There are moments when you sit down to write and the words flow so freely you can barely keep up. Those times are golden. Less fun, however, are the days when a blank page leaves you paralyzed.
Writer’s block doesn’t mean you can’t write, it’s just that whatever you write feels all wrong. It’s not about finding any words, it’s about finding the right words.
Everyone suffers from writer’s block from time to time. Even the world’s greatest writers have dealt with it, except William Faulkner, who once famously said, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
For this of us not as lucky as Faulkner, however, writer’s block doesn’t have to keep us from expressing ourselves in a blog, book, or tweet. What can you do when the words don’t appear (besides crying or screaming)? After 20 years as a professional writer, I’ve developed a few strategies to get unblocked.
1. Walk away
Staring at a blank screen won’t magically make words appear (I know because I’ve tried more times than I can count). In fact, it can make me so frustrated and frazzled that it actually becomes counterproductive.
When I’ve looked at a cursor blinking on a sea of white so long that my eyes glaze over, I shut my laptop and leave the room. Whether I take a TV break or go outside for a walk, sometimes a change of scenery or some fresh air is all I need to get my creative juices flowing again.
2. Force your hand
Taking a break can be helpful, but pressing deadlines demand immediate action. Need to buckle down and get shizz done? Try a few tricks to make yourself stay focused.
First, eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone and close all other windows on your computer (consider installing a Chrome extension like StayFocused if you are prone to cheat and check Facebook). Then make yourself write something—anything—for 25 minutes before allowing yourself to take a break. Rinse and repeat until you finish your project. This is called the Pomodoro Technique, and it’s a simple but powerful way to accomplish almost any task.
3. Use Prompts
Whether you are trying to write sales copy for a launch, a blog post, or the next Great American Novel, you may find value in using writing prompts. These creative ideas are designed to trigger the imagination.
There are thousands of sites and apps that offer writing prompts for free or for a very small cost (you can start here). They may sometimes seem silly and irrelevant, but give yourself over to the exercise. You might be surprised what ideas it dredges up.
4. Talk it out
Can’t write? Try talking instead. Pull out your phone and start a voice memo. Let yourself ramble about the topic at hand. Approach it like you’re explaining the subject to a friend, and keep it conversational. Don’t worry about stammering or even making sense, you can edit out or rework everything when you later transcribe your diatribe.
If you’re someone who’s intimidated by writing, you may find you’re better able to express yourself verbally and then transcribe what you’ve said. Also, this approach is helpful for perfectionists who may find it easier to make mistakes when they aren’t staring you back in the face.
5. Bribe yourself
If all else fails, use the carrot-and-stick strategy. Promise to treat yourself to something special (a massage, a new purse, a margarita) if you write a certain amount by a set time. It can help to make this pledge public, like announcing it on Facebook or to your biz bestie, for some accountability.
You can take it a step further and commit to a punishment if you fail to meet your writing goal. Maybe you’ll pay your biz bestie $20, do your husband’s least favorite chore, or give up cocktails for a month. Pick something that hurts just enough to motivate you.
I know all too well how debilitating it can feel to have a deadline looming and suddenly have no words, but don’t give up. It won’t last forever (it never does), so just keep pushing through the discomfort and frustration. It’s always more rewarding to finish something than to quit. Happy writing!