Get unstuck: 10 ways to obliterate writer’s block

The cartoonist Walt Kelly’s modest hero, Pogo, once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” This is particularly true of writer’s block. Here’s how to defeat your most implacable critic.

You have something to write:

  • A reply to a challenging email message.
  • A brief or presentation about a new project.
  • A post for the blog you swore you would maintain.

You are fully aware that this content will not write itself. You know the subject matter better than anyone, so you’re the right person—maybe the only person—for the job.

Still, you struggle. You show up at the page or screen, and nothing happens. Frustrated, you walk away. Later, you’re reluctant to go back. You find umpteen reasons to avoid writing.

But then what? Are you willing to see your project stall or stop? Is that even an option?

Probably not.

You can’t afford to stay stuck.

Some people call this “writer’s block.” But we need to kill that term.

Claiming “writer’s block” is an excuse, as if you’re a victim of some short- or long-term disability that keeps you from the page. Nonsense. What you’re facing is a temporary situation—a problem over which you have complete control.

Writing is my core business. And because I like steady revenues, I don’t have time for excuses or long lapses in my writing. If I’m feeling stuck or find myself in a state of chronic procrastination, I break the negative cycle by starting a positive one.

By taking action, I make myself “unstuck.”

Feeling stuck is a temporary condition that is easily solved by taking action. The sooner, the better. The instant you feel a hint of paralysis in your business writing, take one of the following steps.

Here are 10 simple ways to get unstuck:

1. Allow imperfections. Seeking perfection from a first draft is a great way to freeze your fingers and crush your confidence. Again and again, give yourself permission to write poorly. The American poet William Stafford said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” Lower your expectations. Remind yourself that first drafts are not permanent. Get some words on the page, even if they suck.

2. Free-write with a timer. You can suffer through just about anything for a minute or two. Set a timer for however many minutes you can bear—one, three, five, fifteen—and write. Even if you veer off topic, don’t stop until time is up.

3. Mind map. Grab a blank sheet of paper and a marker in your favorite color. Start scribbling words and phrases about your message. Look what your brain did! Take two ideas from your mind map and marry them.

4. Make a list. You could list items related to the subject you’re trying to cover: every fact you know, people who have influenced what you know, reasons others ought to know what you know. Or, just to clear your head, you could list things that have nothing to do with your project: places you’d like to visit, people you’d like to meet, foods you’ve never tried. Shoot for a list of 39 items.

5. Record yourself. Maybe the glitch is between your brain and your fingers. Shorten the distance the message has to travel by letting your voice do the writing. Speak your ideas into a voice recorder (smart phones have them built in), dictation software (I like Dragon), or even a phone message to yourself.

6. Talk it out. Phone a friend, or sit down with someone face to face. Ramble about your idea. Have your buddy take notes and/or restate what you’ve said.

7. Search your files. Hunt through your own documents, whether hard copy or digital, for good words you’ve already written. I find some of my best material in my Sent email box. Other sources: your calendar, meeting notes, proposals and presentations, social media posts and comments.

8. Go out of order. First lines can be intimidating. If you can’t figure out how to begin, jump into the middle, or write the ending. No one has to know you wrote the intro last.

9. Talk to your people. Contact clients or customers or co-workers. Ask what they have heard you say about the message you’re struggling to write.

10. Shrink the task. Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” Instead of trying to draft an entire presentation or post or manifesto, break the work into smaller chunks. Write the headlines. Insert your bio. Drop in the page numbers.

You wrote before, and you’ll write again. Count on it. Draw on that confidence and choose just one step from this list.

You’ll no longer be stuck. You’ll be writing.

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

COMMENT

Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.