You want to write. You sit down in front of your computer, ready to churn out the next viral piece of content. Somehow your creative juices are not flowing.
You are down several cups of coffee. However, that’s not helping either.
From writers like Ernest Hemingway to people like us, every writer has encountered the dreaded writer’s block.
Why we face writer’s block?
When you write, your brain converts your thoughts into words. Sometimes, your brain refuses to do its job. That’s when you hit a creative block.
There are several reasons why your brain might decide to give up.
It’s good to be able to critique your work. Critical thinking is healthy and forms the basis of sound logical reasoning. However, being overly self-critical can have a negative effect on your mental health.
When you are demotivated or lazy, you tend to procrastinate. If you find writing challenging or boring, you’ll end up prioritizing other tasks.
Even if you don’t have anxiety disorders, the pressure of tight deadlines can make you anxious. Creative work often suffers when anxiety sets in. You may also constantly fear being judged for your writing.
What does Mark Twain, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling have in common? Apart from the fact that they are well-established writers, they have all faced depression at some stages of their career.
When you are depressed, it’s difficult for your brain to think clearly. You’ll be able to rant about depression when you are depressed. However, writing insightful articles for your readers will be an uphill task.
Paralysis by analysis
According to Wikipedia, “Paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.”
One of the most popular advice to writing great blog posts is to write a stellar opening paragraph. Writers often fall into the trap of over-thinking about crafting the perfect opening. As a result of their over-thinking, they’ll never get started with writing.
If you are physically exhausted, your brain will function more slowly. It will take you more time to process information and could cause brain fog.
If you have medical conditions like ADHD, Hyperthyroidism, or low blood sugar, you may experience brain fog.
Lack of sleep
Sleep has a direct impact on your cognitive abilities. Having too less or too much sleep can hurt your ability to think clearly.
When you are stressed, the body goes into fight-or-flight mode. As a result, your ability to think or do complex cognitive functions will be impaired.
The solution to writer’s block
The solution to writer’s block is not “just keep writing.” Let’s say you are bad at writing. If you keep on writing, you won’t become a better writer. You’ll be a writer good at writing bad content.
The trick to overcoming writer’s block is to identify the underlying reason and fix it. Don’t apply a band-aid solution and deepen the problem.
Here are several effective ways to overcome writer’s block.
From Clint Eastwood to Richard Branson, many people practice meditation. Meditation helps you overcome stress and anxiety. It’s also a powerful tool to help you improve your cognitive functions.
Practice meditating for 30 minutes every day. You don’t need to meditate right before you sit down to write. Pick any time that’s convenient to you for meditation.
If you are just beginning to meditate, start with just one minute a day. Start small. As you get into the habit of meditating, increase the duration of your sessions.
Be physically active
In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that there was a direct correlation between improved brain function and aerobic exercise.
You don’t have to hit the gym or sign up for aerobic classes. Regular exercise like walking for 45 minutes can help boost your cognitive function.
Try a different writing medium
Sometimes, using a different medium can give you that much-needed stimulus to get started. The medium can be a different software or a different approach. Use a pen and paper instead of typing.
One of the benefits of using different software for different phases of writing is that it helps to ease you in. Ever since I switched to a distraction-free software for writing, I can write my first drafts faster. I also do not default to editing my mistakes even if I spot them during my first draft.
When I open iA Writer (my first draft software), I know I can write without worrying too much. Mistakes are OK since I can fix them during the editing process. When I open an article in Microsoft Word, I immediately go into the editing mode.
Have a writing process
Most of the successful writers follow a set routine. That’s not surprising given that a predefined routine works well.
Follow a writing process customized to your requirements. Setting up a process for writing has helped me overcome writer’s block.
Listen to music when you write (or not)
In his book, The Psychology of Writing, cognitive psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg shares some interesting findings. Any noise that exceeds 95 decibels negatively affects completion of complex tasks. However, it appears to improve simple and boring tasks.
Some people enjoy writing while listening to music whereas I find it a distraction. I have tried subtle background sounds, only to find them distracting as well. After a lot of trial and error, I found that a relatively quiet environment with natural sounds (birds chirping, slow wind blowing) works best for me.
Your personal preferences may vary. Try various settings to finds what works for you.
When you work hard for a long time, you can get stressed. Your brain will be fatigued. It’s time to have some fun.
If your idea of fun is binge-watching your favorite TV series with a bucket of popcorn and a tub of ice cream, do that. Do anything that makes you happy and relaxed.
Try a different location to write
Bustling office environment and messy desks are guaranteed to create writer’s block for me. Some people find writing in coffee shops productive; not me.
It’s a matter of personal choice.
Maybe coffee shop is the thing for you. Maybe you are most creative at the corner of your home office. Through trial-and-error, find which location suits you best.
Sometimes, you don’t have an option. Maybe you work full-time as a writer in an office setting. In this case, try getting noise cancellation headphones. You don’t have to hear any music. Use the headphones to tune out the background noise. Alternatively, book the conference room when you are getting too distracted.
Find your muse
The muse for most writers is the source of their inspiration. It’s what drives them to create literary masterpieces.
Yes, it’s something like a child’s imaginary friend. It doesn’t exist outside of your psyche. Your muse is a manifestation of your motivated self.
