9 Ways to Break Writer’s Block


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

9 Ways to Break Writer’s Block

“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.”

— John Rogers

You know the dismal experience.

The blank screen . . .

What to write . . .

You run through ideas, all of which seem awful. Finally, you type something—a sentence: 28 words and 173 characters. You read what you’ve written.

Somehow you’ve managed to write the 28 dumbest words in the English language. You click delete 173 times.

The blank screen . . .

This state can last for hours. You can end up writing 1,000 words, and not a single one remains.

Writer’s block strikes everyone from time to time.

What causes writer’s block?

This may sound crass, but writer’s block happens because you are using your brain wrong.

Let me explain. . . .

When you write a first draft, you need to engage your creative thinking. You want lots of ideas pouring rapidly onto the page. You seek novelty and fun. The creative mind is the mind at play, like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.

If you instead engage your critical thinking, you won’t get much done. First of all, critical thinking doesn’t create. It judges. It tends to cobble together old ideas, and then immediately tears them apart.

Imagine Calvin’s critical father sitting in his tree fort beside the stuffed-animal Hobbes, trying to run a meeting of the GROSS club. He won’t get far, and everyone will be annoyed.

And if you really want torment, put both Calvin and his dad in the tree fort, trying to run the meeting together. Every new idea will be immediately quashed, and you’ll have a war in your own head. That’s creative thinking and critical thinking working simultaneously—using your brain wrong.

That, my friend, is writer’s block.

How can I break through writer’s block?

When you draft, shut off your critical thinking and turn on your creative thinking. Write as much as you can as fast as you can. Don’t worry about individual sentences or words or punctuation marks. Just get ideas down—all of them. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Banish the critical father from the tree fort and write like Calvin at play.

Once you have your draft complete, then you can send the creative mind to bed and wake up the critical parent to sort through the wonderful mess you’ve made. Some parts will be fantastic. Others will be appalling. That’s fine. That’s what first drafts are like, and that’s what revision is for.

How can I awaken creative thinking?

Here are 9 ways to use your brain correctly when drafting:

  1. Freewrite. Write as much as possible as quickly as possible without judging. Keep going, even if you write “What I’m really trying to say is . . .” or “I’m not sure what to write next, so I’ll just keep going until I think of something.” Open that spigot and let the words pour out. The ideas will follow.
  2. Brainstorm. Jot down ideas one after another, joining them together in a cluster, which promotes non-linear thinking. Put down even silly ideas. Keep going until you have dozens of things to write about. Then start your draft.
  3. Read. Plunge back into your source material to remember all of the ideas that got you writing to begin with. A profusion of ideas is what you’re after, so pour it on.
  4. Play. Do something fun and imaginative, such as messing around with Legos. Play will bore your critical mind to sleep and wake up your imaginative mind. As you play, start speaking your ideas out loud.
  5. Explain your ideas to a friend. Have a conversation with someone you enjoy. Talk a lot about your ideas and everything else. Those are the words you need to capture on the page.
  6. