10 transformational ways to conquer writer’s block

Inspiration can come when you least expect it.

After more than 20 years in corporate communications, I’ve finally started to think of myself as an expert on the process of writing. In addition to my professional experience, I’ve read books, blog posts, been to conferences, workshops, joined writing groups. I’ve written 400 posts about writing for this blog and for PR Daily.

And yet, the best advice I’ve ever received about the writing process didn’t come from an expert on writing, but from an expert on people.

This “ah-ha” moment came when I recently spoke to a licensed professional therapist about writer’s block. Here’s the advice she gave me.


1. Work on writing, but don’t write

When you’re feeling stuck and unable to write, do something related to writing, but don’t write. Read a book or blog post about writing. Read articles related to the topic you’re writing about. Take an online grammar or spelling quiz.


2. Check your perfectionism

Throughout our careers, our perfectionism has served us well. Our clients, bosses, and co-workers know they can count on us to produce flawless work. But, when you’re having trouble with a writing assignment, your perfectionism will only make it worse. Set your need to be perfect aside. Do what you can to get the words on paper (or on the screen), and go back to perfect it another time.


3. Keep an idea bank

Keep all your writing ideas and sources of inspiration in one place. It may be a list of topics, a list of quotes, ad campaigns that you like, examples of great emails, videos, etc. It could be that idea you had for a book that you scribbled in the middle of the night. Keep them all in one easily-accessible place and look at them when you need inspiration.


4. Notice flow and anti-flow

We’ve all had the experience of being “on” when it comes to writing. The words are flowing freely, the keyboard is on fire, and you’re happy with (almost) everything you write.

And then there’s anti-flow — when you feel sluggish and can’t string two words together. It feels like you can’t write yourself out of a paper sack.

When you’re in either of these states, take the time to notice what’s happening in your body and in your brain. If you’re in anti-flow mode, do you feel anxious or antsy? Does your stomach hurt? Are you frustrated or feeling tired? When you’re “on” do you feel confident? Are you happy? Energized?

Once you begin to notice what’s happening during these states, what can you do to create flow or move out of anti-flow?


5. Give your mind a rest.

You won’t come up with anything new if your mind is going all the time. If you’re having trouble, put your assignment to the side and come back to it another time. Preferably after a good night’s sleep.


6. Read your thoughts

If you’re frustrated about your lack of progress and find yourself spiraling into self-criticism and self-doubt, write down the thoughts you’re having and force yourself to read them. What are you saying to yourself? Practice self compassion. Would you say those things to a friend who was having trouble writing? Then why would you say them to yourself?

What can you do about those thoughts? Do you need to take a deep breath? Take a step back? Eat something? Call someone?


7. Go out of focus

Don’t force yourself to focus. Nothing good comes from staring at a blank screen. Do something to clear your mind instead. Take a deep breath. Do something physical such as standing up, pacing, stretching. Set a timer and do something specific. For the next 10 minutes, I’m going to re-order the books on my bookshelf.  


8. Change your location

If you’re stuck, and all you can do is stare at your monitor and then stare out the window, change the scenery. Can you go work in a conference room or break room? Can you turn off the lights or move your chair to the other side of your desk? Can you move from a laptop to a larger screen or from a laptop to pen and paper?


9. Think differently

Collect your thoughts in a way that does not involve writing. Make a chart, draw your concept, create a word cloud, play a game. Use a white board, colors, post-it notes. Talk about it out loud or record yourself talking about it. Imagine you’re explaining your topic to a neighbor. Use objects and fill ins (such as magnets, paper clips, pencils) to create a 3D map of your content.


10. Reward yourself

Why not reward yourself for all that hard work? Perhaps there’s something you’ve had your eye on, but you can’t bring yourself to spend the money on it. Splurge on it once you’ve met your deadline.

Your reward could also be a dessert, French fries, a massage, a day off, or a trip you’ve been wanting to take.


What do you think of these techniques? Please share in the comments.


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