As an English major in college, I spent a good portion of my time writing papers. Papers about books I’d read, how strange my family is, Disney World, why pre-1600 literature is riddled with sexual innuendo. You name it, there is a good chance I wrote a paper about it.
One would think that with that many written projects under my belt, writing would come naturally to me by now. To some extent, that’s true. Unfortunately, I don’t write as often as I used to, so I’ve definitely gotten rusty. In the midst of the day-to-day distractions, the dreaded mental incapacitation that plagues so many seeks—writer’s block.
Whether it’s a press release, website copy, internal communications letters or a blog post, I have found that many of my old tricks to beat writer’s block are as effective as ever.
1. Change of location. When I wrote papers in college, I’d start every draft in the Fishbowl at the University of Michigan. It’s a huge computer lab that’s always filled with students. Though it seems like a distracting place to write, I found the hustle and bustle energizing. However, once I finished my first draft, it was time for a location change. Sometimes that would mean spending some time with it at home, camping out in a coffee shop or moving to the quiet study lounge in the Michigan Union. Either way, sitting in one spot staring at the same screen for more than four hours never worked for me.
2. Music selection. Because I tend to thrive when writing in public places, headphones are key to drown out conversations happening around me. That said, I always found it very difficult to concentrate with Top 40 or any new music on. Some people look to classical music to solve this problem. I prefer music in different languages. That way, I’m not focusing on the lyrics. French music is my favorite.
3. Walk away. This step is probably not necessary for something as brief as a press release, but it can be helpful with longer business pieces or creative writing. It is important to spend some time away from your paper or article once you written a decent draft. Going back to edit will be much more effective if you’ve cleared your head first.
For example, when I was finished with the first draft at the Fishbowl back in college, I would wait for at least a few hours, sometimes overnight, to head to my next location. At the very least, grab lunch or make a few phone calls. Sometimes the best ideas come to you when you’re not staring at your computer screen. Which brings me to my last point…
4. Plan ahead. If you wait until a few hours before your deadline, you won’t be able to relocate or walk away. The pressure of quick turnaround can cause writer’s block in and of itself. Even if you get the project done, there is a good chance it would have benefited from another round of editing that you simply couldn’t fit in.
These easy steps have done wonders for me.
What works best for you when writer’s block hits?
Erin Sabo is an account executive with Bingham Farms, Mich.-based Identity Marketing & Public Relations, where a version of this post originally ran.