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.
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.
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.
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.
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.