Deflecting the curse of writer’s block

April 2, 2012 by Holly Amundson in Technical Documentation

I’m not sure which ailment people are quicker to share their own home remedy for—hiccups or writer’s block. Everyone seems to have something to say about both. Although hiccups can be a real pain, I’m going to focus on the pesky situation of writer’s block and share some tips to help you overcome it.

Writer's BlockWhat exactly is writer’s block? Well, one example is when you’re asked to write a blog post and you have absolutely no idea what to write about. It’s when you can’t conjure an inspiration from the depths of your mind, and suddenly you realize you’ve been staring at a bird perched on the tree outside for far too long. I was staring at that bird when it hit me. I need to write about writer’s block. By staring out the window and focusing on something completely unrelated, did it actually allow me to start putting words to paper? Yes!

Allowing myself to focus on something completely unrelated to what I need to write about is my way of overcoming writer’s block—but that’s just one perspective. I decided to ask some of my good writer and editor colleagues—past and present—how they deal with it. I really enjoyed reading their responses and I thought I’d share a few of their suggestions with you:

  • When you can’t think of what to write, stop torturing yourself and go do something else for a while—sometimes for the rest of the day. It really makes no sense, from a time investment perspective, to even try to write when you’re not in the mood. Doing something totally different from writing can get your brain going down different paths and may even spark an idea or a spontaneous insight about what was missing in the writing project.
  • Drink lots and lots of coffee. (Okay, this was more of a joke—but it could actually work for some folks!).
  • Highlight what’s wrong and fix it later. Finding the right words is part of the writer’s process, but it doesn’t have to stop you from writing. Just keep moving—write words that seem close enough, highlight them with your designated “this sucks” color of choice, and then go back to rework those areas when you’re feeling more clear-headed.
  • Set aside the topic you’re having trouble writing about for a while and let yourself write something fun such as a short tale, or a poem, or a letter to someone letting them know what you really think about their irritating habits—and then send it. (Or not!)
  • Being on a deadline and needing to produce content can make you tense up. Try doing a few stretching exercises, or maybe a brisk five-minute walk—or perhaps a bit of meditation.

As I said, I really enjoyed reading the responses and I noticed that there seems to be a bit of a humorous pattern woven through many of them. If you beat yourself up for having trouble figuring out what to write, you’re just going to bury yourself deeper in that rabbit hole. Stop; breathe; and perhaps consider one of the suggestions captured here. Happy and productive writing!

 

A special thanks to my writer and editor colleagues who took the time to provide their insights for this blog post.