A pen sits on a closed notebook

How to overcome writer’s block

By BBC Maestro

For an ambitious writer, there are fewer things more frustrating than writer’s block. The desire to fill a blank page with words, paired with the inability to do it, is something that can stunt all writers at some point in their lives.

If you’re wondering how to overcome writer’s block, in this article we’ll share some of the ways to dislodge that creative blockage and get back to doing what you love – writing.

Inside a book

What is writer’s block?

Writer’s block is a common condition experienced by established writers and aspiring writers alike. Someone dealing with writer’s block will find it difficult to put words on a page.

Whether you’re working on your first novel or the script for a new TV pilot – you may find your story ideas have dried up, or you may be struggling to get those ideas down on paper. Even simply starting to write can feel like a huge hurdle when you’re experiencing writer’s block. Writer’s block can occur for a couple of minutes to a couple of days or even years. It is a frustrating place to be in, so knowing how to escape it can be particularly useful.

What causes writer’s block?

Anyone can experience writer’s block, but most often we hear of it affecting authors or those under pressure to write to a deadline.

For some, it can come from a lack of confidence. Perhaps negative feedback has left them feeling a little low in confidence or maybe the expectation to craft something spectacular is a bit daunting. For others, lifestyle pressures like having a full-time job or a busy family life may leave them feeling unable to dedicate the time to sit down and write. It’s a recognised part of the creative process, but there are ways you can help yourself out of the creative rut.

A person writing

How to overcome writer’s block

If you’re asking yourself how to overcome writer’s block, you’re not the first writer to do so – and you certainly won’t be the last.

Taking a little inspiration from our BBC Maestro online writing courses, featuring world-class writers including Jojo Moyes, Alan Moore,  Julia Donaldson and Malorie Blackman, we’ve come up with some sure-fire ways you can beat the dreaded writer’s block.

1. Ditch distractions

It’s hard to write well with constant disruptions. Try muting devices like mobile phones and tablets and locking them away, then find a quiet spot somewhere to concentrate. Finding focus is key to the writing process.

2. Get exercising

A great way to break from any rut is to get your blood pumping. A walk in the fresh air, a quick jog or a few stretches on a yoga mat each stimulate the mind in new ways. Movement can be a great tool for finding motivation. Often for the writer suffering from writer’s block, taking a break from the task at hand helps them feel refreshed when they return to it. Legend has it, romantic poet William Blake found few things better than a good walk to get the writing inspiration flowing.

I love writing, but I think you have to make time for other things. I think it’s about recharging those creative batteries by doing other things.

Malorie Blackman, British writer

3. Bite the bullet

Even revered writers like Alan Moore struggle to write from time to time – largely, the writer admits, down to procrastination. In his BBC Maestro storytelling course, Alan shares some sage advice for those who lose focus on their writing goals:

“This is the day you’ve decided to do it. You will notice your office space is a bit untidy. Some of those pencils could do with sharpening. So you start to tidy your office, that will clear your mind you tell yourself. Then you’ll notice you’ve run out of some vital office supply, and thinking about it you should probably head into a stationer in town. Make sure you’re properly stocked up. Then by the time you get back, it’s about half-past three in the afternoon. You don’t want to start something if you’re going to be knocking off for the evening soon. So probably best to leave it until tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning, something else will happen. You’ll decide you better read your research books again.

“This is just ordinary avoidance. Everybody does it. You’ve got a job to do that’s really important – and on one level you’re excited, but you’re also a bit apprehensive, so you avoid it. 

“There’s nothing wrong with this. When I’ve been avoiding things for about three days then my working-class guilt will overwhelm me and I realise what a wretched procrastinator I am and always will be.

“I will get my arse onto the chair. This is the biggest problem in any field of art. Getting your arse onto the chair. If you can do that – the rest of it will be a breeze. Yet we procrastinate.

“Understand what you’re doing. Think ‘right, I’m procrastinating – I’ll do it as long as I need to, then I’ll start work’.”

