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Phoenix Forward magazine

How to overcome writer’s block

Writer’s block

Your paper’s due in a few days, but instead of writing, you’re staring at a blank computer screen.

Don’t panic. “Everybody experiences creative blocks from time to time,” says Dorothea Bonneau, MA, a novelist who teaches a creative writing course at the University of Phoenix Sacramento Valley Campus.

“As human beings, we’ve evolved to survive, and survival mode sometimes blocks our ability to be creative because we’re programmed to stay safe,” she points out. Here are six expert tips to help you get the ideas flowing:


Be reflective.

Bonneau encourages students to approach each new project by asking themselves questions and seeing what ideas they come up with.

“Formulating questions about the assignment can help you generate writing ideas that you wouldn’t think of otherwise,” she explains, noting that she uses this method in her own writing. “It gets your mind off the blank screen and gives you some breathing room.”


Take a cue from the corporate world.

Mind-mapping techniques — types of structured brainstorming — that are popular at businesses can help you ace your writing assignments, Bonneau points out.

“Take a sheet of paper and jot down as many ideas as you can in two minutes,” she advises, stressing not to judge your thoughts. Adding doodles or drawing arrows between related ideas can help you better understand them before you begin your assignment. “It really jump-starts your thinking,” she says.


Use your imagination

Creative geniuses from Albert Einstein to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used visualization, says Bonneau, who frequently employs this method in her classes. “If you relax and close your eyes,” she explains, “images will arise spontaneously.”

Bonneau asks students to visualize a dancing piece of fruit as a creative exercise. “Everybody sees something they didn’t expect,” she says, acknowledging that the approach is unconventional. “This visualization takes less than 30 seconds,” she adds, stressing that it helps give students an idea of how creative they can be.


Set a deadline.

Use both assigned and self-generated time limits to spur your creativity, suggests Marla Dean, PhD, a playwright and online creative writing instructor at the University. “Deadlines are sometimes of great assistance,” she believes, because they force you to at least write something.

“Fill up the page,” she adds, emphasizing that what you write isn’t as important as starting the process. “It will become easier — you’ll forget it was ever blank.”


Seek inspiration everywhere.

Dean keeps folders of photographs and news clippings near her desk and mines them for ideas whenever she feels stuck. “These are bits of inspiration to me,” she says, noting that listening to music, reading great authors or walking around a mall also can help spark creativity.


Focus on yourself.

Sometimes the best way to beat writer’s block is to reassure yourself that you possess natural creative abilities, Bonneau says. “Acknowledge that you are a unique individual, trust your perceptions and express yourself from the core of [who] you are,” she says, “[rather than] the expectations of others.”

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