Stuck are you? Of course you are. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. I will make this very quick.
One of my very first fits of writer’s block struck when I was a student journalist. Deadline was fast approaching and my editor was losing patience.
“Where’s that story, Skog?” he shouted.
“I’m working on it,” I sighed.
“Doesn’t look like it,” he said.
“Well what do you want me to do?”
“Just puke it out,” he said.
“Just puke it out on the screen and we can go back and fix it later. I can’t edit your story if there’s nothing to edit,” he said.
That was nearly three decades ago and I still haven’t forgotten.
Since then I have come to understand more about the affliction known as writer’s block and I have developed some techniques that can keep your keyboard clicking and help you make your deadline.
No. 5 — Start Before Starting
Don’t open a blank document and expect to start typing. Sure, you can do that. But I have found there are some steps to take before you try to write your first word.
If you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re going to cover, take some time to think it through. Look back over any notes you’ve taken. Gather the key points in an outline. You don’t need Roman numerals or anything fancy — even just some bullet points or a few keywords can help.
No. 4 — Still Stuck? Start Transcribing
Find a favorite TED Talk on YouTube and press play. Type every word they say. The very act of typing can help overcome writer’s block. Simply hearing your fingers clicking and words appearing — even those unrelated to your work — can breach the dam.
At the very least it’s a good warmup for your digits and helps your brain overcome any angst about getting something on the screen.
No. 3 — Don‘t Look Behind You
Nothing slows down the writing process more than self-editing. If you pause to reflect on your last word, your last sentence or your last paragraph you will kill any momentum you built. You can worry about details like word choice and grammar gaffes later. That’s what spellcheck is for.
No. 2 — Don‘t Stop. Ever.
Don’t pause to look something up. Seriously. Nothing. Ever. I don’t care what it is, do NOT STOP WRITING.
If you are writing about Abraham Lincoln and you stop to look up the facts, you risk disrupting any flow you had going. Instead, simply write past it. “Abraham Lincoln was born _____ in the city of _____ and grew up to become the ____ president of the United States of America.”
If you take a break to look something up, you fall out of rhythm and may not slide back into a groove. Resist the urge to keep things neat and tidy along the way. The creative process never is. The same goes when fumbling for the right word like in No. 3 above. Just put in a “[strong verb goes here]” and keep going.
No. 1 — Still stuck? Take a break.
I know I just told you to never stop, but in a truly stubborn case of writer’s block you may need to get away from the blinking cursor. Tell yourself you’re going to take a set amount of time — 20 minutes, an hour or two.
Close your laptop. Stand up from your desk. Do a crossword. Take a walk outside and take your mind off the task at hand. Give yourself some time to reset but don’t give up. Dive back in. You got this.