Unsticking the stuck: my secrets to conquering writer’s block
Your to-do list is longer than the line at an ALDI Special Buys sale. Your deadline is looming. And no ideas are coming. It’s plain and simple – you’ve got writer’s block (fear not – we’ve all been there, many times before).
Sadly, I know that staring at a blank screen or hovering your fingers above the keyboard isn’t the answer. But don’t despair, these secrets will help you overcome the dreaded writer’s block, once and for all.
Don’t start at the beginning
Every writer’s nightmare is the ominous blank page and pulsing cursor staring back at you.
How hard is it to write a headline when you’re not entirely sure of how the contents will go? Save the headline for last – it’ll also help you pick something that better reflects the direction of the piece.
(PSST… this blog went without a headline until the very end.)
Come back to the intro later, too. Begin instead with body paragraphs. And don’t be afraid to chop and change the order as well – treat your piece as a work in progress.
Eliminate all distractions
You’re faced with two choices: walk to the local supermarket or climb Kosciusko – which one would you prefer right now?
When you’re presented with a range of options, most of us opt for the easiest.
BUT! Now we’ve fallen into the seemingly simpler cycle (or is it a trap?) of procrastination. We’ll do everything else before tackling the true task at hand. It seems even the kitchen gets cleaned before that pesky proposal gets written.
How to avoid this common pitfall? Do not disturb.
Turn off your phone. Find a quiet space free of noise and chatter. Hell, disconnect the Wi-Fi if you have to! Just make sure you’re switching off those easy distractions like notifications and background noise.
With nothing else to distract you, you’re forced to focus on the piece.
Brainstorm with others
When I’m stumped for something to write (or don’t even know where to begin), one of the first things I do is pop my head over the computer and ask a colleague.
There’s no need to send a meeting request or book a separate room. It’s just an informal chat. And it usually only takes a few minutes.
That’s because each person brings their own unique thinking to the table. They’ve often got a fresh perspective because they have distance from the project. And even if I don’t go with another team member’s exact idea, I often stumble upon a nugget of gold in the process.
It’s true what they say: two heads are better than one!
Take time away
When writer’s block hits, it’s tempting to want to jet-set off to a tropical island and forget about the world of writing and editing. But sometimes that’s just not practical. In fact, most times it’s not practical.
The next best thing is taking a break and doing something new.
Whether it’s working on an entirely different project or getting some fresh air, taking some time away stops you from dwelling on the ‘I can’t think of anything!’ and tearing out your hair from frustration.
Plus, you never know, an idea might come to you when you’re a million miles away, sipping your imaginary pina colada on a fictional (yet nonetheless exotic) island.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, don’t just do anything – do something creative. Doodling, word puzzles or riddles are all practical for the office. And they give your creative muscle a workout too. This also allows your right brain (the subconscious, creative side) to kick into gear.
Do more research
Try writing a paragraph on the different types of soils. Without Googling it.
Unless you’re an expert in horticulture, you’re unlikely to have any idea where to begin.
So if you don’t know how to start on that business case you’ve been trying to write, maybe you don’t know enough about it?
Try and research the topic more. Or ask for more information. Maybe the brief you received was just that – too brief. Regardless of what you’re writing, it’s near impossible to produce a quality piece if you’re not well informed.
Get all the facts. And then… start again!
Purge your perfectionism
Or silence your inner critic. Whatever it is that’s holding you back, it’s probably got to do with your fear of writing something that’s not ‘good enough’.
Put your self-doubt aside and think of this as a rough draft that no one will ever see – other than you.
The key? Let the creativity flow. Without judgement. And without editing as you go.
Instead, write exactly what’s in your head. Even if it’s ugly. Like, really ugly. (I’m talking that time you ugly-cried after watching Marley & Me).
Simply give these phrases and sentences a double-underline or chuck it in parenthesis. This flags it to ‘future you’ as an ‘I’m not happy with this’. And you’ll be surprised by how easily something better comes to you later.
Mix it up
Changing your rhythm is another technique for overcoming writer’s block.
For example, if you’re working indoors – get a breath of fresh air outside. If you typically type at a computer, switch to the old-fashioned pen and paper.
And if you’re leaving something for the afternoon (when you’ve had some time to dwell on it), try tackling it first thing in the morning.
Breaking the routine can help spark fresh thinking. And a change of scenery can be exactly what you need to elicit that ‘lightbulb moment’.
Break it up
Thinking about a whole report, blog post or proposal can be daunting. If you find yourself hyperventilating before you’ve even started, divide the task up.
Setting a smaller goal, like say, a 500-word chunk can make the task much more manageable.
Alternatively, you could set yourself a timeframe in which you’d like (or need!) to have a particular section finished by. And then the next. And the next.
Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to the final word count.
Search for inspo
Inspiration is everywhere. Although it may not seem like it, you can get writing motivation from heaps of things.
For instance, take a look at what others are doing. What have your competitors done in the same sphere? How have they approached similar projects?
But remember: be original in your content – use others’ work just for inspiration (not for taking).
Or, look to yourself. Have a read over the past work you’ve completed. This can be a useful starting point, especially if the project you’re working on is similar.
And don’t forget about delving into your swipe file, either. This is your collection of words, phrases, headlines and other bits and bobs you love so have noted down for later.
For something more immediate, google some motivational quotes. They’re a great way to spark creativity when you need it most.
These tools are also effective when it comes to getting your creative juices flowing again.
I hope these techniques have helped you uncover some ideas or nudged at your inspiration, helping you to beat writer’s block for good! Now it’s time to put them into practice – and flex that writing muscle!