Five tips to overcome writer’s block from someone who writes for a living.
Before I was writing full-time at Crowley Webb, I did it just because I enjoyed it. Like most writers, I have my own process and go-to rituals for when I hit a roadblock. I thought I’d share a few of them in hopes of inspiring other writers to keep putting the pen to paper.
- Let it out!
When you’re beginning a draft, embrace your inner abstract artist – throw everything you have on the paper. For now, it doesn’t matter if your Word document is painted with red squiggles or double blue underlines, or if your handwriting doesn’t follow a straight line. The most important thing is that you have something written – that you’ve started. Let your writing be messy and filled with different ideas. Lots of them. Don’t edit your thoughts just yet. Embrace the typos and the bad ideas and just keep going. There will be time to go back and edit, but not right now. Just write, and write, and write some more.
- Find your environment.
If you can, find a zone that allows you to focus on writing. Silence your cell phone and turn off the television (yes, even if the Sabres are playing). Distractions will hold you up and rob you of your time and ability.
Plant yourself down and take root where you feel the most comfortable. Have a favorite room or chair? Work best facing a specific wall in the office? Do your best writing while sitting upside down and letting the blood (or ideas) rush to your head? Embrace it.
In terms of audio, find what works best for you. Some people prefer writing to the sound of silence, while others thrive with a song or podcast playing in the background. Creatively, I find success with a musical mix that ranges from of old favorites, like 60’s-era Bob Dylan and jazz, to new discoveries, like Peter Cat Recording Co. Professionally, I love working to the orchestral songs from the Final Fantasy series (I suggest X or XII) and the driving electronics of The Social Network soundtrack (perfect if you want to be wired in).
- Embrace self-consciousness
Great! You’ve written something! Now it’s time to think. Unless you’re creating for yourself, your writing will likely be read by someone else – or many people.
If you’re writing professionally, you may need to ask yourself: what’s the focus of this piece? Who’s the audience I’m writing for? Is any specific language required? Do I need a formal or informal voice?
For those writing creatively, the mind works a little differently. If you’re creating a short story or a poem, what’s the theme? Is the writing easy to follow, and if not, is there a cohesive, thematic justification for that? What genre are you working in?
Finally, for everyone: remove the ego from your work. Think about how to best serve your writing, not yourself.
Ask questions about your writing and be open to pivoting based on those answers.
- Take a break
If time permits, one of the best things you can do for your writing after you’ve completed your first draft (or even your fifth draft) is to . . . not write. Think of it this way: your words are hot and fresh from the oven of your brain, which itself is overheating from all its production and self-consciousness. Smoke enters your eyes, and you can’t see anything. Your hand will sizzle if you touch the paper. So, what to do? Let your work cool down. Have you ever tried grabbing a Pop-Tart® fresh from the toaster? I have the marks to tell the tale.
Do something else for a bit. Go outside and play hockey. Start a book (or two – I always recommend Infinite Jest). Watch Phantom Thread or The Simpsons (or both!). And if you really don’t have any time for a break, grab a Pop-Tart. Just don’t heat it up.
- Perform surgery
No, you don’t need to enroll in medical school (unless you’re having a midlife crisis), but with your words settled, it’s time to dissect your work. You might think you’ve just written Ulysses, but really, it’s Finnegan’s Wake. Congrats?
Put your reading glasses (or contacts) on and slowly look over your body of work for blemishes. Cut the fat from your writing. Remove repetitive phrases and run-on sentences. Have someone smarter than you read it.
That’s it. Now smile. Feel good. Then start something new. And again. And again. Because that’s what we writers do. How do you think I wrote this blog post?