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Break Through Writer’s Block

Break Through Writer’s Block

    It’s a simple fact of life if you put enough words on paper: the day will come when you can’t think of any sentence worth the effort to write down. You’ll have the dreaded writer’s block. Symptoms can vary, but the disease itself is simple. You won’t be able to think of anything to write — and anything that you do think of won’t meet your standards. It can manifest itself in other professions as well; artists of every variety can find themselves unable to work.

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    But you can overcome writer’s block in just a few easy steps.

    1. Do Some Research

    If you’re spending much time at all on your writing (or other creative pursuits), you probably have a particular project in mind. If you’re having a hard time finding a place to start or a way to move forward, research may be the key. I routinely write about a few specific subjects and, equally routinely, I feel like I have nothing to say on those topics. I turn to research. I can research the questions that remained from other times I’ve written about the topic. I can research new trends in the topic. I can even research tenuous connections: long chains of Wikipedia links can occasionally get you somewhere useful.

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    2. Seek Inspiration

    Despite the romantic ideal of going to Paris, London or some other far off place for inspiration, you can often find it in less exotic places. I keep articles, ads and other items that I find good approaches to writing and design in, whether or not they’re relevant to any project I’m currently working on. Then, when writer’s block strikes, I pull them out and start looking for a phrase that intrigues me. I look for anything that can give me even the tiniest starting point.

    3. Work On Supplemental Materials

    Some writing projects have graphs. Some have diagrams. Some have appendices. Very few written projects are entirely stand alone, so working on those supplemental materials can provide a way to keep up with the forward motion on a project despite writers block. So start with those supplemental materials. Even if you’re doing nothing more than typing up a cover page, that moment’s reprieve can be enough to end your writer’s block.

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    For other creative artists, supplemental material remains a writer’s block cure. Perhaps you need to put together a plaque for your new installation, or name a new project.

    4. Plan Your Distribution

    Unless you’re planning for your writing to sit in a drawer gathering dust after you finish writing it, you’re probably going to have to distribute it. Why not plan out that distribution, rather than banging your head against the wall that is writer’s block? You can create a list of internal recipients or agents to query — or even consider a few marketing plans. No matter which route you take, though, take the opportunity to consider your audience. What questions is your project supposed to answer? And which does it actually manage to answer? Asking yourself about your audience’s expectations can give you a few ideas for what your writing needs to contain: a topic or an an inspiration.

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    5. Work Anyway

    Even if you can’t find inspiration, it’s worth the effort to write as much as possible. The simple act of writing — or typing letters can be enough to get some people in the groove of creating again. Just sit down at your work area and start writing. Describe how you spent your day in boring detail. Copy someone else’s work — extra points if you paraphrase rather than copying directly. Heck, even making a shopping list can be enough to get you used to the feeling of writing again.

    This technique holds true across a number of creative fields. You might wind up throwing out the first few minutes — or maybe even the first few hours for an exceptionally bad case of writer’s block — but you’ll eventually wind up with something you can use.

    6. Get Physical

    While a change of scenery can help your writer’s block, a change of pace can have even more effect. I’m a big fan of the brisk walk around the block — physical activities that don’t require a lot of effort and do provide a lot of room to think help me consider the opportunities created by whatever I’ve already managed to write. Writing is a fairly sedentary pursuit. Sometimes you just have to wake up your brain by moving around a little bit and thinking about your project in what you hope is a new way.

    Breaking Your Writer’s Block

    Just as few creative projects are similar, let alone the same, the solution to your particular brand of writer’s block may not be obvious. You may need to try different tactics — or there might be some secret switch in your own mind that can get you going. Some writers need a bit of a jump start on the best of days. If you’re one of them, try going through your normal pre-writing routine. I had a friend in college who literally could only think of ideas to write about in the shower. It’s up to you to experiment. Maybe you’re another shower guy; maybe you just need to sit down and get back in the writing groove. Either way, just keep on trying until you find the best combination for you.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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