Whether you call yourself a writer or not, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded writer’s block. It happens to all of us, and it happens for a lot of reasons—we’re too distracted, we don’t know where to start, we don’t have enough information. Apparently, even Charles Schulz had writer’s block.
Some people will tell you there’s no such thing as writer’s block, but that doesn’t really solve the problem, does it? Here are a few suggestions based on ideas in Write on Target, a book by Dennis E. Hensley (one of my college writing professors) and Holly G. Miller. The book includes several more ideas (and a lot of other great stuff for nonfiction writers), so check it out if you want to know more.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
- Give yourself a time limit. Plan to focus on your writing for a set amount of time before you take a break. Don’t look at Facebook, check your email, or wander into the kitchen to find a snack. Just write. You never know, you might get going and discover you don’t need that break.
- Free write. Even if you’re struggling, even if what you’re putting on paper is awful, write down everything you can about your subject. Don’t worry about structure—just get it out. You may end up discovering some of it is useable.
- Map it out. Create an outline or a mind map (or word web, depending on who you talk to). It’ll help you simplify everything in your head and find any holes in your information.
- Get a second opinion. If you’re stuck, find someone to talk through it with you. Tell them what you’re trying to write. They might have helpful suggestions, and talking about it will help you sort out your thoughts. If you can explain it to a friend in conversation, you can put it in writing. Trust me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used these tricks to get going on a writing project. And I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I used all of them around 4:00 a.m. the day I had a term paper due for Dr. Hensley’s class. I only got two hours of sleep that night, but I still got an A on the paper. Shh—don’t tell. I may miss college sometimes, but I certainly don’t miss all-nighters at Steak ‘n’ Shake (at one point, Jonathan and I spent so many late nights there, they asked what type of music we liked to listen to so they could share radio privileges).
Anyway, next time you’re stuck, try these tricks. I find them most helpful in this order, but everyone is different, so do what works for you.
(I also used to put in my headphones and listen to Toby Mac and Owl City on LOUD while my roommate slept, completely unaware I was still awake. I may have even taken a few dancing breaks, but I’ll never tell.)
If you have any tips of your own for overcoming writer’s block, please share them in the comments.