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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Writers' Block: Breaking Out With Ten Simple Ideas

 5:38 pm on Feb 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

Have you ever had one of those days/weeks/months when you can't get that writing project started?

It happened to me last week and I thought I should know how to get over this.

So I set about reminding myself of a few ideas I use (I thought they may help you):-

  • 1. Start in the morning by clearing the desk of everything.
  • 2. Switch off the phone/e-mail, etc., to eliminate distractions.
  • 3. Write some/any bullet points about the subject in question on a blank piece of paper.
  • 4. Expand the bullet points one by one, on new paper if needed.
  • 5. Try and draw relationships between the bullets. I find that helps make the document flow.
  • 6. Analyse and extract from the best from the bullets and write down of a clean sheet of paper, if needed.
  • 7. Try and expand each bullet, even by only a paragraph or two. Again, clean sheets of paper as required.
  • 8. Now, take a walk in the fresh air, but don't stay sitting at the desk.
  • 9. Come back refreshed to plenty of bullets to start writing for real using your favourite writing tools (pen & paper, or word processor).
  • 10. If that didn't work, either the mind is too cluttered to focus, and/or, you haven't researched the subject enough. Either start fresh the next day, and/or research more.

    What are your tips to get over writers' block?



     6:19 pm on Feb 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

    One technique that I haven't worked with but am eager to try is "mind mapping". It seems like a good way to get the creative juices flowing.


     6:37 pm on Feb 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

    NO MUSIC (with lyrics), NO RADIO.

    I agree, bullet points are helpful. It's weird but I try to keep the bullets I've started out with on a bulletin board, close, at eye level so I don't have to lose my train of thought rummaging to find them. Makes a world of difference to me.

    Timeline (like bullet points but horizontal). Write it anywhere. Got this when I went to Faulkner's house outside Memphis. He'd scrawled something from Absalom, Absalom or Sound and The Fury on the wall in red crayon as if to say, "Dangit, I'm not going to keep this straight if I don't draw it out." If you can look at it while you're working three times, it'll be engraved upon your consciousness.


     7:03 pm on Feb 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

    mind mapping

    I use to use that for note taking. It did help with memorizing the notes and redirects the doodleing tendancies.

    As for breaking writer's block, I usully go with what an old professor once taught me. Just write. Even if all you can write is "I can't think of anything to write" over and over.

    Eventally, a coherant peice starts to form. Then I go back and read and see where the article really "starts" in the rambling. It works for me every time.


     10:01 pm on Feb 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

    I have an assistant who beats the living hell out of me if I procrastinate. I think of it like when officers get parachute training. The trainers have a lower rank but bark orders at the officers and end their orders with "sir".


     11:44 pm on Feb 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Most of what I write are How-To articles.

    I like to write out all of the questions that the piece needs to answer, then arrange them into headings and subheadings and go from there.


     12:26 am on Feb 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

    engine, while you identified the actual writing process, there are other things that could be useful to the process.

  • Keep a journal or notebook. Use it and refer to it. I used to do this as a creative writer, and many times I could draw upon an idea or thought that wasn't 'lost forever' simply because I had that reference. During the week I jot ideas to bring up at staff meetings.

  • Having trouble getting started? Read what someone else wrote. This can lead toward that sticky road of plagiarism, don't be tempted. Sometimes I can get inspired by good writing and possibly even 'discover' points I had not considered.

  • It doesn't have to be right the first time. Most of the time I will write, re-write and then edit again. If you're lucky enough to have everything together before you start you might actually never need to edit a second time - I'm not that organized, even with notes. For me there is always room for improvement.
  • kneoteric_V

     7:25 am on Feb 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

    10 commandments... nice input!


     9:33 am on Feb 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Actually, I find #8 (go and do something else) tremendously helpful in all workflow. I will quite often put certain problems aside and then deliberately go for a half-day's walk or ski, or a long drive, and find potential solutions filtering into my thoughts while I am concentrating on doing something else but not thinking about anything in particular.


     1:10 pm on Feb 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

    I often find that I break a block by doing something else. Worryingly, I often find that making a coffee or sitting on the toilet (not at the same time) is just enough to break a blockage - no pun intended :)

    I used to go to the gym for half an hour and would often find that a complete break from pouring over the keyboard did the trick.

    Obviously, this technique has to be used sparingly and 'genuninely' - rather than as a route to avoid work completely.

    The above seems to work for 'writers' block' and 'designers' block' too.

    Good original post Engine.


     4:21 pm on Feb 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Very intriguing thread, Engine, to start with.
    On the topic - I have some tricks that work for me mostly to avoid writer's block, than to break it. What I do is that first, I never forget to make notes (of each and every, let's say, valuable idea that anytime crosses my mind). Second, practicing brainstorming and free writing sometimes have a miraculous effect on my creativity. What else? Oh, yes, don't forget the What-I-Really-Mean-Is technique - clarifying the very heart of my thought is always of help.
    By the way, thanks everyone for your comments in the thread so far - some of the ideas are of exclusive value for me.


     9:00 pm on Feb 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

    It's great that I would read this thread today.
    I work on making a weekly print ad for one of my company's clients, and we spent the last few days coming up with what we thought was a super-awesome idea, only to have it shot down and start from scratch with about an hour to crank something else out.
    This brings me to possibly the most dangerous, but (dreadfully) often the most effective break for writer's block: the deadline.
    I despise deadline's like you wouldn't believe, but I've got to admit that I often turn out better work when it's there to motivate me. Sometimes it makes me do things that I didn't think I would be able to (like pull an idea out of thin air).
    I still think that our initial idea was the best, but I'm not embarassed by our new ad in any way, and I have a deadline and and ulcer to thank for it. :)
    Keep this thread going. I'm interested to see what other kinds of ideas you guys come up with.


