It’s happened again: I need to beat writer’s block. The cursor blinks. Fear and self-doubt strangle those first words while the page remains blank. My creative juices get jammed and I’m stuck.
You, too, I’ll bet. Writer’s block is a lapse in creativity or motivation. But what’s worse than the blank page is the lie that accompanies it.
The silence of words can cause you to wrongly believe you don’t have any ideas. When you face this lapse at the keyboard, don’t mistake it for a lack of skill. Instead, recognize the silence for what it is – a bump in the creative road.
It is a bump that takes a bit of oomph to navigate so you can continue writing. The truth? You’ve got plenty of ideas, but your insecurities are preventing those ideas from flowing out of your brain and onto the screen. You need momentum. The next time you face a blank page, try one or two of these practical strategies to energize your thoughts and your fingers, get over the bump, and get going.
1. Brainstorm. Think about your topic with the goal of gathering as many ideas as you can. Jot them down in a list or as bullet points. The ideas needn’t be good or bad. In fact, don’t self-judge as you brainstorm. The simple acts of stimulating your thoughts and then recording them can jump start the writing process.
2. Practice free writing. This tactic is similar to brainstorming. But instead of using lists or bullets, record your flow of ideas in sentence and paragraph form.
3. Cluster or mind map your ideas. Write your main idea – or any idea at all – in a circle in the center of a page. Then around the circle, add words or phrases that relate to that idea, connecting them with lines indicating relationships. Clustering sparks ways to address your main topic and gives you content ideas.
4. Keep a journal. Write without censoring yourself or editing yourself. Once you get the words flowing, then close your journal and move onto your writing project. Or pull ideas from your journal and develop them further in your piece.
5. Write ten. Ten ideas, ten headlines, ten verbs. Investment writer James Altucher follows this practice every day and maintains an overflowing list of ideas to write about.
6. Use writing prompts. A prompt is a phrase, brief sentence, image, or short text that gives a topic idea or a starting point for your writing. Prompts provide a jumping off point for your writing. You can subscribe to receive prompts in your inbox or download a collection to use when you hit a dry spell.
7. Ask questions. Choose from Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Start by asking and answering just one of those questions to beat writer’s block and move you beyond the blank page.
8. Study your swipe file. A swipe file is a collection of ideas you’ve gathered from other writers. Yours can include headlines, subject lines, photos, snippets, anecdotes, articles, clippings, research, phrases, slogans, quotes, emails. I’ve got both digital and print swipe files grouped in folders according to topic. Use your swipe folder to stimulate your creative juices. Pull one or two examples from your swipe file with ideas that jump out to you. Then start writing.
9. Change the time of day you write. If you typically write at night after a long day, then plan to wake up earlier and hit the keyboard while you drink your first cup of coffee. If you write during your lunch hour, then try setting aside some time after the kids go to bed.
10. Change the place that you write. Your laptop at the kitchen table seemed to work at first. But now, you’re tempted to do the dishes or wipe the counters instead of writing. Fold up your laptop. Move onto your porch or a local coffee shop to write for an hour.
11. Eliminate distractions. Beat writer’s block when you close the door so you’re not interrupted. Turn off your phone. Silence your email notifications. Declutter your desk.
12. Give yourself a deadline. At first, this strategy may seem counterintuitive. Won’t a deadline create more pressure? Yet this strategy is useful when a project feels too overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Create a writing schedule with an end date and benchmarks along the way. Use the big picture steps you need to take to create smaller goals. That will help you to …
13. Write down your next step. What is one bit of writing you can undertake to help you take a step towards one of your project’s benchmarks? The act of writing down your next step can help you to take it. You start the process of writing by writing. That’s one reason I like lists.
14. Break your work time into short sections. “I’m going to write something – anything – for twenty minutes.” Set a timer and then write anything you can about the topic, the research you’ve gathered, or the ideas you have.
15. Talk about your project. Bring it up at your writer’s group, with a trusted family member, or a friend. Write down the feedback you get and use it as a jump off point to move your project forward.
16. Role play. If you were the reader, what would you want to know? If you were the protagonist in the story, what would you do? If you were the narrator, what point of view would you want to hear?
17. Write to someone you know. “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership,” John Steinbeck said. “But to someone close, like your sister, or your mother.”
18. Work on a different project. If you’re struggling to getting words on the page for the next chapter of your book, work on a different section of the book or set aside the book project for a short spell. Spend some time on a blog post or outline an article. Then you’ll have momentum when you return to your book or your chapter.
19. Skip the intro. Let’s say you can’t get the lead right. Don’t beat yourself up! There’s no writing police that will report you for writing an article in non-sequential order. Instead, start by writing a middle section or the conclusion of your piece.
20. Leave a dangling sentence. Don’t finish a writing session by completing a sentence or a paragraph or a section. Instead, save your work right in the middle of an idea. When you come back to the keyboard that afternoon or the next day, you’ll be able to pick up right where you left off.
21. Write by hand. Who said everything must be started – or completed – on the computer? Grab a pen or pencil and jot down your ideas. You can cross out or erase or insert snippets all across the page. You can transcribe it later.
Author Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” Having a plan in place makes those scary moments as brief as possible for me. When fear of failure rears its head, I choose a practical way to beat the writer’s block bump and get the creative juices flowing once again.
You can, too. Try one of these tips. Or two. Or as many as you need to get going.
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Award-winning content writer and author Kathy Widenhouse specializes in writing for nonprofits and faith-based organizations.
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