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How to Beat Writer’s Block

All writers get writer’s block at one time or another. For some, it lasts five minutes. In extreme cases, it’s been known to last for years. For me, it’s been on and off for about a month now.

In a desperate attempt to jog me out of this rut I’m in, I figured I’d ask some readers for come topic suggestions. Guess what the most popular topic suggestion was? You guessed it, “How to Beat Writer’s Block.”

Why not use my writer’s block as the topic of my next post, to see if that gets me back on track? I love the irony, don’t you?

Since writer’s block seems to affect each writer differently, I pulled together some of the most common scenarios I’ve seen from my own experiences and conversations with other writers.

For each scenario, I’ve tried to provide some basic suggestions for how you might be able to deal with each. If you’re facing any of these writer’s block scenarios, I hope the tips help you get unblocked.

Here are the most common scenarios typically described as writer’s block:

You’re Out of Ideas

It’s highly unlikely that you’re out of ideas. While you may think you’ve written about everything interesting you have to offer, the truth is there’s a lot you know that others don’t. If you’re truly stuck for ideas, try one of the following:

  • Ask your readers or friends for story ideas (this is where I got the idea for this post).
  • Keep a notepad on you at all times – jot down ideas whenever you have them. This way, when you’re low on ideas, you can turn to the list for inspiration.
  • Scan the headlines on your particular areas of interest (or setup RSS feeds or Google Alerts on topics – you’ll have a regular flow of ideas coming in all the time).

You Have Too Many Ideas

I’ve been here before. I have a spreadsheet with about 500 blog post ideas in it, some of which have been on the list for a year now. Don’t fall into this trap. While it’s good to have a scratchpad of ideas, the best time to write that post that’s on your mind is usually now.

Sometimes it’s easier to add ideas to the list than to start writing. If you find yourself bouncing around from one idea to the next, try the following:

  • Come up with a scoring system to rate your post ideas. I rate my ideas based on how much I want to write about it, how much I think my readers want me to write about it, and how relevant the topic is to the editorial content of my blog to to Web searches that would lead to my blog. Average the numbers together and you’ve got priority and order.
  • Sometimes it’s fine to bounce around from one topic to the next, just make sure you’re getting closer to completion on each task. I have a couple of blog posts in draft mode at all times. This way, when I’m feeling inspired by a topic, I can wrap it up.
  • Some people can’t shift back and forth like this, and most productivity experts would tell you to only focus on one thing at a time. Follow there advice. Write your topic down and tune everything else out.

You’re On Deadline – Too Much Pressure

This one’s easy. You can’t shift time. The only way to overcome writer’s block on a deadline is to start writing. You don’t have the luxury of time. It might not be the best article you’ve ever written, but you probably have a topic, a word limit, and a deadline.

Write the article as fast as you can, and spend the time leading up to your deadline revising and tweaking. It might not be up to your standards, but you’ll be surprised how many people have lower standards than you. Some of my “best” articles have been on deadline.

For future opportunities, follow these tips to avoid feeling the pressure:

  • Plan ahead. If you know something is due in one week, start on it now. Try to complete something three days (or a week) before the deadline.
  • Keep a log or mental note of how long it actually takes you to write. Deadlines are often self-imposed. Don’t tell somebody you can complete the work sooner than you actually can.

You’re Self Conscious About an Article

You might not want to admit it, but some of you are intimidated by what people will think of your article. You worry about negative comments on your blog, or that your post will come back to haunt you later.

Perhaps you are concerned about what your boss will think, or that you’ll use bad grammar and appear less intelligent. You could just as easily hope for the best.

I’ve only blown it on a couple of articles out of thousands. There is far more good than bad that can come out of writing. Don’t get hung up on what others will think.

Of particular note, if you’re a blogger, go back and read some comments from six months ago. Chances are you’ve received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement – use it to build your confidence.

Too Much is Going on Around You

I’ve done some of my best writing in the middle of a coffee shop during the morning rush. I’m able to tune everything out sometimes. Other times, I need complete silence. Only you can know what environment is most productive for you.

If you find yourself getting distracted too easily, change your environment. Takes stuff off your desk and shoves it in a drawer. Send your calls to voicemail and disconnect from the Internet. You’ll be surprised how fast you’ll get your writing done.

You’re Hungry, Tired, Stressed, or All of the Above

This is the hardest one to recognize, but honestly, it’s the one that plagues me the most. When I’m having the hardest time writing, it’s often when I’ve been staying up too late, not exercising, and eating poorly.

Guess what advice I’d offer here? Go to bed, eat an apple and go for a jog. Honestly, when I’m well-rested, get some exercise, and eat something good for myself, I write twice as fast and come up with a ton of fresh ideas.

Too Much Info

If I’m writing a fairly technical piece, I have a tendency to over-research. All that information can cause information overload and make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.

A better approach is to start writing about a topic and leave spaces where you want to inject backup information. Research that information once you’ve got a rough draft to work with, this will save you from researching a bunch of information you’ll end up not using.

If you feel you need more information before you can get started, read up on the subject and jot down some notes. Try to resist excessive printing of information or highlighting, it will only leave you more confused over the focus of your piece.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the examples that came up in my conversation with other writers. Do you have other suggestions for ways to beat writer’s block? If so, I’d love to hear them.

Would you like advice on a particular area where you get stuck? Give me a shot, I’ll do my best to help.

As for me, hopefully, this post does the trick. Is it my best post ever? No. Is it my worst? Probably not. I got the assignment done, and that’s what overcoming writer’s block is about.

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