You’re ready to get to work. You sit down, ready for another day of working on your blog, set your music to your favorite playlist, shut off your email and-
Nothing. That bit of your brain that usually clicks into writing mode fails to fire. You find yourself struggling to string a concise sentence together. The few words you are able to write feel like pulling teeth. Suddenly a normal task feels impossible, and you don’t really know why.
The idea of being totally unable to write is a self-fulfilling prophecy – you worry you can’t write, so you put more pressure on yourself, and then you’re too anxious to write. Writer’s block is sometimes treated like an incident that just happens – like getting sick. People will claim you have no control over it, and you can’t do anything to stop it.
The first step is not letting yourself use it as an excuse. If you abandon your writing because you hit a rough patch, your output will drop considerably. You’ll also find the rough patches come up more and more often, as you disrupt your writing routine. If you’re committed to creating content, you have to find ways to push through.
Keeping a regular writing routine will help you get into a rhythm with your writing. I started this blog primarily because I wanted a reason to keep up a regular rhythm of writing. When I don’t keep it up, I notice my skills begin to stagnate.
If you can’t prevent the writer’s block, there are ways to treat it. Don’t give in to the desire to just call it a day because the words aren’t coming out. I’ve found a few tricks that have forced the words out of me on my bad days.
Abandon all critical thought
When you have a critical injury, usually the first step in any sort of first aid is to stop the bleeding. In the case of writing, the first part of writer’s block you want to break is the inability to put words on a page.
So open a blank page and just write. Write about your day, write about what you’re seeing, write about bacon… it doesn’t matter! Just get a couple hundred words on a page. Don’t be critical about what you’re writing. Don’t even read it.
Stream-of-consciousness writing can be cathartic, once you get used to it. There are no consequences or judgement for what you’re writing, so you can say anything you want. Go ahead and write a string of profanity – nobody’s going to see it. You start having fun with writing, which makes writing your actual post feel a lot less stressful.
If your word processor has a “line focus” mode, like what I use in Byword, turn that on during this step. If you hit a wall on one topic, delete that page and start a new thought. Do anything you can to keep your focus on the next sentence or the next work.
I’ll do this for about 5 minutes, but sometimes longer if I’m having trouble building up momentum. About 75% of the time, this breaks my logjam and gets me back to writing. For the rest of the time, I need to hit the reset button entirely.
Reset your brain
If that doesn’t work, it’s probably time for a hard reset. Just like how you sometimes have to reboot your computer to clean out the memory and start clean, your brain sometimes just need to empty its cache in order to work effectively.
If you’re not comfortable just shutting everything down and closing your eyes in silence (I know I can’t do it), you use a meditation aid or white noise generator. Apps like Calm.com or Do Nothing for 2 Minutes force you to halt the flow of potentially disruptive thoughts and start over with a clean slate.
People often confuse being a good worker with being constantly busy. True, you will often be busy, but sometimes your brain just needs to hit reset. Maybe a disciplined meditation schedule is a bit too intense for you, but when you start to feel frazzled, just take a minute or two to shut out the world and do nothing. You’ll be surprised how much you get out of that small amount of time.
Talk about what you’re trying to write
In programming, there’s a concept called Rubber Duck Debugging. A coder will take a rubber duck and explain, line by line, what their code does.
Rubber Duck Debugging isn’t as crazy as its name implies. When we keep ideas in our heads, we’re making subconscious leaps in logic that aren’t necessarily correct or even coherent. Talking through our thoughts forces us to flesh out our core ideas. If you hit several points you can’t explain, you might not understand what you’re writing well enough, and need to focus your energy on organizing those points. And, just like that, you have your next step.
So take your rubber duck (or teddy bear, or just your imaginary friend) and explain to him (or her) exactly what you’re trying to write. Explain each key idea in your outline and what your main points are. Explain why you’re writing your post and how it benefits your reader.
Sometimes, our Writer’s Block is a result of not really understanding why we’re writing. Explaining the details of your post or project forces you to recognize when you don’t understand something, and then do something about it.
Ultimately, I find writer’s block is a result of getting in an unproductive mindset. The trick to dealing with it is to find ways to shift your mindset, be it through breaking the ice with forced writing, calming the noise in our own minds, or untangling our thoughts by talking them through. So don’t give up when you hit a rough patch – figure out why you’re struggling, and use these techniques to get back on the right path.