There you are, staring at a blank screen with a blinking cursor that’s mocking you. You have absolutely no ideas and a deadline that’s looming. You feel as if you’ve forgotten the entire alphabet overnight and couldn’t even write your name if the fate of the world depended on it. Panic starts to set in, and you finally realize that you’re experiencing writer’s block.
Writer’s block can be a stressful and demotivating thing to experience. But if you ever find yourself suffering from it, don’t panic or get frustrated too soon. There are ways you can beat it. Here are just a few of them.
1. Write in Stages
To avoid writer’s block, the best thing you can do is write in stages over the course of a few days or months, depending on the length of your writing project. Some tips:
- Have a brainstorming session one day to come up with potential topics to write about, then a day or so later you can select a topic and outline subtopics you want to cover.
- Research your subtopics as you outline them.
- Set aside time to write a first draft. Remember that your first draft might be awful, and that's okay. That is why you should write (at minimum) over the span of a few days, and not in one sitting; it will give you time to scrap what's not working so you can focus on what is.
- Never edit while you're writing your first draft either. It will only make you anxious, and you’ll waste a lot of energy focusing on just a few sentences at a time.
- After your draft is complete, have someone else review it for feedback or let it sit overnight before it’s edited.
Whenever possible, never complete more than one stage in a single day to avoid fatigue and writing errors that can easily be prevented.
2. Complete Speed-Writing and Free-Writing Exercises
Once you free your mind of daunting tasks and write as fast as you can without a particular agenda for ten to fifteen minutes, you’ll notice your motivation resurface, as well as your creativity. And when you’re able to write something for yourself, anything that comes to mind, without focusing on whether it will be published or not, you’ll stop stressing out about your current writing project that will be scrutinized by others.
It doesn’t matter whether you start writing about your favorite television show or the last sentence of the latest marketing email you sent out. Once you begin writing at all, you’ll want to keep going.
3. Study Old Notes and Things You've Published in the Past
Look at notes you jotted down when you were working on previous writing projects to get ideas, especially if they are related to the current project you’re working on. Or perhaps you already published something that can easily be continued, and you can pick up where you left.
Sometimes looking at the comments or feedback you received from your colleagues or readers can help subdue your inner critic too. When you read positive feedback, it will boost your self-esteem. And if you look back at items you wrote five years ago and compare them to something you wrote last week, you’ll see the progress you've made. You’ll begin to feel more confident in your abilities again.
4. End Your Writing Sessions in Mid-Sentence and Write in a Nonlinear Fashion
There’s no rule mandating you to write the beginning of a story before you write the end of it. This is how you typically read things, but it doesn’t have to be how you write them. What order you write your paragraphs, chapters, or sections in during the drafting stage is up to you.
You should always write the sections that are top-of-mind and easy to write first so that you can build momentum, and keep writing each time you sit down to work on your project. Don’t feel pressure to come up with an introduction paragraph first if all you can think about when you begin the drafting stage are the details for the third chapter.
While it might seem counterintuitive, if you stop each writing session you have in mid-sentence, you’ll be able to pick up and finish your thought the following day. By doing this, you’ll always have a starting point for each writing session. This is a good practice for writing projects that can take multiple days or months to complete. Hemingway was even known for doing this.
5. Step Away from Writing
If you’ve been typing the same incoherent sentence over and over again for twenty minutes, it might be time to back away from the keyboard. If you’re bored with what you’re writing or need to refresh because you’ve been writing so intently for hours, then go do something else.
Go for a walk. Go to a museum. Listen to music. Eat ice cream. Just do anything other than write. Sometimes a simple change in scenery while you write can do wonders for curing writer’s block too. Consider taking your laptop to the coffee shop around the corner, or into another room. But sometimes you need to unplug entirely for a little while, and then come back to your writing when you’re recharged.
The next time you’re experiencing writer’s block, remember that you can beat it. Whether you need to skim through old notes to get ideas, or write your conclusion paragraph first to maintain your momentum, you can keep on writing.