Surefire Ways to Cure Writer's Block by Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman

Illustration by Gisela Levy

Illustration by Gisela Levy

Can’t even begin to start writing that 15-page story due next week for workshop? Struggling to navigate the thin line between beautiful and pretentious for your next poem? Just generally paralyzed by the vast and daunting entity otherwise known as The Blank Word Document? Have no fear! The following list can hopefully give you a better and more productive way to procrastinate as you debate over whether to name your character Anna or Ana.

One that I’ve personally devised and tried earlier this month: I went to Hungarian Pastry Shop and before sitting down to write, I ordered a coffee under my main character’s name so that when it was ready, I’d be called and addressed as my protagonist. It got me “into character,” and was strangely effective! If you’re the kind of writer who likes to frequent coffee shops, I recommend it—I guess you could call it the writer’s equivalent of a method acting technique.

Here are some others, put together by the lovely Quarto Staff.

  1. I read books that have inspired me in the past, or I pick up a new book that I've been meaning to read. When I get back into my voracious reading habits, the inspiration to write tends to come with it! I also try to spend time with the people I love—they are always the biggest writing inspiration!

  2. I try to turn off my internal filter and put down every word that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem presentable.

  3. I re-read a favorite book or collection, and then try to see why it was effective or impactful and try to write off of that inspiration.

  4. I try to consult my journal and my notes app, and find inspiration in the images and ideas I sporadically record when they come to me. If I'm in the middle of a piece and having a hard time continuing, I try to change locations, or stand up and move around, or go buy coffee and come back, or do anything to try to reset my body and brain so I can feel refreshed and ready to tackle the piece. More recently, I have been letting myself stop a story in the middle and completely start over. I've written thousands of words of a story before deciding that it wasn't working and I wasn't passionate about it, and started over from scratch. I have begun to realize that it isn't a waste to write all those words and restart, but more of an exercise in helping me reach the story that I'm supposed to be writing. Usually, when I start over, I feel much better about the piece, and it I end up happier with the finished product than if I had forced myself to keep writing something I wasn't invested in just for the sake of saying I completed it.

  5. I scroll through some new writing from my favorite lit mags for inspiration!

  6. I usually try to schedule coffee or a phone date with one of my best friends, with whom I always end up talking in tangents for hours. Talking it out definitely helps brood inspiration! If all else fails, I go for a walk until I come up with something new.

  7. I walk in the forest.

  8. I try to take a break, maybe move around for a few minutes, in order to recenter my thoughts. If that doesn't work, I focus on a tiny detail of my story and work with that until larger inspiration comes and I'm able to move on.