You sit down to write your next blog post, and this happens…
Crickets. Nada. Nothing.
Tank is empty, no words left, and you’re staring at a blank page.
We’ve all been there. It feels like you’ve hit a wall. Everything you write, if you can get any words onto the page, simply sounds terrible.
So what do you do when the dreaded writer’s block strikes? Try these ideas.
1. Stop trying to write on someone else’s schedule
Maybe you’ve started getting up early to write before you start working on your client’s trips. It’s a quiet time, with fewer distractions, and you’ve heard that early morning is the best time to write.
But it’s not, at least not for everyone. Just like not everyone is a morning person or a night person, we all have our most creative times at different points in the day.
I know for a fact that I’m terrible at writing in the morning. My most creative time comes at the end of the day, when most people are wrapping things up. As I write this it’s 4:30pm and I just hit my stride.
Instead of trying to write according to someone else’s idea of what you “should” do, listen to yourself. Their right time isn’t necessarily your right time, and that’s ok.
Don’t frustrate yourself. Instead do what works best for you.
2. Change locations
If you normally work in a home office where it’s very quiet, you may find that your regular environment doesn’t work when it’s time to be more creative. If your home office feels too quiet, try something new.
Go someplace where people are working on their own projects, like a coffee shop or co-working space.
It’s been proven that being around other people working hard on their own projects has an influence on our own productivity.
It’s the same idea behind working out with a buddy. You almost always work out harder with someone else than you do alone because their effort makes you work harder.
3. Re-name the problem
It sounds simple, but just calling your problem “writer’s block” can make it seem harder to overcome than it actually is.
A block implies something permanent or immovable. Instead, call it a challenge. Tell yourself “I have a writer’s challenge at the moment, but I’m working through it by…”.
4. Write down other ideas or topics that come to mind
I find that I come up with the best ideas at two times. One is in the shower, and the other is when I’m supposed to be writing something else.
When my brain doesn’t know what to do with what I’m supposed to be writing, it starts throwing out other ideas. While I was starting to write this post, I came up with three other ideas for future articles.
Instead of working on them now, I dropped them in my “blog ideas” spreadsheet. Then I opened a new document for each, wrote down the topic and the ideas I had about it, and closed the document.
Now those ideas are saved for when I’m ready to write about them.
Also keep in mind that you chose what you’re writing about. I was planning to write a post about a certain topic for the past couple of days. I would look at the topic, and had no idea where to start. It was throwing a major wrench in my plans of what I’d get done during the day.
But who decided that topic was one I should write about?
Does that mean that, since it seemed like a good idea a few weeks ago when I was planning out my content for the next couple of months, I need to write about it?
So I ditched the idea and wrote something else.
If the topic you planned to write about just isn’t working, decide if it’s worth the struggle. Most likely it isn’t, and since no one else is forcing you to write about it you can just let it go.
Of course that doesn’t work if you’re writing something for someone else, but if it’s your own stuff you have my permission to change topics!
5. Let your bad ideas inspire good ideas
The number one way to cure writer’s block is simple.
Even if all you write or type is “I have absolutely no idea where to start writing about this topic. Why did I think starting a blog was a good idea?”
That’s ok, simply getting words onto a page can start the writing juices flowing. Once they are, segue into what you actually want to write, and then go back and delete what you don’t want to keep.
6. Make researching, writing and editing three completely separate activities
It’s important to ensure the things you write are well researched, but researching and writing are two different activities.
First pull your research together, and then start writing.
If you hit a point in your writing that you need to do additional research, make a note to research [insert topic] and keep writing.
For example, if I’m writing a post for a travel company about good day trips from London, I start by doing some research on where you can get to in 1-2 hours and what there is to see.
I take all that information and drop it into a document, along with any details that I may want to include, like how often trains run or if you need a car to get there. In the research phase I can have a dozen or more tabs open in my browser.
Once the research is done, I close all those tabs and start writing, using the information in the document I’ve created to provide the details. I can easily go from a 20-30 page document to a 2-3 page document as I decide what I want to include, add personal anecdotes and notes from my experiences, and create the flow of my article.
Once research and writing are done, it’s time to move on to editing.
Resist the urge to edit as you write, since writing and editing are done with different parts of the brain.
When you start editing, take a first read through what you’ve written. Do you need to clarify some things? Did you repeat yourself without meaning to? Do you need to add more meat to a topic?
When you think you’re done editing, it’s time to reread the entire thing again, out loud.
Yes, you’ll probably feel strange doing it, especially if you’re writing in a coffee shop or other public place.
But it’s important to read your writing out loud, because that’s the best way to make sure your writing flows well. It should sound like it would if you were saying it.
Reading your writing out loud is also a great way to catch small errors.
I don’t prepare my articles for publication until they’ve passed the “read out loud” test.
7. Brainstorm your topics in advance.
When I’m coming up with topics, it’s much easier to come up with 15-20 at once than to come up with one topic each week.
That’s why I plan out a quarter of content at once, and also have a running list of other potential topics.
If you sit down in front of a blank screen with no idea what you’re going to write about, it’s much harder to get started.
But don’t forget, just because you came up with your topics in advance doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible, see point 4 above!
8. Start writing in the middle
The introduction to any article or blog is vital to determining if people will keep reading. But sometimes it’s just not flowing the way you want.
You know what you want to say about the topic, but not how to get into it.
That’s ok, start with the part you know. Write the body of the article, and come back and add an introduction later.
9. Give yourself permission to write a first draft
If you have perfectionist tendencies this one is huge. The first draft you write isn’t the final draft.
Let me say that again.
The first draft you write isn’t the final draft.
It’s ok for the first draft not to be perfect. It’s a starting point.
But if you wait to write until you can do it perfectly, you’ll never get started.
“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” ~ Jodi Picoult
Don’t wait until you can write your first draft perfectly. Just get the thoughts onto the page, and then edit them.
10. Copy someone else’s work
No, I’m not advocating plagiarism. But you can use someone else’s work to start your fingers moving on the keys.
Author Hunter S. Thompson used to copy pages from The Great Gatsby and Farewell to Arms word for word. When asked why, he said he wanted to “get the feeling of what it was like to write that way.”
I’ve never copied The Great Gatsby, but I have typed out chapters of Harry Potter. Sometimes just getting your fingers moving and seeing words on the page, even if they aren’t your own, are all it takes to get past not knowing what to say.
The Bottom Line
Everyone who writes, whether it’s website copy, proposals, blog posts, articles or emails, has experienced writer’s block. The important thing is to figure out how to deal with it and not let it stop you from getting your ideas out there.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ~ Stephen King