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Few things are scarier than a blank page.
Between completing a creative writing degree, writing a few books, working as an English and writing tutor for K-12 students, and years of blogging and freelance writing, I know all about writer’s block.
I’m well acquainted with that awful feeling of watching the cursor flash on an empty page, my hands poised motionless on the keyboard, and a head either so full of ideas that I can’t figure out what to write first or a mind as empty as the page in front of me.
We’ve all been there, and anyone who writes regularly for fun or for business will get veeeery cozy with writer’s block from time to time.
So how do you finally get some words onto the page when you’re totally drawing a blank?
Here’s what’s worked for me and what I’ve told clients, students, and friends when they’ve asked me about writer’s block:
How to Break Through Writer’s Block
#1: Write SOMETHING
I rarely experience writer’s block these days, and I think that’s because I’ve gotten really good at writing crap.
In fact, I call my first draft of anything—a blog post, sales page, novel, whatever—the crap draft or dump draft, because I’m just dumping out ideas that I can later arrange into something readable. And it’s almost always crappy.
If you’re blocked, start by getting something down on the page. Brainstorm ideas until you hit on something good. Freewrite about your topic, even if it doesn’t make sense. The key here is to stop worrying about writing well and just focus on writing something, because you just need to create something you can edit later.
You can edit a crappy draft. You can’t edit a blank page.
#2: Brainstorm ideas
Start by either writing down all the ideas you want to cover in the piece you’re writing. Either brainstorm your ideas in a list or freewrite them in paragraph format. Get it all out. Even if you’re just writing nonsense for the first few minutes. Eventually, something will click.
Then, go back and pick the ideas that are most important and add any details and thoughts you want to include.
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#3: Organize your ideas
This can be a great preventative measure because if you know what you want to write before you start, the actual writing part will be a lot easier.
Some of those ideas you just brainstormed will make more sense if they come before other ideas. In what order should you present those ideas? Do they build on each other? Do they have a natural flow or sequence?
Now you should have a fairly detailed outline of your writing project. This outline serves as a map, which tells you what to write in case you get stuck. If you discover gaps in your outline, or places where you want to add something else, go for it!
Update your outline if necessary so you don’t get lost again. Sometimes it really helps so see the flow of your ideas in that format as you write the actual piece.
If you’re really stuck and these other ideas just aren’t happening, get up and move your body. Take a break. Vacuum the living room, play with your pet, or fold a load of laundry. Anything to get away from your computer for a few minutes.
My favorite way to dislodge ideas and relax enough to write is to go for a walk. Walking is a great way to smooth out your energy and let your body get into a comfortable rhythm while your mind wanders. After a ten minute walk, your mind will be in a much better place for writing. It’s also a good way to work through problems and snags in your project.
#5: Feed your brain
Sometimes when I just can’t seem to write anything worth reading, it’s because my tank is completely empty.
I write a LOT, and I have to feed my brain a steady diet of ideas in the form of articles, books, music, and conversation. If I don’t do this, I have a hard time coming up with new ideas. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls this “filling the well”. I’ve also heard it compared to tending a garden or filling a cup.
If you feel like you have nothing to say, stretch your brain a little bit. Ideas will start flowing soon!
#6: Talk to someone about your idea
If you can’t seem to wrangle your thoughts onto the page, try talking through your ideas with someone else or even out loud into a recording app. This works really well if you’re more of a talker than a writer, and it can renew your enthusiasm for a topic when you’re getting sick of it.
Bonus: If you record yourself talking, you can listen later for important ideas to write down.
Writing is a Muscle
The more you write, the better you’ll get at writing. It’s that simple.
You’ll get used to sitting down to write and turning your creativity on like a faucet. You’ll get into the habit of expressing your thoughts in words and feeling comfortable with writing crappy first drafts.
But in the meantime, I hope these tips help you get past the block and into a good writing flow!
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