind I pictured it, literally, as a block of ice.  I felt trapped inside, frozen: unable to summon the words or images, afraid to put pen to paper.

Because writers slide into a creative block one day at a time, so must we dig our way out of it, stepby-step. Here are a few of the ways to chip away at writer’s block:

Inspirational bedtime reading. Choose whatever type of reading material is most inspiring to your own creative process: Newbery Award winners? Published works from authors whom you could learn a technique or two? An inspirational writing exercise book such as Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way or Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones? Trust your instincts and choose the literary food you feel will best nourish your creativity.

Write daily journal pages or do brief writing exercises. Either of these activities will get your pen skating across the paper or your fingers dancing on the keyboard. Knowing that it’s ‘just for practice’ will help free up your words. It doesn’t matter what time of day you decide to stretch your creative muscles, as long as you do it faithfully.Writing something daily will help ease you back into your old work routine.

Go back to writing ideas down in a notebook. When I’m blocked and not writing manuscripts, I don’t write down ideas that pop into my head, either. I glumly think: What’s the use? and let them go. What a mistake! Don’t let discouragement feed your writer’s block. By writing down ideas, you encourage yourself to continue to think in full creative mode. Remind yourself as you make each entry that you’re merely experiencing a temporary glitch in your writing life, which will soon go away.When it does, you’ll be ready with plenty of ideas and inspirations.

Break down large writing projects into smaller blocks and do them in small pieces of time. While this is a useful strategy at any time in my creative life, I find this crucial when I’m having trouble getting started or maintaining momentum. For example, when made vulnerable by writer’s block, the mere thought of attacking that HUGE book manuscript or magazine article shuts me down. I find it easier to break down a story into smaller units and attack it that way. Somehow, writing in ‘baby steps’ helps me overcome any fear of failure and keeps me on task. Like sewing a quilt, each small piece builds on the other, taking shape over a course of days until voila, the blanket is done.

Although writing your manuscript ten minutes at a time may not be ideal, it is preferable to not writing it at all!

Stop being a perfectionist about when and how you can create. Most people imagine a writer communes with a Muse in peaceful seclusion, sitting in a comfy parlor with dozing cats at our feet and a cup of herbal tea in hand. Anyone who has actually written knows that this is a myth…at least for 99% of us!

But the idea is so appealing that when we’re weakened by writer’s block, we talk ourselves into believing that we really can’t produce prose or poetry unless all the planets in our creative universe are in perfect alignment.To prove to myself that this notion is nonsense, I challenge myself to write something—anything—under the worst circumstances possible: with a blaring television in the background, in my dentist’s waiting room, in the grocery store check-out line, between the wash and rinse cycle at the laundromat. Not everything written is usable, of course, but you’ll be surprised at how often these bits of “challenged” writings can be later developed into full-blown pieces, or woven into other manuscripts.

Take it easy.Take unnecessary pressure off yourself.  Stop thinking of end results when you first sit down to work, and the end result will be that your work evolves naturally and inevitably from your own creative process.Take joy in it! Come to your work at the appointed time and see what happens.

Let the story tell itself.Don’t worry about whether it’s going to be published one day or not. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Maybe what you’ve learned in your work session today will teach you what you need to write something else that will find its way to publication tomorrow. By not letting myself think of my work as a product for the marketplace too early in the game, I’ve found my writing tends to flow and grow, which in turn restores the confidence that writer’s block can take away.

Beware of substituting ‘writing related’ activities for the real thing. When I’m fighting writer’s block, I’m susceptible to the siren song of substitution—that is, doing a perfectly acceptable writing related activity in order to avoid writing. Some of these include: attending writing conferences, searching out ‘just one more’ source for a historical fiction project, meeting writer friends for lunch, and chatting online with a writer’s group. As pleasant or as productive as these stalling mechanisms may be, they are never a substitute for the writing process. Be especially wary of falling into this trap when working your way through writer’s block.

Only the writing itself will get you back on track!  Just do it. Inspiration comes to those who show up at the keyboard or drawing board on a regular basis, even when they’re feeling uninspired. How many sensational sentences, lively characters, and compelling plots will I miss, if I allow myself to wait for ‘inspiration’ before writing?

So, as far as I can tell, the only way to chip away at writer’s block is to conquer it one word at a time. Of course, it’s my hope that no fellow writer ever has to face a case of writer’s block. But, should you experience it, try these ideas to get you back in the saddle, and safeguard you against future attacks.

And may it help to know that you’ve got company—ME!

When not suffering writer’s block, Dianne Ochiltree writes children’s books and book reviews from her home office in Florida. Her latest book, Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree and illustrated by Kathleen Kemly will be out in Hardcover – Sep 1, 2012

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for sharing such a fantastic post, including all the writer’s block remedies!


  2. Wow, this is JUST what I’ve been needing lately!!! Thank you for this timely post.



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