We’ve all been there before—hunched over the computer, knuckles rapping on the desk, music turned down to a low volume, the cursor blinking on a blank white page. It’s inevitable. All writers deal with the dreaded Writer’s Block at some point during the creative process, regardless of how prepared or motivated we may feel. Even with access to a detailed, step-by-step outline, it can still sometimes be a major chore to get going, to put ideas into words, to transform those words into sentences that will capture the attention of your audience, or communicate a concept clearly.
But don’t panic. There are cures to Writer’s Block—and as someone who has personally suffered—and defeated these symptoms, I can tell you, there are solutions. I’m a survivor, and I’m still around to share my experience and assure you: you will get through this!
More often than not, Writer’s Block stems from self-imposed mental blockades—yes, most of the time what creates all of those staggering pauses and indecision is simple overthinking. Writing the first sentence is often the toughest obstacle to overcome. Fretting over whether or not your work is good, or original enough, will only continue to stall your ability to produce. So fear not, take a few deep breaths, minimize that intimidating blank Word doc, and give some of these pointers a try:
1. Write Bad First Drafts
It’s a rare occurrence that an author sits down, cracks their knuckles, and hammers out ten pages of unquestionable perfection in an hour. Even some of the world’s bestselling writers will admit that it takes years for them to transform their drafts into publication-quality manuscripts. After all, if every published writer could knock out a flawless story in a couple of weeks or months, then what would be the point of having an editor? One of the biggest keys when trying to overcome a bout of Writer’s Block is to simply start writing and worry about quality later. This could in a sense be equated to finding a spark through free writing. Grab one of your thoughts and begin to type it out as quickly as possible, ignoring any other objections in the back of your mind. Ride the lightning of that sentence into a second sentence, and a third…and a fourth, and so on. Before you know it, you’ll have squared out an entire opening paragraph. However, at this point, you should resist the temptation to break your momentum and go back and reread. Pat yourself on the back, briefly, move your eyes down to the blank space, and keep trucking along. The big takeaway here is that you will always be able to go back to the document and revise it later.
2. Move Around and Get Pumped Up
If that first sentence refuses to materialize, then get out of your chair, excuse yourself from the desk, and take a few minutes to find some motivation. Dance around, sweep the floor, practice some karate, maybe strum a few chords on the guitar, or get your blood flowing with a baker’s dozen jumping jacks. It may sound silly, but when you jumpstart your body with activity, your brain follows. Though I’ve never tried it myself, one former professor of mine revealed that in order to bolster her concentration before a writing session, she used to practice her favorite yoga poses until she felt relaxed enough to face the keyboard.
3. Eliminate Distractions (Cough cell phones cough)
Start by cleaning your workspace: trashing old papers, organizing your files in neat stacks, putting those old and somewhat embarrassing Guns N’ Roses CDs back on the shelf, and drop those empty Starbucks cups in the recycling bin. Try to maximize your solitude by picking two or three hours a day to write undisturbed, off the grid—and yes, this means powering off your cell phone. The greatest distraction of all: easy access to the Internet. Nothing can delay your progress like an hour down the rabbit hole of a Google search or an updated Mel Kiper, Jr. Mock NFL Draft (none of his predictions are ever accurate anyway, so really this is just a huge waste of time). For many years I didn’t own a smartphone, and I can tell you firsthand, I do find it more challenging to write now that I have that distraction available.
4. Write in the Morning
This one is a matter of simple procrastination. With the exception of either breakfast or a shower, writing should be your first activity after waking. The mind is still raw with carry over from sleep and dreaming, which can actually fuel creativity. Stephen King writes 2,000 words every single morning, 365 days a year. Some other writers I know claim they wake up at 5 a.m., hours before the start of the workday, and try to squeeze in some work before embarking in rush hour traffic. Even if the thought of starting so early and waking up with the roosters is laughable to you, it’s still worth a try some morning, just to see if it helps you find a spark. Some of the best lines I’ve ever thought up came to me in the wee hours of dawn, while I was still half-asleep. And plus, there’s no law that states you can’t drink one—or five—cups of coffee before sunrise.
5. Write What You Know
For example, I wouldn’t dare write an article about an exiled political figure from the Republic of Congo who owns one of the world’s largest collections of vintage 1960s American country music on vinyl, and neither should you. That’s what the New Yorker is for.
Whether you’re a copywriter, technical writer, or burgeoning novelist, you’ll find it much easier to produce great content if you know your subject. That’s not to condemn research or broadening your horizons, but to zero in and reach the finish line, it doesn’t hurt to have prior knowledge or some past experiences to share with your audience.
Writer’s block has always been a titanic obstacle for professional and creative writers alike, and oftentimes the biggest key is simply getting started. I promise you—writer’s block can be defeated— with the right combination of determination, concentration, and some minor tweaks or changes in process, you will manage to succeed in finding a way to navigate this disease. Use the steps we’ve covered in this blog as a lifeline for getting through the doldrums of procrastination, hesitation, and overthinking. Clear your mind, and know this: there is a cure. There is hope. One of the scariest situations I can think of is opening a new document and watching the cursor blink over a screen-sized blank white page. But, in the end, when you’re finished, and you’ve said everything that you wanted to say, four or six or ten pages later, the feeling can be one of the most rewarding.
By Collin Myers