Skip to main content

10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

Beat writer's block with these 10 tips, supported by scientific studies, from Estelle Erasmus's article from the September 2019 issue of Writer's Digest.

Beat writer's block with these 10 tips, supported by scientific studies, from Estelle Erasmus's article from the September 2019 issue of Writer's Digest.

You heard that correctly—there is a cure for writer’s block, according to science. The next time you’re stuck, try one of these proven tactics.

beat writer's block

Many of my writing students share a common complaint: They can’t get past writer’s block. When that feeling of futility strikes (it does for everyone), I reassure them that it’s part of the process and there are many remedies for getting unstuck.

If the muse just won’t manifest, here are a few ways supported by scientific evidence to knock down those blocks so you can build something lasting with your words.

  1. Repetitive Action Relaxes: My best ideas come to me when I’m doing something over and over again such as folding laundry, mailing out batches of invitations, doing dishes, or wrapping a large number of presents.

Why it works: A study out of the University of Oregon demonstrated that rote activity allows the mind to wander, making it easier to tap into our creativity.

  1. Get Those Endorphins Pumping: At a loss for words? Working out on the treadmill, going for a bike ride, or running outside are easy ways to generate creativity.

Why it works: Research demonstrates that aerobic exercise allows the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that grows new cells that aid memory, idea generation, and imagining new situations.

  1. Music of the Mind: Music helps you access the creative, expressive part of the brain and helps get you into a relaxed beta state. Some writers use classical music to kickstart their writing because there are no distracting lyrics.

Why it works: Studies show that music can calm neural activity in the brain, which can reduce anxiety and boost the immune system.

  1. Catch Someone’s Creativity Bug: For a change of pace, head to a local coffee shop or library where others are working hard on their own projects to get a head start on your own.

Why It works: Researchers have proven that being around people working on their own creative projects can compel you to copy them—infusing you with their work ethic, concentration, and productivity.

  1. Change the Form: Can’t seem to get started? Write your essay in a poem or letter. Or, try a different font. I change my font from Times New Roman to Garamond or Comic Sans when I’m stuck.

Why it works: Changing your mode or format of writing breaks up organized, systematic, analytical thinking through a concept called neuroplasticity that encourages your brain to make new connections.

  1. Water Washes Your Blocks Away: Many writers find their best creative ideas or solutions while taking a shower.

Why it works: The more relaxed and disengaged you are—like when you’re showering or bathing—the more dopamine is released by your brain, spurring creativity, insights, and ideas.

  1. Take a Stroll: A slow, 20-minute walk can help you break through a creative slump.

Why it works: Researchers at Stanford University found that walking improves a person’s creative output by 60 percent. That’s because walking offers the same brain-boosting endorphin rush and increased serotonin equal to the benefits of an aerobic workout.

  1. Engage in New Experiences: Try a new restaurant, take a vacation (or a staycation), or see a new movie to slow down your brain and interrupt patterns that keep you stuck.

Why it works: Our brains process familiar information quickly. But it takes our brains longer to organize and synthesize the data in new information, which makes the experience more memorable and pleasurable. This state encourages creativity.

  1. Put Social Media on a Temporary Hold: When you are blocked, make a deal with yourself to write for an hour or two without checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Why it works: You are not multitasking, which has been proven to overstimulate your brain, causing scrambled thinking.

  1. Take a Mental Margarita: Give yourself permission to check out of writing for an hour, a day, or a weekend. The mind needs its downtime to think, ponder, incubate, and create.

Why it works: A study from the Netherlands found that even when we take a break from a project, our unconscious still thinks it through, operating as if it were a background app on our phone. When I veg out, I spend time with family, watch TV, or read a novel. I always come back refueled because my stream of unconsciousness has already worked to crystallize my ideas.

My goal is always the same: to get to a state of flow, a psychological state in which you are so completely absorbed in a task that you lose a sense of time and place. It’s a destination that isn’t easy to achieve but when you get there, it is worth the wait. So, trust in the process and you will find your words once again.

Image placeholder title

Get recognized for your writing. Find out more about the Writer's Digest family of writing competitions.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Romance Writing Virtual Conference, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce the Romance Writing Virtual Conference, six WDU courses, and more!

Popular Fantasy Tropes for Writers

21 Popular Fantasy Tropes for Writers

Here are 21 examples of fantasy tropes for writers to consider and subvert when writing fantastical fiction.

Writing Goals and Intentions: 25 Prompts

Writing Goals and Intentions: 25 Prompts

Make this year your most successful writing year ever by considering the following questions to set your goals and intentions.

Is a Personal Essay Considered Journalism?

Is a Personal Essay Considered Journalism?

Journalist Alison Hill answers the question of whether or not the personal essay is considered journalism by defining the genre and offering examples. Plus, outlets for you to publish your own personal essay.

Forth vs. Fourth (Grammar Rules)

Forth vs. Fourth (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use forth vs. fourth in your writing with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Bad Place

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Bad Place

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, make the setting the antagonist.

Gaslighting in Romance: From Jane Eyre to the Present Day (and Why Writers Should Care)

Gaslighting in Romance: From Jane Eyre to the Present Day (and Why Writers Should Care)

Gaslighting can work its way into the backstory of a character, but it can also be misused. Here, author Emma Barry discusses gaslighting in romance.

Brad Taylor: On Real-Life Threats Inspiring Thriller Novels

Brad Taylor: On Real-Life Threats Inspiring Thriller Novels

Author and veteran Brad Taylor discusses the research that led to his new thriller novel, The Devil’s Ransom.

How Roleplaying Helps Our Writing—and Our Marriage

How Role-Playing Helps Our Writing—and Our Marriage

As co-writing partners who fully embody the stories they tell in their writing process, authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka share how role-playing helps their writing, and their marriage.