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10 Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

10 Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

    All day long, nearly every day of the year, I write.  I write and write so much that it’s almost become second nature, but sometimes I’m at a loss for words.  I sit around trying to think of what to write, trying to find some inspiration, and sometimes even if I do find something that inspires me, I don’t know what to say.  The words just won’t come out.  As someone who writes for a living, you can bet that in the battle of beating writer’s block, I’ve tried it all.  Here are some of my methods for getting around writer’s block, but feel free to share your ideas in the comments section as well.

    1. Take a Break and Go Back to it Later

    If you’ve been staring at a blank screen for hours, sometimes all it takes to get the words flowing again is to step back for a bit and take a break.  Go run that errand that needs to get done, make yourself a cup of coffee, watch a television show, go for a run — do anything that takes your mind off writing for a short while.  Sometimes it can be hard to write if there’s something else you need or want to do.  In other instances, taking a break will take off some of the pressure and you’ll feel more inspired to write when you get back to it.

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    I like to allow myself the indulgence of stopping writing to watch an episode of a favorite TV show I may have DVRed, or if I am really struggling, a fun, light-hearted movie on Netflix or something to relax and refresh my mind.

    2. Try Writing in a New Place

    A simple change of scenery can work wonders.  If you normally write sitting at the desk in your home office, why not try setting up your laptop on the picnic table in your backyard (if the weather is nice)?  You could also try your local library, a coffee shop, a college campus, or anywhere else that is not where you usually write.  This might not work for everyone, but it’s worth a try.

    3. Write About Something Else

    So you’ve got to write a 1000 word piece on green businesses or you’re trying to pen a new chapter for your novel, and for whatever reason it’s just not inspiring you.  One tactic to try is to write about something else.  Sometimes just writing about anything that inspires you will help you when it comes times to write about what you need to write about.  I employ this tactic from time to time, when I have to write a political piece and it’s just not coming to me, so I’ll do a blog post on my news site about random celebrity gossip or whatever comes easily to me at that moment.  It’s not what you are writing that matters, just that you are writing.

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    4. Figure Out When You Write Best

    We all function on different biorhythms, and while some of you out there might find that you tend to write best at the crack of dawn, other people, like my husband, find that they get into a good writing groove at more “off” times, like in the middle of the night.  Pay attention to yourself and find out when you write best, and when you find it more of a struggle.  Then, avoid the times, such as just before lunch when your blood sugar is low, and you’ll have more good writing experiences overall.

    5. Get Moving

    Research has shown that exercises helps preserve memory because it gets the blood flowing, bringing more oxygen to the brain.  I apply the same theory to writing.  Get up out of that chair or off of the couch, and get your blood pumping.  Go for a run, play a game of tennis, or even do a little Wii Fit.  Just make sure you’re moving.  Once you’ve cooled down, showered and are comfortable again, try writing.  You might be surprised to find that it comes to you a little easier now.  Thank the increased flow of oxygen to your brain.

    6. Trick Yourself

    There are a few different ways to trick yourself into writing.  First, you can try telling yourself that you only have to write for five minutes.  That can sometimes be just enough to get you going, and you’ll find that you want to continue.  But like anything else, it might not always work.  Another tactic is to pretending you’re emailing a friend a “guess what” type of message.  Don’t worry about the format, you can change that later.  Sometimes writing in a more conversational way is easier than a factual method.

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    7. Limit the Amount of Time You Have to Write

    If you tend to procrastinate or slack off, this may work well for you. It might also work for those who work well under pressure. Instead of giving yourself an entire day to write an article or report, restrict yourself to just two or three hours.  Sometimes knowing that you have a whole day to complete something will only succeed in giving you an excuse to slack off; you think to yourself “It’s okay if I go shopping because I have the whole day, it won’t take that long, and I can do it later”, or “I’ll just go on Facebook for awhile and maybe something will come to me.” That usually leads to wasted time.    Tell yourself, for example, that it has to be completed by 2pm, no ifs ands or buts.

    8. Read a Book, Magazine or Newspaper

    If you’re reading a newspaper or magazine, sometimes just scanning the headlines or flipping through the images can inspire you.  Seeing a headline that says “10 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues” might inspire you to write “10 Ways to Beat Stress”, and so on.  Reading industry news can also help you think of an idea for your own writing.  But reading for fun can help too, if only to distract you and give your brain a workout to get those gears moving.

    9. Always Carry a Voice Recorder or Notebook

    Write down or record your ideas, anywhere, anytime.  This way, when it comes time to sit down and write, if you find yourself struggling to think of something to write about, you can pull out your notes or listen to your voice notes, and see what you thought of at another time.  It’s so easy to forget about the things that inspire us as we go about our daily lives, so keeping a log can be a real lifesaver.

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    10. Use Mind Mapping

    Simple mind maps can help you to get all of your ideas down on paper. Write down everything you want to say about a particular topic, or all of your topic ideas.  To come up with a unique angle for a story, link together your most unusual ideas.  Once you have everything written down, it’s easy to sort things into categories and find something interesting to write about.

    Final Thoughts

    Often times writer’s block is simply a result of the pressure we put on ourselves to perform.  If you’re particularly stressed out or under-the-gun in terms of a looming deadline, writing might be more difficult.  And sometimes, no matter what you try, the writing just isn’t happening, and in this case it’s a good idea to step back for awhile and try again later.

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    Julie McCormick

    Julie McCormick is a writer, and co-owner of The Cleveland Leader, a Technorati Top 1000 site.

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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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