I feel like there are two kinds of writer's block.
- I have to write but I don't want to
- I want to write but I don't know what to say
Since they are different they need to be attacked differently.
If you don't want to write, taking a break and resting your mind will often set you on the right path. However, if you want to write but the words won't come it helps to get crystal clear on what the finished article is going to look like and then working your way there.
I Have to Write but I Don't Want to
You know you need to get something published but when you sit down you just don't feel like doing it. The world is calling you. So what should you do?
This is not permission to blow off your writing goals and turn on Netflix or the Playstation. You have to do something that is actually relaxing to your mind. TV and video games are stimulating and you are looking for the opposite of stimulating.
You want to bore your brain into doing the one interesting option it has — writing.
- go for a walk
- do the dishes
- take a shower
- sit outside and watch the birds
Do something calming and relaxing and let your brain rest for a while. Resting is what will get those creative juices flowing. If you don't have a lot of time I suggest meditation. There is no bigger rest for your mind than meditating.
Put on Some Focus Music
Put on your headphones and listen to some music specifically designed to help you focus. They make special music that has undertone beats that get your brain on the same wavelength and encourage it to do different things — focus being one of those things.
It works for me, and it doesn't hurt to try it for yourself.
YouTube has videos you can check out, here's one to get you started.
Plan a Reward
Is there something you want to do? Promise yourself you can do it after you've finished writing.
Sometimes I will tell myself “You can have lunch when this is finished.” or “You can go watch Netflix when this is done.” and it will motivate me to power through even when I don't want to.
For me, the reward has to be something that is currently pressing. A promise of wine with dinner isn't enough to get me motivated. But if I'm hungry and want to quit for lunch not allowing myself to do that is enough to keep me focused.
Yes, I feel like I'm treating myself like a five-year-old… but whatever works!
Figure out what works for you. Want to quit and go do something else? Tell yourself you can go do that — as soon as your work is done. But if that far-off “wine with dinner” reward works then use that. (And feel smug in the knowledge that you are much more mature than I am.)
Break it into Parts
You also don't have to do the whole job in one go. What's the first step? Tell yourself you are just going to do that first step and then be done.
Writing an article could be broken up into stages such as writing the outline, writing a few sections at a time, and editing. Or you could write for a set number of minutes at a time.
Chances are that once you start you'll find the motivation to keep going. And even if that's not the case at least you'll have made a little progress.
When I don't feel like writing but the deadline is looming I often tell myself, “Well, just outline the article and then we'll see where we're at.” Doing this often leads to at least some actual writing of the article.
I don't know why but changing locations often helps me break through writer's block. I think I can imagine that I'm not actually working — but instead doing it just for fun. Like I'm cheating.
So grab your laptop and settle in in a different room, or better yet the local coffee shop. A change of scenery can do wonders.
I Want to Write but I Don't Know What to Say
Sometimes we want to write a specific article but the words just won't come. Then what?
Do Some Keyword Research
A lot of times having a vague article idea often leads to this feeling of writer's block. You want to write something, but you just don't know what.
This often comes from seeing a question or conversation online about the topic and then not really having organized thoughts around that subject.
This happened to me when someone online was hired to write a blog post for a client but hadn't ever done this before. Their question was “How do I write a blog post?”
That is just an open-ended question that I didn't even know where to start! I mean, I created a whole course on this one topic. How can I answer it in a Facebook post?
I decided I would write an article on this topic instead, so I'm prepared if this ever comes up again, but I still didn't know where to start and the blank page felt overwhelming.
So I just started Googling things until I found the keyword I wanted to target. This helped clarify the article in my mind as it pinpoints the exact topic.
I ended up with “how to format a blog post” and then I had a much better view of the article-to-be. Which meant I could get started.
Read Similar Articles
If you have a clear view of your topic but are still stuck for words reading similar articles is always helpful. You'll see things you agree with, which will give you ideas to include in your own article. And you'll see things you disagree with which will fire you up to write.
Either way, your mind will be turned towards creating your own article on the topic.
Just like keyword research helps clarify the article in your mind, reading similar articles will as well. And having a clear path before you is quite motivating.
Outline Your Article — or Not
I personally love an outline. I like having the steps laid out before me and being able to envision the finished product. It gives me a guideline to follow and keeps me from feeling lost.
If you feel the same I highly recommend writing an outline based on the steps above — keyword research and reading similar articles.
However, if you feel like an outline strangles the fun out of writing then, by all means, jump right in and just write your way through it.
Do whatever gets those fingers moving.
Picture Your Ideal Reader
I often say to close your eyes and imagine your ideal reader and write directly to that reader vs writing for the whole internet.
Writing to the whole internet is a big source of writer's block. It's enough to keep you from writing anything ever. Thinking you have to please everyone in the world can certainly keep you from writing anything at all.
But that's the beauty of it — you don't have to please everyone in the world. You only have to write to your ideal reader.
When all else fails, write garbage.
Oftentimes the words won't come because they are all jumbled up in our minds and/ or we are afraid of not pleasing the reader with our prose. Basically, we are afraid that what we will write won't be good.
So forget all that and just write for no one. Write stuff you know no one will ever see. Let the words flow out in half sentences and gobblygook until there is some semblance of order. Write until all your thoughts are on the screen and you can start organizing them into a coherent order.
Or just delete the whole thing and start over when you're ready.
But either way, so often, the path to good writing is through the garbage.
Overcoming writer's block is totally doable and usually comes down to writing something, even if it's trash.
If your brain is truly fried you'll need some rest but if it just doesn't want to behave then getting crystal clear about what the finished product will look like can beat overwhelm and get the juices flowing again.