I’ve taken the jump into full-time freelance writing and social media management. Writer’s block is detrimental to my productivity. Time spent staring at the keyboard when I am paid by word hits the pocket book hard.
Writer’s block is a normal frustration for any writer. Whether you are a student struggling with an assignment, a dreamer working on your first novel or memoir, a professional author, or a dabbler – writing block is discouraging.
Following are some tips from my toolbox on how to overcome and get back to the task at hand:
#1 A shift in thinking
Writing is now my regular job, not just an art. Whether you are a student or an author, if you are stuck consider a shift in your thinking. It took me 5 years to write my first book. 20,000 words in 5 years. Now, with a mindset change, I’m writing 2 – 5000 words a day.
I turned my inner critic off during the writing process. I let her back out again only when it is time to edit.
#2 Create a writing schedule and write daily
Like any other goal, showing up is half the battle. When we set goals to exercise daily it becomes a habit and we are more successful. The same goes with writing. By writing daily and setting a word count goal you are developing a habit. This is key in training your brain to overcome writer’s block before it even begins.
But don’t take my word for it.
#3 Read to overcome writer’s block
“Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” – William Faulkner
William Faulkner has always been one of my favorites. His love for the run-on sentence is one I’ve had to work hard to overcome in my own writing. Why? Because I read so much of his work. It’s great for a Faulkner novel but not so great for blogs.
Pick up every book you can find on your current subject. Take note on how the author engages or dulls your senses. The words you read shape the words you write.
When I am stuck and cannot move forward, I pull out a book and read.
My current manuscript is on racism and the south. I’ve filled my bookshelf with the following. If you have suggestions for more on this subject I’d love to hear about them in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for more!
Reading puts me in a creative mindset. The words and actions of others are inspiration. Sometimes I pick up a book on the subject at hand to gain insight, but even a book on a completely different topic brings me motivation. Well written books encourage me to write better. Poorly written books encourage my own self-worth as a writer. If they made it I can make it!
#4 Know your why
Why are you here?
If you’re a student what is it that finishing this assignment and this class will help you achieve overall? It’s bigger than the one assignment. Focus on the goal and this small step will become easier.
If you’re a published author writing your next magnificent work, what was it about this manuscript or short story that felt so important in the beginning?
If you’re a freelancer, how will completing this one challenging task lead to greater success in the future?
Why do you need to write? No one can answer this question except you. We all have different whys. Capture that urgency and passion in your storytelling.
#5 Write what you know but don’t fear what you don’t
Share your experiences with the reader. Don’t fake experience or knowledge. Instead, where there are holes research. One of my works in progress takes place in Syria. I have never been there and cannot currently go. Instead, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on and interviewing people who have lived or visited the areas I’m writing about.
If you’re stuck because you are missing an important detail stop and research it. If the time is not right for the research, make a note of it and skip to the next scene until you can adequately research the missing part.
If you are a content writer start with your keywords and calls to action.
If you are writing an assignment for school, start with your topic word.
If you are struggling with character development, write your character’s name in big bold print in the center of the page.
Write everything that comes to mind down. Once you’ve emptied all the thoughts onto the paper then start narrowing in. Choose three that stand out.
In case brainstorming is new to you I’ve included some links on how to get started.
#7 Outlines prevent writer’s block.
Mapping out the story or article helps get you from This will give you a clear direction of where you are going. Have an intro, body, and conclusion. It will also allow you to jump around the piece if you are stuck in a scene, and come back to it later. It preps you before writer’s block hits and provides a solution before you ever get stuck.
Writing Excuses has a 20-min podcast that is worth listening to if you are interested more in Creating Great Outlines.
#8 Free flow writing
Just write. It can be about anything. Get the brain thinking.
Write a letter to a friend, a journal entry, or even re-type a poem. Sitting and staring at a blank page is non-productive. It doesn’t do anything. The simple act of moving fingers across the keyboard gets the brain working and suddenly words begin to flow.
Think of it like stretching a muscle before an intense workout.
#9 Work on more than one project at a time
Have you ever had a problem you couldn’t find the answer for that suddenly came to you while washing dishes or showering? Having multiple projects has a similar affect.
I always have more than one project in the works. This allows me to take a break from one when it gets overwhelming. If I spend all of my time working on my novel I become obsessed with the topic and shut out others. I occasionally need to take a step back, especially from difficult topics, and shift my mind somewhere else.
When I get stuck and shift my focus, my unconscious continues to work out the problem.
#10 Try writing exercises when writer’s block strikes
Keep a list of writing prompts and exercises nearby. These will get your brain moving, just like in free flow writing. Subscribe to a daily prompt or pick up one of many journal books that offer them at the top of each page.
Here are a few fun ones to try out:
- 10 Best Creative Writing Exercises
- Writing Exercises
- The Time is Now: Poets & Writers – a weekly writing prompt
- A 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises
#11 Take a break, recharge, get moving
Get the blood flowing and the brain thinking. A simple walk, a trip to the gym, or my favorite gardening help get your blood flowing. It could be that your body is telling you to stand up and move around a bit. Take short 5-10 min breaks every hour to stretch and get moving.
Energy is an important part of motivation. Sometimes our bodies just need rest. Step away for a few moments from the project at hand, take a walk, go for a swim, paint, or even take a nap.
Goals are long term, not sprints but marathons. Pay attention to the needs of your body. Sometimes the mind works faster than the body. Do not become discouraged by your body’s limitations. Take proper care of yourself and your writing will improve for it.
#12 Create an encouraging environment
Create a workspace that inspires you. Writing in a corner or in a dark space can be discouraging. Add color to your environment, inspiring images and quotes. Have a cork board nearby where you can pin images and ideas of your current work. Visuals inspire. Make sure your environment in creatively inspiring.
Make every day count. Small tasks today add up. If you are working on a novel 500 words a day adds up to 52 pages. Remembering this is sometimes all I need to keep going.
If you are looking for more tips on writing here are a few of my favorites:
If you are interested in hiring me for SEO Optimized Content Writing, Ghost Writing, Articles, or as a Social Media Manager feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through Upwork.