     2:10 am on Feb 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Great thread, engine - and everyone who's added to it.

    My usual process serves more to stave off writer's block than attacking it when it occurs -- I use kind of a combination of engine's bullet points and paragraph writing, and grandpa's "It doesn't have to be right the first time." When I get an idea for an article, I make enough notes that reading them a few weeks later will remind me what I was thinking. But if the notes get me going into a paragraph or two, I go ahead and write them. If the paragraphs get me going farther, I go with it until I reach a place where I have to think about it more or do more research. Then I pull up a page of notes/paragraphs/etc. that I might have reached that point on a few weeks or a few days earlier and see if I can wrap it up as a full article. I probably have about a dozen of these partial articles going at any one time. And if I come across something (a thought, a quote, etc.) that fits with one of the partially written pieces, I just open that page and add it to the notes so it'll be there when I come back.

    The process lets me not obsess on writing it perfectly the first time, because I know I'll be back to it a few times before it gets published. Some of the pieces, of course, end up being dead ends, but then there's always another one to work on.

    This next idea might be weird, but I'm very visually oriented and I like to put even unfinished articles on a (not live!) mock-up of what they'll look like on the web page. Seeing them that way helps energize me, for some reason.

    And, markd, let me add that one of my oft-used lines is "I'm totally confused - time to go to the bathroom!" It often works wonders - maybe because it lets me gather my thoughts for a few minutes without totally breaking off my train of thought.


     5:42 am on Feb 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Well, I have to say I speak from experience meaning I get writer's block often. But given that disclaimer here are some tips/tricks I've picked up:

    Go somewhere where you can't be bothered (coffee shop, library, etc). Hopefully there are less distractions there also.
    If at all possible work behind a locked door or where no one you know is around. Post a note on the door saying 'Writing in Progress, please do not disturb'. Remove it when you're done writing or people will start to ignore it. In a public or office setting wear headphones and pretend not to hear anything. Note that even though coffee shops and book stores can be distracting (people talking around you, etc.) I consider these to be 'white noise' distractions because you can block them out. Distractions at the home or office can't necessarily be ignored and bring up emotional stress...

    Starting first thing in the morning and avoiding encounters with things that stress you out will definitely help.

    Switch locations when things aren't going well.

    Get enough sleep. You may have to oversleep to get your brain working again ... that extra 3 hours in bed could translate to much higher productivity (spouses don't seem to understand this though ;) ). Get a meditation CD to help you take naps if necessary.

    Whenever you get the urge to indulge in a distraction, ask yourself: 'Is this distraction more important than achieving my writing goals today?' Keep in mind that if you answer yes to this too much you will _never_ finish your writing goal.

    Bullets are a good idea but different methods are necessary for very technical writing. Make bullets while reading reference material. Make sure to note the source when you do so you can reference it properly later. Index cards can work better than sheets of paper depending on what you're doing.

    Also, for very technical writing, the write anything until it starts to flow idea doesn't work (for me anyway). Instead do leg work like formatting references, figures, tables, spell checking, re-wording, expand on points that lack enough detail, etc.

    Arrange your schedule to allow you to write at those times you can focus best. You may have to stay up until 3am and then sleep late because there are so many fewer distractions at night (morning people don't seem to understand this concept ;) ).

    Reward yourself when you 'fill your quota' or achieve another writing goal. The biggest reward of course will come when you're done but it helps to have some before then if that is a long way off.

    Listen to classical music or other music specifically designed to help you focus.

    Do 10 sit ups and push ups every 30 minutes to re-invigorate yourself. Listen to your favorite up-beat songs while you do so. This will wake you up and keep you healthy. Or do something else to shake it up.

    If after trying everything you still can't write then do something else that needs to be done... but remember to get back to writing asap!

    Now, if only writing the things I have to write was as easy as writing for fun here on WebmasterWorld ;)


     9:17 am on Feb 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Beer or tea - might sound silly, but I mean it. A drink usually helps me a great deal to relax and write. Preferred kinds are stout and Earl Grey.


     11:29 am on Feb 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Beer or tea - might sound silly, but I mean it. A drink usually helps me a great deal to relax and write. Preferred kinds are stout and Earl Grey.

    I don't think the idea is silly at all. Both tea and beer have an excellent sedative effect, in other words, help nervous system relax.

    [edited by: Turbulence at 11:29 am (utc) on Feb. 8, 2007]


     11:43 pm on Feb 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

    From my perspective the best writer's block solution is getting 9 or 10 hours of sleep and attacking the problem first thing in the morning with a stiff jolt of caffeine (whatever you're preferred method of ingestion - cuppa coffee, tea, Red Bull etc.)

    If however, writer's block occurs following 8-10 hours sleep the previous night, you're out of luck...


     11:33 am on Feb 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

    From my perspective the best writer's block solution is getting 9 or 10 hours of sleep and attacking the problem first thing in the morning with a stiff jolt of caffeine (whatever you're preferred method of ingestion - cuppa coffee, tea, Red Bull etc.)

    Yep, sleep and caffeine are of extreme help to me, too.


     6:59 am on Feb 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Don't we guys do bit of meditation for refreshment and refrain from all these narcotics?


     1:43 pm on Feb 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

    Don't we guys do bit of meditation for refreshment and refrain from all these narcotics?

    Narcotics like?

    Caffeine? :)

    Anyway, meditation or even short rest in complete peacefulness has a wonderful effect on me, personally speaking.

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