There is nothing worse for a writer than feeling, “blocked.”
You sit at your computer and it stares you down. You’ve got this expensive machine, the most advanced invention that humankind has ever concocted, sitting at your command.
And it waits. And waits. And waits. And you’ve got nothing. You almost want to apologize to the computer for bothering it.
Writer’s block isn’t real. There’s another reason your creativity is stopped. But, it can feel very real, and for professional writers, it may set off a panic that makes it worse. Bills have to paid, and clients must be kept happy so that more assignments can come in.
Writer’s block isn’t real.
Here are eight tips to squash writer’s block for good.
1. Clarify the Project
Many times what we call writer’s block is simply feeling overwhelmed or unclear about a project.
Are you not sure about the project’s goals? Do you need more information? Articulating the project to a partner, friend, or colleague can help reveal holes in your understanding.
Once you’ve identified specific questions, go back to your editor or client for clarity.
Sometimes we have writer’s block because the project has unrealistic goals. An unclear or inefficient project sometimes needs to be rehashed with the client.
This is especially true with clients that are not in the writing/publishing industry. They may not even know themselves what they want. In these situations, take the lead as the writing professional. Listen very carefully to what the client is saying, and even more carefully to what they are not saying.
Then make a professional recommendation. Look at what they want, both said and implied, in reference to your workload and the monetary value of the project and client.
Then tell them, “This is what I can do for you.” Many clients will greatly appreciate this. They have their own jobs to do, that’s why they hired a professional writer. If that doesn’t work, then move on. Let them find another writer to exasperate.
2. Break it Down
Sometimes we can’t write because the project is too big. The scope is too broad for the assignment, or you are trying to tackle too much at once.
Organization is the key here. Outline. Schedule. Plan. Break the project into many smaller units.
Take on one small unit at a time, easiest first. Create a schedule for yourself so that you don’t feel pressured by the more intimidating parts of the project.
Give yourself enough time to complete each unit, and reward yourself for each completed piece. Once you get into it, you may find you understand the rest of the project a lot better, and gain momentum.
Conversely, you may find you’re trying to squash everything into a magazine article, what it would take an entire academic textbook to say.
Scale back. Reinvision the goals. Think smaller.
3. Take a Break
Creativity needs to breathe.
For those of us who pay the bills with our art, this is a hard concept to accept. There is a project. There is a car payment. It’s just that simple.
Time off is a luxury. But if you don’t take time to recharge your creative juices, you will have nothing to offer your clients.
Take a break and do something different for the day. Go to the mall, the park, the lake…
If you can’t find the moral space for a day off, then take a “business day.” Answer e-mails. Research new clients. Work on your social media.
Then, the next day, you will surprised at how much more naturally writing comes.
4. Experience More
When your daily grind consists of you wearing sweatpants, a bathrobe and carrying a laptop, it’s easy to get in a rut.
Especially if we are single, childless writers. We often find we don’t leave the house for embarrassingly long periods of time. (We won’t admit how long).
So, once we have written about every angle of every interesting experience we have ever had, and then exhausted all of our soapboxes, we can’t think of a single new thing to write.
Then we start thinking about a piece on why toilet paper sheets are perforated.
Don’t do that.
Go out. Experience more. Go to a concert. Go hiking. Go skydiving.
Join a band of traveling gypsies and tour the country. (I actually did this, and got an entire novel out of it). When you’re that blocked, even an out-of-the-ordinary night on the town can unleash creativity for days.
5. Find a Brainstorming Partner
Writing is a solitary effort. But, sometimes, we make it too solitary. When you find yourself blocked on a project, talk to a friend, colleague, or even your partner about your project.
If they’re interested, show them some of your research. They may have a fresh take or angle that will be just the impetus you need. Just because your partner’s not a professional writer, doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas.
As a matter of fact, you may find that they have excellent ideas, but not the time or focus to follow them through. That’s where you come in.
6. Do Writing Exercises
Sometimes when you feel too much pressure on a project, switching to another gear for a bit can put it into perspective.
Start the morning with a writing prompt, journaling, or free writing. Bookstores have books of writing prompts, and a number of websites do as well.
Give yourself twenty to thirty minutes for a writing exercise. This may help drown out your mental noise enough to delve into the difficult project. The caution, here though, is that the journaling, or free writing becomes the daily project and no real work gets down. That’s why time limits help here.
7. Work on Something Else
Sometimes you will find you just don’t “have” the piece. It’s not a matter of browbeating yourself into self-discipline.
You can’t pull it out of your brain, simply because it’s not there. You don’t have it. When this happens, work on a different piece. The piece may come to you in a few days.
8. Recreate Your Passion
It could be you are trying to write about something you once cared passionately about, but is no longer relevant to you.
When you were a nursing mother, you were a fierce advocate on public breastfeeding rights. Now your child is weaned, and you queried a parenting magazine to write on the subject.
But, as you sit down to write it, you find you can’t fan the flame of passion. All your words are dead and hollow. And, secretly, you are starting to see the other side of the argument.
When this happens, find passionate people to rekindle your flame. Read blogs, magazines and books to regain that edge. If that doesn’t work, use your dwindling fire to your advantage. Be honest.
Create trust with your reader by communicating your former passion, but then use your dwindling fire to suggest they consider additional angles.
When all else fails, just write it. Even if it flops like a wet seal on a marina boardwalk, you can always edit.
But you can’t edit something that doesn’t exist. So, write it the best way you can, and see what happens. Your 750 word article may end up being ten really awful rambling pages. But, somewhere in the middle of page seven, you may find the angle and it will all be worth it.
Now it’s your turn – how do you overcome a bout of writer’s block?