3 (mediocre) tips to overcome writer’s block


Back in February, I committed to making my blog a priority. I publicly announced that I’d set the bar low – just two posts a month! But, being the overachiever I am, I mentally told myself this really meant every Thursday. Things were going well. I posted four weeks in a row (hurrah!).

Then, THE WORST THING EVER happened. I got writer’s block. And, being that I write professionally and for my own personal entertainment, it was bad.

Writer’s block is an insufferable ailment. Symptoms include staring at your screen, writing paragraphs, deleting said paragraphs. More writing, more deleting. Metaphorically pulling teeth while struggling to string two words together into a coherent sentence.

But let’s be clear here. Writer’s block isn’t the same as procrastination. Procrastination is when you can’t get yourself to sit down and open the damn laptop in the first place. Writer’s block is when you know what you’re going to write about, but – despite your best attempts – can’t get the words out of your brain and onto the paper (er, Google Doc).

Thing is, writer’s block is kind of par for the course. I don’t care how adept or experienced you are. If you’re a writer, there will inevitably come a day/week/month (God help us) where writing is the last thing your brain wants to do.

When that happens, you’d better have a couple cards hanging out in your back pocket to pull when things get desperate. Here are mine (fair warning: they’re not ground breaking).

1. Apply pressure

I think it’s safe to say that most writers work best under pressure. It comes with the same territory that brings us over-caffeinated editors breathing down our necks because it’s now 3:30 p.m. and you were due to post copy at 3 and where the hell’s the article!?

That’s why deadlines are key. Deadlines help keep you accountable. They help drive creativity, too – at least in my case. When I know I’ve got an hour to finish a piece, the adrenaline kicks in, flips the creativity switch on, and the good ideas start flowing.

But if, like me, you’re the over-caffeinated editor setting the deadlines in this scenario, then suddenly that 3 p.m. cut-off looks a little more like 3:30 p.m., which looks a lot more like after dinner/in the morning/next week. Long story short, give yourself too much leeway and you’ll never get anything accomplished.

To counteract this, I give myself mental deadlines. Usually, that means blocking off a chunk of time in my calendar to write. It’s often in between other meetings, so that when time’s up, it’s really up. If all else fails, I pull in a third-party and tell them I’m sending a draft by X o’clock. Their day may not hinge on reviewing my draft, but it’s enough motivation for me to make sure I send copy by the time I said I would.

2. Take a hike

Just kidding. I don’t hike (sorry, Dad). What I really mean is get out of your own head.

Let’s say I’m slogging through a piece. It’s really tough, I’m not happy with any of it, and I’m ready to throw in the towel. When this happens, I get up and do something else: take the dog on a walk, put a load of laundry in, go chat with a coworker. That’s not a novel idea, I know.

But when I get up and walk away from my work, I make sure I’ve got a notebook or my phone with me. That way, when the brilliant idea finally DOES come around, I can jot it down.

Usually, the ideas I’m desperately wracking my brain for come at really inopportune times: as I’m driving down the Mass Pike, for example. When that inevitably happens, I use my phone’s voice commands to send myself an email with whatever genius headline pops into my head.

3. Cut yourself some slack (& I don’t mean lower your standards)

OK, this one isn’t specifically about writer’s block. But sometimes I’m what’s holding me back from just calling a piece done – and I suspect that’s true for a lot of people.

I briefly worked with one woman who was so painstaking in her work that nothing. ever. got. done. This person was literally PARALYZED by her quest for perfection. Job roles stayed open for ages. Website relaunches went overdue by weeks.

Even blog posts stayed in eternal draft form because nothing was ever good enough for this lady’s impossibly high standards/insecurities. It eventually got so bad that she was let go. That’s when I set the 90 percent rule for myself.

If something I’m working on is 90 percent there, it’s good enough – and good enough isn’t bad.

Chances are, if you’re still trying to improve beyond the 90 percent mark, you’re just nitpicking at things no one else will notice or care about anyway. There’s always room for edits and improvement – there just isn’t always time for them, and that’s OK.

Like the infamous sign at Facebook says, “Done is better than perfect.”

Image via Unsplash

One thought on “3 (mediocre) tips to overcome writer’s block

  1. Jim Bonneville says:

    You should try actually taking a hike, literally. Long hikes especially. They have a way of clearing the mind. After enough time on the trail, you stop thinking about all the things that usually clutter your mind and enter into an altered state I call Trail Zen. You breath, you move.

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