The Best Method I’ve Ever Used to Break Writer’s Block

Note: This is Part 1 in a series I’m writing this week on how to finish your writing projects. In this post, I’ll share the first secret to breaking writer’s block, motivating yourself to write, and actually finishing your projects.

Most of us are struggling to finish our writing projects (I am, anyway). What do you do when your brain suddenly refuses to form words? What do you do when you get writer’s block?

writer's block

Photo by photostevel101 (Creative Commons)

Writer’s block sucks. As a writer, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to write something amazing and then finding yourself unable to type even a single sentence.

In this article, I want to share the best method for breaking writer’s block that I’ve ever used. By the way, this isn’t just the best method I’ve used; this is the secret behind every writer’s block technique out there, and there are a lot. (Just Google “Writer’s Block” for proof.)

Just Write Something? But What Do I Write?

Some techniques for overcoming writers block say, “Just write something. Anything!” That’s fair advice, but for many, this suggestion doesn’t work as easily as its proponents suggest.

I know I need to write something. But what do I write? And more specifically, how will writing just anything help me achieve my writing goals? How will writing just anything help me finish my book, my screenplay, my blog post?

This suggestion is well-intentioned and headed in the right direction, but it comes up short.

My method is much harder than that. In fact it’s actually so difficult it’s impossible.

Write the Worst Sentence in the World

I shouldn’t say it’s my method, because I actually discovered this technique from a Hollywood shrink.

Barry Michels is a psychologist whose clientele includes some of the most famous screenwriters, Hollywood agents, and film producers in the world. His waiting room is like an Oscar after-party. You never know when you’re going to run into an Academy Award winner. And as a “shrink to the stars,” he’s helped hundreds of writers break writer’s block.

One screenwriter had been blocked for months. A studio had paid him to write a script for a new film, but he was completely stuck. He was in so much pain over his writer’s block he started to see a therapist.

Michel’s advice was unusual. He told the blocked writer to kneel in front of his computer for one minute every day, praying to the universe for the ability to write the worst sentence in the world. The screenwriter thought it was stupid.

“Write the worst sentence in the world? What kind of advice is that? I’m in pain here!”

However, he did it. A few weeks later, his writer’s block disappeared. A few months after that, he had finished a screenplay that would win him an Academy Award.

Accept that You Are Flawed

In an interview with Studio Q, Michels said:

“Nothing creative comes from the ego…. Flow doesn’t come to people who try to do things well. Flow comes to people who try to do things freely…. If you can’t accept your flaws you can’t flow, because you’re too busy trying to hide your flaws and be perfect.”

Becoming a writer is a lousy way to impress at parties.

Writing is a messy business, so set your expectations accordingly. Most people I talk to who want to be writers expect to float on a magical cloud of creativity every day. Then, they get frustrated and lose interest when writing turns out to be hard, sometimes humiliating work (“I really wrote that?”).

Want to be a writer? Here’s what to expect:

  • You will write really really bad sentences/paragraphs/chapters/books. There will be a few good ones too, but expect lots of badness.
  • Turning those horrible pieces into good pieces takes a long time. Sometimes, it will be impossible, and you will have to throw everything out and start over.
  • Writing, like everything else, will turn into toil. It can become boring, painful, even soul crushing.
  • Yes, there are moments when you have a breakthrough, when every word you write feels inspired, when it feels as though your veins are pumping pure creativity. Those moments are rare and wonderful. Mostly, writing feels like normal work, punctuated with moments of confusion, self-doubt, frustration, and a few rare seconds of brilliance.

Free Yourself from Perfectionism

In the end, the secret to surviving it all is to get over yourself. Get over the idea that you have to be a genius, that you have to be perfect, that every sentence you write must be amazing.

Get over the hype.

Present yourself to your page as a flawed sacrifice. “Writing is easy,” says the wonderful quote falsely attributed to Ernest Hemingway. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

How do you get over writer’s block? Don’t just write anything. Write the worst sentence in the world.

Note: This was the first post in a three-part series on how to finish your writing projects. In two days, I’ll share the next part about how I finished my first book only a few weeks after vowing to quit writing forever. If you don’t want to miss a thing, make sure you’re signed up for email updates.

Give it a try. Go take some time to write the worst sentence in the world. How does it feel? Freeing? Report back here with the results.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. It works because you write the worst sentence and you want to correct it immediately. And you keep on going further and further, your creative muscle working to bring the sentence to life.

    • Very true, Traci. It’s amazing what our unconscious can do when we get out of the way, isn’t it? Thanks!

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  2. Great post, Joe. I think perfectionism is a socially acceptable form of self abuse. I love your story about blocked writer-turned Oscar winner. I’ve done the worst sentence in the world, but have never called it that. When I have writer’s block I set my phone timer for f5 minutes, look at that blank page, then say aloud, “Let it suck!” I don’t even have to write about my story; I just gripe. In 5 minutes, I’m in better shape. Thanks for reminder of this tried-and-true method.

  3. “Nothing creative comes from the ego….” This line nails it!
    One phase of ego is, ‘what will people think’, and that can be where the cramp starts.

    For over two decades, I wrote just because I wanted to. I never had any fears or thoughts of anybody else reading it to bring that rush of cold fear. I never blocked.
    Two years ago, I took one of those old manuscripts — and I use the term loosely – sifted a couple of nuggets from the mound of dross and started writing a novel for publication and you know the rest…

  4. Yes. This is sound advice. My goal, as I presently write my first novel, is to write a crappy book. I’m disappointing myself; the story smells much better than I expected.

  5. I am going to try this. I am seriously thinking I have used up all my words. I think I have hot the lifetime limit. Maybe this will free my stunted stuff.

  6. Joe, your stuff is always so good and I really value it. You are such a help to writers everywhere!

    This was very timely for me. I have written 60K words of a memoir of being made housebound with an illness that most doctors don’t believe exists. I reckon I need to write about 20k more! then cut 40K words somehow (the rubbish bits??) I just wanna quit, and I am facing resistance like you wouldn’t believe, a year after starting this thing.

    Thanks – this has given me fresh energy. I might need to print this out and frame it…

    • (Nb I thought I was commenting on your ‘how to write a book from start to finish’ piece, not this one… The link in your email to the ‘comments section’ led me here.)

  7. Pam Portland says:

    You completely hit the nail on the head! I had a major setback late last year in my professional life and I stopped writing my novel because it was just too darn painful. I have been working on another, but even with this work, I see myself going easy on myself and not giving my work the 110% it deserves. Thanks for calling a spade a spade. I need that.

  8. Lee Tyler says:

    I love the quote from Michaels (interview is great). I’ve kept it and will make a sign “for subconscious use only” on my laptop.

  9. Since learning how to keep my perfectionism under control when I write, I’ve found it much easier to avoid writer’s block.

    The only block I tend to get these days is when I burn out after prolonged periods of extreme creativity. (As in writing 5000 words or more per day, every day, for weeks.) When those periods are over, I’m usually too emotionally drained to write, so I don’t.

    I always come back to writing when I’m ready to. 🙂

  10. It’s really true!
    I always got my best articles from people who made many spelling mistakes during my editorial period. I could take that out. I would never have been able to formulate the great story myself.
    When the newspaper publishers abolished the editors and proofreaders, the “perfect” writers got their chance – but the stories were never exciting again, the readers found and canceled their subscription.