All of us experience periods of time when we find it difficult, or impossible, to write. The best advice I’ve ever received was that we should embrace these periods, and not battle against them. Every field needs a fallow time in which to recover and grow new shoots. There are six things we can do when the block becomes overbearing, and the page remains unwritten.
1. Live Life to the Full
As writers, we inevitably draw on life for inspiration. Think about your best work. What inspired it? Was it a chance remark that you overheard on the bus? Or a trip to the beach? A walk in the woods? Or a conversation with a friend? Life is full of inspiration, and rather than sitting curled up at home, trying to force our brains to produce something, why not just go out there and live, and let your subconscious brain store-up everything ready for when inspiration strikes.
2. Just Read
Every writer must read, and everything we write is made up of everything we have ever read. So, when you can’t write, read. If it doesn’t inspire you, it will help you to hone your craft, to learn in ways that are subtle and small but essential in the life of a writer. Even if you are unaware of what you are learning, you will still be learning lessons that you can draw upon when you eventually set pen to paper.
3. Be Creative in a Different way
Try photography, or collage, or painting, or making pictures from rocks on the beach, or baking, or cake decoration, or knitting. The creative parts of our brains are complex and sometimes we forget that it is important to lose our inhibitions and embrace playfulness. To just enjoy creativity as fun, with no agenda or deadline. Maybe your brain just needs a break. Give it some freedom, and put the writing on hold for a while.
4. Set Yourself a Challenge
In the spirit of experimentation, you may find it helps to occasionally force yourself to try something immeasurably difficult, to see where it leads. If you are a poet, try writing a sestina, or a pantoum, a sonnet or a villanelle. Without any pressure, just for the fun of it. Or try a longer-term challenge like the Sealey Challenge (reading a book of poetry every day for a month) or the NaPoWriMo challenge (writing a poem every day for a month). You will produce work that may be unpublishable. But you will also be exercising those writing muscles, and you may discover (through the haze of enforced difficulty) a new metaphor, a phrase, or an idea that sparks something new.
5. Attend Writing Workshops
Workshops can force us to create by artificially setting us in a place where we are surrounded by silence, and other people writing, so that we feel obliged to write SOMETHING, ANYTHING at all. The workshop facilitator will provide prompts. The other writers will provide peer pressure. The hand will begin to move whether you intend to write or not. And something will be written. It might turn out good. It might not. You’ll never know until you try.
6. Rely on God
Remember that God created you to do good works - works that He planned in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2 v10). Some of these works may involve your writing. Others will not. They will occur in the ordinariness of everyday life, and your obedience. Although God will use your gifts and abilities for His glory, He can and will also use your weakness, your pain, your boredom, and frustration. Writing and creativity can become an idol. While those who do not follow Jesus may place all of their identity in what they do, for Christians we are first and foremost a child of God. And God cares about every aspect of our lives. It may be that these periods of non-writing are an essential God-given reminder that we need to cling to Him, to follow Him, to place His will above everything else.
Rachel Carney is a poet, academic researcher and creative writing tutor currently based at Cardiff University. Her book Octopus Mind (Seren Books, 2023) explores the intricacies of neurodiversity, perception and the human mind.