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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.