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4 Effective Strategies for Tackling Writer’s Block

4 Effective Strategies for Tackling Writer’s Block
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Whether you write for a living or just enjoy getting creative in your spare time, writer’s block is without a doubt one of the most frustrating problems to run into.

Researchers are still divided on whether the problem is neurological or can be chalked up to anxiety caused by pressure to produce, and some psychologists are even convinced that writer’s block is simply an excuse we make for poor discipline.

Regardless of what causes it, though, experiencing a creative block is only natural from time to time, and while there are many different ways to tackle it, what works for one person may do nothing for another. So if you’re in need of some inspiration, here are a few strategies you can try.

1. Allow yourself to daydream

Your subconscious mind is good at coming up with creative ideas and solutions, which is why sometimes, it’s best to stop thinking about what you’re going to write and let your mind wander.

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In one study, researchers found that when writers are unhappy, either due to stress and anxiety, anger and irritation or apathy and disengagement, they are more likely to experience writer’s block and less likely to daydream in a constructive way.

To tackle this problem, they asked a group of writers experiencing writer’s block to sit in a quiet, low-lit room and visualize specific things such as a piece of music or nature setting. Then they would try to describe it. After becoming accustomed to the exercise, the writers were asked to do the same thing some aspect of their current writing project.

Sure enough, those who participated in the intervention found that they were more motivated and self-confident in their writing and were able to get more done.

2. Experiment with different brainstorming techniques

There are countless brainstorming techniques, and these days, even apps you can use to generate ideas, but it’s important to find a technique you feel comfortable with. For writers, some effective brainstorming techniques may include:

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  • Mind mapping

Mind mapping can help you develop vague ideas into something more concrete. Start by drawing a circle with your main topic or idea at the centre, then, use lines to connect as many related thoughts and ideas to the main circle as you can think of.

  • Free writing

Get out an empty note book or open a blank word document and start writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about whether you’re making sense or even staying on topic, the goal is simply to free up your mind and push past whatever anxiety is preventing you from writing.

  • Star bursting

Star bursting involves coming up with as many questions about your topic as possible. You can start by answering the journalistic 5Ws and 1H: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? Once you’re done, go down the list and answer each question as best as you can.

3. Try social writing

Writing is usually a solitary activity and most writers wouldn’t have it any other way, but if you find yourself stuck, it can help to write in a more social setting.

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You could either find a writing partner or create a little writer’s group, but the goal is to find someone who can critique your work, listen to your ideas or just provide some moral support. Social writing isn’t for everyone, of course, but sometimes simply getting another writer’s perspective could be just what you need to move forward.

4. Do something completely unrelated

This might be difficult if you have a hard deadline coming up, but since writer’s block often stems from the pressure you’ve put on yourself to produce, it can help to step away from your writing for a while and do something completely unrelated to give your mind a break.

Psychologist Susan Reynolds explains that when you’re feeling pressured to write, your anxiety level rises and your brain releases stress hormones, which triggers your fight or flight response.

Once this occurs, the limbic system stops transmitting messages to the cortex, which is responsible for conscious thought and creativity. So the more you pressure yourself to write, the more anxious you’ll feel and the worse your writer’s block will become.

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So whether you go for a run, listen to music, paint, make a scrapbook or clean the house, doing something unrelated for a while will help calm the anxiety you’re feeling and help you get over the mental blockage.

Figure out what works for you

This is one point that just can’t be emphasized enough. We’re all different and that means there is no right or wrong way to get creative in your writing. Once you’ve experimented with a few different techniques, you’ll have a better idea of which one helps you generate the most new ideas or leaves you feeling less anxious and ready to get back to your writing.

Do you have any weird or wacky techniques of your own for tackling writer’s block? Let us know about them in the comment section.

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Featured photo credit: Picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

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Marianne Stenger

Writer, Open Colleges

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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