A muse can be a friend, your partner, your dog, or even a sculpture at the local park. Anything or anyone that inspires you and motivate you to write is your muse. A muse will spark your creativity. However, inspiration can take you only so far; you need to do the rest.
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. ~ Thomas A. Edison
Try a different time to write
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
All of us have different times at which we are most productive. For some, it’s early in the morning while others like to work late into the night. I am not a morning person. I am much more likely to create great content if I write in the evening or at night.
Try writing at various times of the day to see what works well for you.
If you are like me, you are constantly bombarded with notifications. Email, instant messaging, social media, office communication software- everyone wants your attention right away.
With so much happening around you, is it any wonder you can’t focus on writing?
When you sit down to write:
- Close all applications except your writing software
- Mute your phone, so that calls, messages, and notifications cannot interrupt your writing
- If you work out of your home, inform your family members not to disturb you until you are done. The only exception is when there’s an emergency)
- If you work out of office, set your status as busy and put on those noise cancellation headphones. Trust me, it’s worth the investment
- Maintain a comfortable room temperature. Extreme temperatures can hamper your thinking process
- Stop multi-tasking. It’s not OK to write AND chat with your friend
Try something else
Try any activity that requires you to be physically involved. Paint a picture, go for a quick run, or do the dishes. Watching movies and listening to songs doesn’t count.
Keep a journal
Journaling is one of the recommended ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. The bonus is that regular journaling helps you get into the habit of writing.
The average reader’s attention span is less than 8 seconds. This means we have a better chance of engaging a goldfish than an average human.
The lack of attention among your readers creates the pressure of delivering a high-impact opening. Do you open with an intriguing question? How about a surprising fact? Maybe humor is what you should take a dig at. Trying to create the perfect opening almost always leads to analysis paralysis.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way out.
Start mid-way. You could even start with the conclusion.
The opening paragraph is only 5% of your entire content. Write the remaining 95% and come back to the 5% later.
Create an outline or a mind map
Creating an outline or a mind map is a quick way to get started on a topic. Outlines and mind maps focus more on data collection and laying it out in a simple format. It’s less intimidating than writing a complete first draft.
Try writing prompts
Writing prompts work best when you want to get into the habit of writing. Although it’s an artificially constrained way to write, you’ll be able to build a writing habit.
Hire a writing coach
Even the best sportsperson have coaches. No matter how good you are, you need someone to motivate you to keep pushing forward; to break the limits.
Writing coaches help even the most experienced writers. Having someone to hold you accountable, give you feedback, and fast-track your learning is useful.
When you blog anonymously, you can free-write without constraints. You don’t have to worry about grammar or engagement. You don’t even have to create a coherent story. Just write anything and everything that comes to your mind.
Divide and conquer
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one. ~ Mark Twain
Sometimes you have to create content that’s complex and long. Think an ebook or a whitepaper. The sheer volume of work involved can often lead to writer’s block. The best option in such situations is to break down the tasks into smaller sub-tasks.
Even for simple content, you can divide the process into research, first draft, edit, revision, etc. Approach each of these steps as an individual task.
Get a writing buddy
When the work you do is challenging, and it’s hard to do it alone, find help. Get together with another writer. Be the muse for each other. Hold your writing buddy accountable. Work together on the same content.
Hone your craft
English is not my first language. When I was in school, I never read any books outside of my course curriculum. These constraints made my writing terrible, early on.
It took me time to become a better writer. It’s still a work in progress. However, I have come a long way.
Many people fear writing because they fear they are not good enough to write. Sometimes, your fears true as was in my case. When you suck at writing, your readers will not engage with your content.
Hone your craft. Understand the mechanics of writing. You don’t need to be a grammar Nazi. However, you need to know the basics. Read content created by writers good at their craft. Draw inspiration from their writing and develop your writing voice.
Sometimes, the creative juices are not flowing because you have exhausted all your ideas.
Reading will help you develop more ideas. Be a voracious reader.
Warren Buffet, with a net worth of $72 Billion, spends 80% of his time reading. It helps him make informed investment decisions. As a writer, maybe 80% of your time cannot be spent on reading. But you can surely spend 20% of your time, reading.
Don’t limit reading to your area of expertise. Read far and wide. Sometimes, the best inspirations come from unrelated industries. If you read content only within your industry, you’ll end up rehashing the same ideas.
You have worked hard. It’s time to reward yourself with a well-deserved rest.
Unplugging yourself from your busy life, even for a day, has huge health benefits. This will directly impact your thinking and writing ability.
According to Dr. Patricia Huston (PDF):
“Mild blockage can be resolved by evaluating and revising expectations, conducting a task analysis, and giving oneself positive feedback. Moderate blockage can be addressed through creative exercises, such as brainstorming and role-playing. Recalcitrant blockage can be resolved with therapy.”
Oh, and one more thing
Writer’s block is real. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to overcome. Reading articles about overcoming writer’s block alone isn’t enough. You need to put in the effort.
So stop reading how to fix writer’s block and write. Put pen to paper or your fingers to the keyboard. Let your creative juices flow freely. You might not win a Pulitzer Prize, but you can help someone desperately seeking a solution to their problem.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. ~ Walt Disney