Whether or not you call yourself a writer, you’ve probably experienced writer’s block. It can attack at any time: when you’re writing a 500 page novel, a blog post, an email to a client, or even a tweet.
You know how it feels: you sit down to write, and get that sinking feeling in your stomach. You stare at the screen. Get up for coffee. Sit down. Stare at the screen. Get up for a snack. Sit down. Stare at the screen. Yet another victim to the cycle of caffeine, calories, and anguish known as writer’s block.
Never fear—you can fix this. Start with one of my tried and trusted ways to break through any case of writer’s block:
1. Write $**tty first drafts. Paralysis due to the fear of low quality writing is a far mightier enemy than low quality writing itself. That’s why I follow Anne Lamott’s advice to write “$**tty First Drafts.” How it works: write anything to get started, knowing that you don’t have to attach that file or push that send button until after you’ve revised your awful first draft. You can fix low quality writing (most of the time), but you have to write something in the first place. As Lamott says, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.”
2. Skip the intro. The first sentence can be the hardest to write. If you’re stuck on the first sentence, don’t sweat it, skip it. For example, I started this blog post on point one, and circled back to write the intro later. Sometimes, you don’t know where to begin until you’ve reached the end.
3. Write an outline. An outline? That thing from high school? Yes. Outlines. They work for emails, blog posts, articles, novels, web copy, proposals—ok, maybe not tweets, but you get the point. Dashing down a couple bullet points about what you want to write by the time you’re done can help you start.
4. Mess around on the internet. Sure, for me, messing around on the internet normally results in browsing pictures of cute dogs for so long that I start talking in barks. Sometimes, though, exploring the internet can lead to inspiration. Change your preferences on StumbleUpon to see cool sites similar to what you’re writing about, tie in something topical from Reddit, or study the style used by your favorite bloggers. Turn that roaming mouse into a research tool.
5. Change your setting. Get up from the desk and move your body and your computer to the hallway, to the couch, to the coffee shop, to the roof. Work from home for a day, or even take a trip to the library (imagine that!). Changing your immediate surroundings can give you a fresh perspective on what you’re writing.
6. Don’t look, just type. I use this only in the direst cases of writer’s block. The method: tear away at the keyboard with no regard for grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, or typos. Include rants about why this particular writing assignment is the bane of the universe. When the pounding on the keyboard slows, maybe you’ll have a few usable sentences, maybe not. Either way, now you’ve got that essential “something” on the page that makes it easier to start.
Those are just a few of the many strategies I’ve developed to defeat writer’s block over the years. Please, share your personal methods in the comments, and together we can win this war.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2011 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.