Updated: Sep 20, 2018
So ... how do you cure writer's block? It's an age-old question. How many writers over the years have sat down at their typewriter or word processor and just stared at it? It's usually associated with the start of an enormous writing project: the novel you've thought about writing for your whole life; the play that will make Neil Simon jealous; the screenplay that will have Alejandro González Iñárritu begging you to let him direct it.
I don't think you hear about writer's block so much in the middle of a book. Not that there aren't a million half-written novels out there waiting to be finished, but that is more likely attributable to lack of ambition than writer's block.
I have my own method of dealing with writer's block: writing.
I know. I know. I sound like I'm being a smart ass. And, well, maybe I am, just a little bit. But it really does work. If you can't think of how to start the next great novel, then start writing something else. Start writing about not being able to write. Hell ... you could even blog about it if you like.
The truth is, no matter how you look at it, the best way to break through your writer's block is by writing. Now, some of you may be a bit dubious when it comes to taking advice on writer's block from a guy who just completed his first novel in fifteen years of writing. Touché. But in fairness, I was a terrible writer fifteen years ago.
I started writing a novel, which really ended up being a small sampling of disjointed, convoluted, non-sequiturs and unfinished thoughts; all poorly written, of course. After shelving the novel, I began to write short fiction, essays, and even a novella that I was quite proud of.
Also, I didn't write for fifteen years straight. Not even close. I spent many years not writing anything. Writing had become one of those things that I wanted to do someday, instead of something that I needed to do. The fact that I wasn't writing had nothing to do with writer's block and everything to do with that lack of ambition that I mentioned before, or as I like to call it: laziness.
When you sit down at your computer to write, chances are you're already past the laziness phase and are ready to go to work. So write! No one said it has to be good. Bad writing is still writing, and it's a necessary evil. You need to write something bad before you get to the good stuff. Just don't publish the bad stuff.
Writer's block is performance anxiety. Writing the first great line for your great novel is too much pressure. Try writing a bad first line. Maybe after a few chapters, you can go back and change it. "The Little Red Boat" had a terrible first line. Well, terrible might be a bit harsh, but it was a cliché, and besides being a cliché, it didn't really work. It didn't properly capture the scene. I didn't change that first line until the book was in the editing phase. Had I decided to stare at a blank page until I found the perfect opening line, I may still be sitting there, thinking that some day I would love to write a novel.
Now, I don't recommend that you submit a book to an editor with a poor opening line if you don't have to, but it just goes to show you ... if I can use a placeholder for my opening line until after finishing my novel, you can certainly put a placeholder in there for a few days, or a week, or even a month.
If you really want to break through your writer's block, there's really only one thing you can do: write.