If you write creatively much, you’ve come across the thing known as writer’s block. You may be sitting there looking at a blank document (I’m a blogger… I write using my computer, not paper), or you may get “blocked” in the middle of your writing. I, personally, actually experience the second more than the first.
You may have a deadline, or you may just want to get it done and out, even though there is no real deadline. But you’re stuck… you don’t know how to get out in words the concepts that are hiding in your mind. The longer you sit there unable to write, the more frustrated you get, making it even harder to find the words you want.
Don’t panic. There are things you can do to free the words from your mind, free them to flow out onto your chosen writing medium. Here are seven of the techniques that seem to work fairly consistently for me:
Talk To Someone About The Subject
This virtually always works for me, but is limited by the fact that you need to find someone who will actually listen. Depending on what you are writing about, that can be easier said than done. Given that you have someone, however, this works because it forces your mind to come at the subject from a different angle. Your mind simply uses different pathways when having a conversation with another individual than it does when writing for an audience.
This concept is well known in psychology, but is great for writing, as well, especially since you already have the tools right there: your mind and a means to write. The technique is simple… just write down whatever comes to mind, whether it seems relevant or not. This method has the advantage of working at the block from two directions. One, it may give you different angles of seeing the subject, and two, it can clear some distractions from your mind (writing them down seems to address them sufficiently to make them go away, much of the time). In other words, it combines some of the advantages of #1 and #3.
Clear Your Mind
Distractions can make it hard to focus your thoughts. Many times the distractions are as much in our minds as in the world around us, so it can be useful to clear your mind. There are many techniques for doing this, too many to list. My favorite, however, is to take quiet time.
Take A Walk
Sometimes the best way to break through writer’s block is to step away from the writing. Stretch your legs, go for a walk, get some sunlight (if it’s available). A few moments away from the writing, accompanied by a little physical activity, can bring you fresh insight on your subject.
Write About A Related Subject
This technique is really about tricking your mind. It consists of stopping writing on your main subject, and going and writing a small amount, such as a few paragraphs, about a related subject. If you’re writing about blogging, for example, you could write a little bit about SEO. If you’re writing about relationships, you could do a little bit about communication. This often shifts your thinking enough that you go around the writer’s block instead of trying to punch through it.
Imagine Someone Asking You About The Subject
This is similar to #1, but doesn’t require an actual other person. It does, however, require that you give a few details to your imaginary person, or that you picture explaining it to a specific person you know. In order to get your mind to shift over to “conversation mode”, the person you’re thinking about has to have enough detail to make it real enough to your subconscious. They don’t necessarily have to have a name, for example (though imagining specific people that you know is often the most effective form of this), but you do need a rough mental picture like relative age (child, young, old, etc.), sex, level of knowledge in the field, etc. As mentioned in #1, conversation mode is a different way of thinking, and the switch from mode to the other is often enough to break your block.
Talk To Someone About A Different Subject
This is really my last resort. Basically, I put my writing on the back burner, giving it time to stew and my subconscious time to kick in something to get me over the hump, so to speak. Having a conversation with someone about a different subject requires enough of your attention (or should… if it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right) to get you to mentally drop what you were writing about, giving yourself some mental space to look at the subject with fresh(er) eyes when you come back to it. The danger with this one is that you may entirely lose the thread of what you were writing, and have to start over, or at least back somewhat. Of course, that could actually be a good thing, too… sometimes when I lose the thread and start over, the end product is much better than the original.
You can use any one, or any combination, of the ways listed above to try to break past the block. Some of them are more effective for me than others… #6, for example, is usually a last resort, while #1 almost always works, if I can find someone interested enough in whatever I’m writing about to actually have a conversation.
What else do you do when you hit writer’s block? How do you get the words out when they’re stuck? If you have a technique not listed above, I humbly request that you share it in the comments, to help me the next time I can’t get the words to flow like they normally do.