Last week on the blog we explored the most common reasons why you don’t feel like writing. This week it’s all about the nitty gritty details of how to overcome writer’s block so you can start creating again and get your message out to the world in a way that feels good.
Embrace the SFD
The “Shitty First Draft” is a term coined by the author Anne Lamott in her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird. Here’s her idea:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
The keys to embracing the SFD – at least, in my experience – are threefold:
- Accept that it’s about quantity over quality the first time around. Just hit your word count.
- While writing your SFD, don’t re-read what you’ve already written and don’t edit. Finish the SFD and walk away from it for a while first.
- Learn how best to “quiet the voices” in your unique head. I recommend exploring a meditation practice, making a deal with your muse, putting on lyric-free background music, or freewriting out all the junk before you take to the page.
I strongly recommend this cure to overcome writer’s block if your biggest problems are perfectionism, fear, or imposter syndrome.
Have an outline
In my experience as a writing coach, my most successful clients hit milestones and finish projects when they have at least a vague outline.
You get to define what an outline means to you, and it can be as loose as having a deadline and a few overarching pillars that give structure to your blog content or jotting down the turning points in your book. Start there if you’ve always written purely by the seat of your pants and now you find yourself blocked. I promise there’s plenty of room left there for inspiration to play.
However, if you have a sort of outline already and you’re facing a moment of heightened writer’s block – especially if it’s a chronic case – it’s often a sign that you’d benefit from an outline that’s more fleshed out to reduce the pressure, eliminate guesswork, and keep you accountable.
Keep in mind that research can be a part of the outline cure as well. If you’re writing a blog post about your industry, or a novel set in the past, chances are that research will fill in many of the mental blanks you’re facing.
You’ll know that more research is needed if every few sentences you’re feeling blocked by questions rather than dullness in your mind. Questions like: “What kind of jewelry would they have worn?” or “Wait, who was the architect again?” etc..
Spend at least an hour getting the answers to as many of your recent questions as possible, then return to your project again. You’ll likely have plenty of new ideas and connections that keep your pen moving.
Take a break with another writing project
When you were in high school, did you ever spend a half-hour studying for English, then the next hour studying for math, and back again? If so, you tapped into the power of changing topics.
Rather than resign yourself to a lack of focus and productivity because one subject wasn’t working for you, simply take a break from that subject and still use the time well by switching to another one instead. This is a productive way to procrastinate! So next time that you’re trying to write a blog post, try writing your next newsletter instead.
Or better yet, substitute whatever important writing you’re meant to be doing with writing a letter. That could be writing a letter to your ideal client, even a real one that you had, or writing a letter to a friend or family member. The point is that modern letters are such a casual, form of writing. They let you delve into your stories and opinions, which often flow more freely than writing for work.
Bonus points if you do your letter writing by hand, since that’s scientifically shown to help you access the more emotional and creative parts of your brain which will really change your state.
Then, 20 to 40 minutes later, revisit your work project. You might find your mindset refreshed, and you have a nice letter or email you can send off to a friend.
Refresh and reset
This cure comes down to 2 primary tips: get in some physical movement or sleep.
Physical movement will put your whole body into a different state that sitting stagnantly at your desk. It’s healthy for your complete body, and also releases feel-good endorphins. If you feel frustrated by the writer’s block, it’ll also help express and release that pent up energy and use it for something good.
Plus, if you follow up your exercise with a refreshing shower, you might just feel like a whole new person next time you look at your computer screen!
Even if the idea of “exercise” kind of freaks you out, you can still get in some physical movement. Leave your desk and stretch, go for a walk around the block, or try some jumping jacks on the spot.
Option 2, sleep, is at least as helpful if not better than physical movement if exhaustion is the cause of your writer’s
block. If you’re burnt out, got a poor night’s rest, or had heightened anxiety all day, of course your brain will feel too fried to write!
Creativity is essentially connecting many things in novel ways – and that takes a relaxed mind plus brain activity. If your brain isn’t up for it right now, do NOT push it. You’ll only be beating yourself up, and it won’t help the problem. If you’re suffering from burnout, it’s also bound to make it worse.
So do what I learned from my Welsh friend several years ago: have a cup of tea and go to bed because everything looks different in the morning – even if it’s just because your eyes are well-rested.
These were just some of the cures I use to help myself and my clients to overcome writer’s block. Get a free infographic with more easy ideas (which I recommend putting up beside your desk!) right here.
What are your tips for how to overcome writer’s block? Share with us in the comments.