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With iconic writer, Alan Moore

4. Manage fear and frustration

In Jojo Moyes’ course, Writing Love Stories, she talks to Lisa Christie, a coaching psychologist, about how fear can get in the way of the creative process. 

“We put so much of ourselves into our work that we may worry what others will think, which can block our creativity,” says Lisa. “We can also get frustrated if we have great ideas but struggle to get them down on paper.”

Lisa’s 3 top tips for managing these emotions are to:

  • Stay present.

Concentrate on getting some words on the page.  Sometimes I say to clients “Write the worst sentences that you can, knowing that you will go back and edit them later.”  This takes the pressure away from producing anything magical in those early stages.

  • Be kind to yourself.

Remind yourself that all writers get stuck – and treat yourself with compassion.  What would you say to a friend if they were struggling to get their ideas on paper?  You’d probably be a lot kinder to other people than you are to yourself.

  • Make the process enjoyable.

Even small touches like making your workspace inviting, enjoying a lovely coffee or snack while you work, and telling yourself you are doing well can create positive associations.  If you feel good about your work your brain will release dopamine which will boost your motivation.

5.  Understand yourself

Jojo Moyes and Lisa Christie also explore the role of neurodiversity in the creative process. Creating daily routines is helpful for us all, and this can be particularly powerful for neurodivergent writers as it makes getting started easier.

Self awareness is also key.  If you know you work better in short bursts then set timers and take regular breaks.  Equally, some neurodivergent writers can hyperfocus for extended periods.  This can be a real strength in the creative process, just make sure that you factor in rest time around this.

There really is no right or wrong way to approach the creative process, the key is to find a rhythm and routine that works for you.

Jojo Moyes reading

6. Use writing prompts and exercises

Writing prompts are a wonderful way to give your creative mind some focus. You may choose to purchase a box of writing prompt cards and choose a card at random. Some writers browse news websites for unusual stories that pique their interest, and then use them as the basis for a short story or some flash fiction. You could also try a stream of consciousness writing exercise – where you sit down and, without too much thought, simply begin writing whatever comes into your head without judgement or pause. You’ll be surprised at the themes, characters and places that emerge.

7. Get imaginative

One way writers have overcome their writer’s block is by practising mental imaging techniques. Take your favourite song, poem, piece of prose for example, and visually recreate it in your head. What does the rhythm of the song look and feel like? What images are coming to your mind? Sometimes when we focus too much on one thing, our flow can become blocked. Shaking up our thinking can reset our creative flow.

Don’t feel that because you haven’t got a pen in your hand or you’re not at a keyboard, that you’re not writing. You are. If you’re thinking about those ideas, and how that story might work, you absolutely are.

Malorie Blackman, British writer
Malorie Blackman writing

8. Confide in a confidant

Nothing beats the power of feedback. Run your new ideas, thoughts, and any challenges with your writing through with a confidant. It could be a friend, mentor, teacher or even a stranger. Sometimes a new perspective is all you need to spark some motivation.

9. Take an online course

Stepping back into the (virtual) classroom could be the best thing you do to improve your writing. Taking an online writing course can give you the opportunity to learn new skills, refresh your knowledge and spark your imagination in new ways.

You could learn how to develop strong leading characters or how to ensure your storyline is strong enough. Or you could get access to different creative techniques, like ways to build suspense in your writing or how to come up with more expressive vocabulary.

There are plenty of courses out there to help you feel more confident in your abilities as a writer. Be sure to explore the BBC Maestro writing courses from Jojo MoyesMalorie Blackman and Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio, which are packed full of expert insights to help develop your writing skills.

Looking for inspiration?

Learn how to write magical fiction with legendary writer Alan Moore. Equip yourself for a career in writing and sharpen your literary skills, in this intensive storytelling course.

Want to learn more?

Join Malorie Blackman, as she shares all the wisdom from her stealthy 30-year writing career. You’ll learn how to write and publish your very own story whilst avoiding the pitfalls many writers before you have faced.

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