Saturday, June 22Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Breaking Writer’s Block: Advice From RHUL’s Creative Writers

We’ve all been here before: it’s the dreaded stare at a blank document. The pacing around your single-bed dorm room at 2 a.m. The fingers hovering over the keyboard. You’ve been sitting here for hours and hours, but the words just won’t come. 

If you’ve ever found yourself in any of these situations, congratulations – you’ve experienced the bane of every student’s existence: writer’s block. I reached out to some of the most experienced on the matter, Royal Holloway’s Writing Society, to try and crack the code behind the debilitating curse of this creative slowdown. 

You might be wondering: what exactly is writer’s block? Cathy Snarey, Treasurer of Writing Soc, describes it as that feeling of being up against a deadline, but there’s simply nothing valuable on your mind. ‘You know you have to produce something,’ she says, ‘but your brain has been flushed like a toilet, and the cistern simply isn’t filling up.’ That defeating feeling is very common among those who experience writer’s block. Silas Poulson, the Society’s Secretary, expresses this same dread. ‘For one reason or another, nothing pours out onto the page from your imagination, and so you stare at the page with your pen in hand utterly unable to write anything.’

However, one thing that should keep you from spiralling into sheer panic and self-deprecation is knowing this: It happens to everyone. Christos Dexiades, President of Writing Soc, explains that writer’s block is common among writers of all kinds. ‘Ideas – whether they are about writing, a coursework assignment, or anything in between – are not always readily available when they are needed. No one can truly say that they have a good idea ready every time they need one yet writing requires a lot of them. When these ideas are not available, this causes writer’s block.’

So, what’s the fool-proof key to breaking this block? Well, there isn’t one.

We all have different processes of generating and writing ideas, which means there is no universal solution that’s bound to help everyone. Instead, the members of the Writing Society reassure us that there’s always different methods for people to try:

  1. Take A Break. One thing that all members of the committee agreed on is that sometimes, all it takes is to stop staring at the blank screen and do something else for a while. 
  2. Create A Plan. At times, putting down all your ideas on paper can help you see things more clearly. Some writers find that mind-mapping their ideas can actually get their creativity flowing again!
  3. Daydream. Hear us out – daydreaming can be a way to allow your imagination to roam freely and break away from the pressure of being forced to write. You never know what thoughts and inspirations might come to you when you’re daydreaming about your idea!
  4. Get Inspired. You might think it’s easier said than done, but not when you have a society dedicated exclusively to driving creativity! The Writing Soc’s weekly writing workshops are a great opportunity to get inspired by prompts in the form of pictures, stories, words or music and share ideas with other writers. Being around like-minded students who understand the stress of writer’s block can really help alleviate the worry and make you the best writer you can be.

Cathy finishes us off with the perfect token of advice: don’t stress! ‘In the words of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, don’t panic! No-one ever died from writer’s block. Just take a break. Give yourself and your mind a chance to breathe. Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Stephen King, and J K Rowling all suffered from writer’s block, so you are in good company.’

Reena Bakir