Strategies to Cope with Writer’s Block and Depressive Illnesses

You do not have writer's block as such. It's a myth!

It’s far more likely that you are stuck in an unimaginative rut, and that you are experiencing a shortage of stimuli, or a lack of variety in the brain and body soup that should be feeding and nourishing your creative mind. If things are really bad you may be depressed. The good news is that creative strategies may help to decrease the depth and frequency of your depressive phases.

Other Common Solutions to poor creativity that you might wish to consider are:

  • Engage in a variety of activities that are uncharacteristic for you. This may involve taking up a new hobby. It almost certainly means moving away from the torture of staring into a flickering screen. (See my other blog on internet and social media addiction, here.)

  • Start a new project. Sometimes it’s your determination to stick at a dead project that explains why you can’t move forward. But you can always return to older projects in the future, equipped with a fresh mind and new ideas

  • Learn to meditate. Become human again. Sometimes you are blocked by having too many thoughts. Too much creative flow is exhausting, especially if it remains chaotic, or it lacks the sense of an emerging shape or direction.

  • Read a random page of a random book and underline three magic words. That wonderful eighteenth-century word ‘Serendipity’ involves the art of finding what you need while you are looking for something else.

  • Take randomness a step further by using Tarot Cards to build character, or like composer and inventor John Cage, use dice, or the I Ching, in order to explore patterns beyond conventional expectations, and to help you to move away from bland stereotypes.

  • Read some poetry. Even better, cut it up and rearrange the words. Poetry is the ultimate mind-gymnasium for the creative writer.

Take a long walk. Take a few words for a walk. Let them go wander. Many great writers such as Charles Dickens have employed walking as a way to compose and liberate their creativity.

Did you read

52 Examples of My Creative Writing Activities ? Here.

Why not change the sex of your main character, and/or make him/her drastically older or younger? Absurd tweaks should initially be treated as harmless fun; but they may, nonetheless lead you in an unexpected direction. Great art involves patterns and destiny, but the aleatory, random dimension deserves to be better understood. In this case, risk means experimentation with improbability. One effect of this process is that the initial elements of a composition are re-constituted. Again, the emphasis is on removing a creative blockage in the way that you have been working.

Why not try transplanting the action of your narrative to another country, and /or different timezone or historical period. With a word processor a Search and Replace is a quick solution to this issue. If you don’t like the result, it is very easy to undo.

Make your hero into a villain. Show a wicked streak in your virtuous heroine. Chill out! This strategy of blending good and evil, virtue and vice, also helps to prevent your characters becoming tedious predictable stereotypes.

A popular exercise that many schools are now using in order to explore and develop style, and an awareness of a writer’s chosen linguistic effects, is to re-write a poem as a story, or a story as a poem, or a tragedy as a comedy, or to parody a fictional text using exaggeration of the stylistic effects. These can be seen as warm-ups to promote the parts of your brain that deals with words, thoughts and concepts.

Remember that you can start a story from the beginning, the middle, or the end. Many writers start in the middle (in medias res) in order to provide suspense. Then they explain how the characters came to be there (working backwards); finally they proceed to the end - which may involve another surprise.

e.g. car race; car hanging over a cliff; car falls (dull)


car hanging over a cliff;
feelings as the characters consider their selfish dull lives and learn to love each other for the first time;
they all die happy, unless there is a miraculous intervention, as their guardian angels intervene.

I often find that the opening is the last thing I write as it creates too much pressure to impress. Get your story down on paper and then select a new start by arranging your ideas in a way that is unusual and creative.

Although I strongly recommend that you should distance yourself from negative thoughts, don’t be frightened of constructive criticism, or re-thinking how you theorise your practice.

Literary criticism is your creative friend, not your despised antagonist.


  1. Very much enjoyed this post Ian, and will be back to read others. Thank you and perhaps you know my friend, Jo Blake Cave who teaches storytelling at the Uni of Northants?

  2. Thanks for those kind comments. I'm afraid I've not met your friend; is Jo Cave a recent appointment?


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