You’ve been staring at your screen for twenty minutes. You’ve successfully procrastinated for as long as possible: you’re at inbox zero, Instagram has informed you that you are caught up on all posts from the last three months, and you even organized the icons on your desktop. But it’s time to face reality — those words you need are not magically going to pop into your brain. You have writer’s block.
But fear not. There is a cure! However, it may not be what you want to hear. In fact, you probably already know what it is.
The cure to writer’s block is writing.
Even though that statement is true, it is not all that helpful. Yes, writing may be the correct answer — but writer’s block is real, and it’s frustrating and difficult. As J.K. Rowling says, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” I deal with writer’s block on a regular basis, but some days it hits me harder than others. Here are a few practices that have helped me overcome the dreaded blank slate.
Freewriting is an exercise I learned in college that has saved my life over and over again. It’s very simple.
Step 1) Set a timer for 10 minutes.
Step 2) Write.
Freewriting can be done for any amount of time, but I’ve found starting with 10 minutes is most effective. The only rule for freewriting is that you cannot stop writing during those 10 minutes. Leave editing for later — don’t even stop to fix typos. Your goal is just to get down as many words as possible. Personally, I prefer to type on my computer so I can easily edit later (just be sure to close all distracting browser tabs). However, you can also write in a notebook if it’s easier to get down your thoughts. Just don’t stop. The hardest part of writing is facing that blank page. Once you have content, it doesn’t matter if that content is terrible — you can fix it later. What you can’t edit is an empty Word document or a blank sheet of paper.
Be a ruthless editor
Once you have those initial words down, the hardest part is over. But editing can be challenging too. The most important part of editing is don’t get attached to anything. Hack away at your content mercilessly. If you have tender feelings for a particularly beautiful wording choice, ask yourself: “Does this really say what I need it to say here?”
Something else that’s really helped me is getting creative with moving content around. Often, I’ll write a concluding sentence that actually fits better at the beginning of a piece, or realize I can use something in the middle at the end. The key is to manipulate the building blocks you created during free writing. Nine times out of ten, if you move the pieces around enough, you’ll find places for all of them. However, if you find after editing that you just don’t have enough content, do another session of free writing and return to editing later.
This one is the hardest for me. I have a slightly obsessive personality, and once I get stuck on something I have trouble letting it go or taking a break. However, after I’ve spent a significant amount of time free writing and editing, there’s a point when I start going in circles. That’s when it’s time to walk away. Turn off your brain, go for a walk, or work on another task for a while. Give it an hour, then revisit your writing with a renewed perspective. Often, when I step back and return to writing after a break, I’ll see things that I didn’t see before and will be able to come up with new ideas for content creation and organization. Computers need to be restarted and so do we.
I hope these tips help! In closing, I’d like to share one final piece of wisdom from one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, who advocates that showing up consistently — rather than depending on creative genius — is the key to overcoming writer’s block. Gladwell writes, “I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.”