How to overcome writer’s block
15 ideas to try if you ever get stuck writing ...well, anything
As someone who spends a majority of their professional and leisure time writing (communications by day, blogging by night, music on weekends) I have battled the elusive writer’s block on more than one occasion.
Now more often than not, I’m decently productive: In free time over the last 2 decades have written >2,000 blog posts and industry columns, 10 original albums and countless content for clients and employers during the work week. Should I have done less work with more focus? Or much more to strengthen my creative ability? It’s difficult to know the right answer.
Regardless, there are times when all creatives, even the productive types, find themselves stuck.
1) Get your blood moving
Finding balance is vital for workers in the information economy, and even moreso during a pandemic where many are working remote, perhaps living somewhat more sedentary. Exercise is really good at getting blood moving through your brain and getting your creative juices flowing. Take a walk around your building, go the gym, do something active and when you return to your writing, you’ll find your head will be much clearer.
2) Change your surroundings
If you’ve got a laptop, take it to the roof of your building (if you’re able) or outside to a park and you may find swapping surroundings works wonders. It is very possible to become too distracted in your office or home to get good writing done. For your best writing, you need focus, and if you go somewhere with the sole intention of getting one piece of writing done, you’ll be productive as you’ll leave the distractions such as your phone or email (don’t bring your iPhone) at your usual place of work.
3) Unplug the Internet
This is similar to step two but applies when you can’t get away from your desk but need focus. The web is a big distraction when you want to get good writing done — close Facebook, turn off Twitter and stop checking your site analytics. In fact, just unplug the ethernet cable or turn off your wifi altogether and you’ll really start to focus. I am more connected than any person should be, but good writing or beating writer’s block requires you to disconnect.
4) Listen to some music
This may not work at the office, but if you’re a blogger and you work on the weekend the right music is highly inspirational. I recommend electronic/jazz/classical music, nothing with overt vocals to distract your thoughts — just some nice creative instrumentals to push you along in a good direction (I recommend one of my mixes, they’re all free here - think podcasts but for music and of course without the talking).
5) Start what you’re stuck on first thing in the morning
Open what you are stuck on first thing in the morning just as you’re getting to work. Don’t start reading emails/checking voicemail and go into reaction mode – be proactive in tackling your writing. You can actually get you best work done if you start with the most complex and work your way to the easier stuff.
6) File it for later
If it’s not due soon, sometimes the best thing to do is to work on other things and ponder your approach. The angle you’d like to take may hit you in the middle of the night and your block on that project may end itself naturally, before you get frustrated.
7) Get some coffee
This is a quick solution if you don’t have time to exercise. Despite what they say, caffeine is a great boost and will stir your mind. Just make sure what you’re working on is the only thing open while you sip your coffee so you actually work on that project (many people tend to multi-task after coffee).
8) Outline it
Don’t have anything down yet? No worries – just write the main points. Outlining your writing will break it up into easily manageable chunks. If you decide a section doesn’t work, you can always kill it later. It’s always easy to fill in the missing parts than stare at a blank screen.
9) Stop thinking about it and just start writing
In many cases, the best way to beat writer’s block is just to start writing. The first graph or even the first sentence is sometimes the hardest. The more you get down, the easier it will be to continue…just be sure to edit later.
10) Don’t force it
Just like you when you have insomnia you shouldn’t try and force sleep, don’t try to force writing when you’re truly stuck. The outcome is the same in both cases – frustration. If you really can’t get writing and you’ve tried everything it may just not be your day. And that’s okay, no one can be successful with creative tasks every day…it may be a day to focus on a more techincal project.
11) Read some blogs/articles/books outside the scope of what you normally write
Reading material in the genre of what you’re planning to write can actually make writers block worse, as it gives you the feeling everything has already been said. What helps more is to read content from people/subjects not in your field, as they see the world from a different perspective and will help you get inspired to write something unique.
12) Keep a digital or analog notebook with you 24/7
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coming up with compelling ideas for any creative endeavor is sometimes the hardest challenge of all. But, if you’ve got an “idea pad” with you at all times, you can build up a reserve of strong concepts to draw upon as you need them. This is working proactively to prevent idea blocks or getting stuck. Inspiration usually strikes when you’re not near your desk or actively working on things anyway (thus the cliché great ideas always hit you in the shower) so all creatives should carry a digital or analog method of jotting down ideas quickly.
13) Keep writer’s block away by writing daily
Just like someone who is out of shape could not run a mile in a respectable amount of time, someone who doesn’t write frequently will not be able to produce successful writing in a timely manner. You have to train your body to run, just like you must train your brain to write. And you become a faster runner and more proficient writer through repeated practice and perseverance.
14) Eat healthy food and snacks
Your brain requires proper nourishment to function at optimal levels. I actually notice my mental output is directly proportional to how healthy I am eating for the week. Load up on protein, foods rich in antioxidants, juices, fresh fruits and nuts, vegetables, and smoothies – you’ll not only feel better, your work will be stronger as that generally reflects your mood (whether you’re conscious of it or not).
15) Try taking a nap
If you’re tired, you’re more likely to suffer writer’s block than if you’re well rested. Seven hours of sleep a night is minimum in my mind for optimum levels of successful brain-processing, however if you need to get through your writer’s block ASAP sometimes a quick nap will reset your brain. Try the caffeine nap – it is scientifically proven to work (and from experience, it actually is quite effective). Don’t kill yourself or try to hustle through creative work, in many cases this only succeeds in making the end product worse.