Writer’s block is a familiar obstacle that seems to grow the more we focus on it. We know we must write, so we sit down at our desk, stare at our screens, and will ourselves to write something. Anything. Still, no words appear. The longer we sit there, frustrated that we’re not writing, the more likely it becomes that we will not write at all.
Even strong writers need strategies to cope with writer’s block and be productive. Here are 15 tips to overcome writer’s block and still create content you’d proudly show your colleagues. Not every tip will work for every writer, but something here will work probably for you.
How to Overcome Writer’s Block
1. Make Writing a Habit
“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” - Twyla Tharp
Some writers may think Tharp’s approach is counterintuitive because they believe creativity is innate and unpredictable. But waiting for inspiration can be a formula for a constant battle with writer’s block. Try approaching writing as a set part of your routine: schedule time to write and write at that time, even if you’re not inspired by your words. Whether your schedule includes writing daily or every weekend, it’s important to stick to it.
2. Talk to a Friend
The worst way to combat insomnia is to stay in bed and think about falling asleep. Fighting writer’s block is similar to fighting insomnia. Staring at a blank page or screen and hoping words appear won’t work. One way to break out of this mental paralysis is to talk to a friend–real or imaginary. As you talk, write down everything you say. Once on paper, that conversation may make a decent first draft.
3. Find Out When You’re Most Creative
To avoid or overcome writer’s block, think about what time of day you find it easiest to be creative. For many people, creative tasks are easiest in the morning when it’s quiet and emails aren’t piling up. Others prefer writing late at night. Plan to write when you’re naturally most creative, whether it’s at 6 AM or 10 PM.
4. Stay Away From Distractions
Distractions can reduce your focus, interrupt your flow, or keep you from starting a project. Minimize distractions when you write. Try unplugging from digital distractions by turning off your smartphone and internet while you write. Remove distractions from your work area by cleaning your desk; a clean desk can improve calm and focus. Use time-blocking to schedule time for writing. Ask co-workers and family members to respect that time the way they’d respect your unavailability in a meeting or a webinar. Schedule chunks of at least three uninterrupted hours for writing.
5. Work on Another Section
You don’t have to write a piece in the order it will be read. For example, people often struggle with writing introductions. If you’re having a hard time writing a given section, work on another part and come back later. Writing some part of the piece will be more successful overall than staying with an idea that’s not yet ready. Writing out of order might even help you write the perfect introduction at the end, because you’ll have a better idea of how you’ve organized your piece.
6. Move to Another Space
After a while, staying in one physical place can make you feel stuck. Sometimes, a change of scenery can help you continue writing. Moving outside, to a café, or even just to another spot in your office—from chair to couch—might be all you need to break through.
7. Read, Read, Read
Reading can provide inspiration, motivation, catharsis, or escape, all of which make reading an excellent cure for writer’s block. Reading something you enjoy can help you forget about insecurities or troubles that may have been holding you back earlier. You can count on reading to help you get out of your writing funk, no matter what you choose. Many writers turn to the authors they admire for inspiration, to get their creative juices flowing, and to beat writer’s block. Don’t worry: if you start reading, we won’t accuse of you procrastinating.
8. Do Something Other Than Writing
If you feel like you’re stuck, a non-writing activity may prove helpful. If you stop directly and intensely looking at words, you might find the story you want to tell while doing another task. Pick an activity that lets you step away from the written word: watching movies, solving a puzzle, enjoying a meal, or looking at artwork. You can also turn to your hobbies, which help your brain concentrate, work, and finish tasks.
9. Do Household Chores
Your non-writing activity may involve cleaning. Part of the frustration of writer’s block is that you feel unproductive while stuck. The longer you look at your screen trying to force yourself to be productive, the less work you get done. To clear your mind and benefit from a different type of productivity, do household chores. Try washing the dishes, vacuuming, folding laundry, or other household tasks so you can relax and think of new ideas. The clean house might also give you the feeling of a fresh start.
10. Try Freewriting
Freewriting is writing without stopping for a specific amount of time (usually 10 to 20 minutes). Don’t interrupt the process by editing or checking spelling or grammar. Let it flow. The goal is to produce words without judging them (or yourself) while you write. It’s fine if your free-written piece isn’t part of your actual work or ready for public consumption. Freewriting can help you organize ideas or get something stressful off your mind. Find a place where you can focus, gather your writing tools, and get started. Set your time limit. If you’re new to freewriting, start with a 10-minute limit. Once you get the hang of freewriting, try increasing your time limit. Don’t rush to go over 10 minutes, though—enjoy the process.
11. Use a Different Writing Tool
When your writing feels stagnant or you feel stuck, try changing your writing tools. If you usually type, try switching to pen and paper or typing in a different font. If you usually write by hand, try typing instead. If traditional methods don’t work, try a specialized writing app that hides your text or has a countdown timer that forces you to write without stopping. Switching up your writing tools can be as effective as changing locations to help you overcome writer’s block.
12. Move Your Body
If you’re feeling sleepy and disconnected or disinterested in your work, try kick-starting your energy with aerobic exercise. It can be running, walking, or dancing: anything that makes you feel happy and gets your heart rate up. Even 10 minutes can help you feel better and write better. Exercise helps your body and mind work their best. It releases endorphins, the hormones that boost your mood. If you feel more productive and energetic, you’ll probably beat writer’s block.
13. Clear Your Mind
A foggy mind can stop you from getting your best ideas out. If you’re having trouble writing because of brain clutter, try doing something calming and introspective. Meditation, yoga, prayer, silent reflection, and other meditative practices will help you focus on the present moment and can improve your ability to concentrate in the long term.
14. Face the Fear
If you think you’ll fail at a task, you might hesitate to start. Writer’s block can stem from a fear that your writing isn’t good enough. The fear is valid: you will have errors in your first draft, but that’s why we edit. A rough first draft will give you something to perfect. Writing that draft more quickly will ensure you have time to edit it thoroughly.
15. Fail — It’s Part of the Creative Process
All writers fail at some point when they write. It’s part of the creative process. Remember that when you’re trying to beat writer’s block, your goal isn’t to write the perfect article, report, or brief. Your goal is to finish a first draft. Editor’s block is much easier to overcome than writer’s block, especially when you have WordRake to jumpstart the editing process.
To learn how WordRake founder and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder deals with writer’s block, you can read his post “Curse of the Blinking Cursor” here.
About the Author
Caroline Engle is WordRake’s Marketing Communications Specialist. She convinced WordRake to hire her as an intern after placing in editing competitions and writing a novel in a month. When she isn’t editing or writing copy, coordinating conference logistics, or helping improve WordRake’s functionality, she’s reading, going on ten-mile walks, or looking up flight prices. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.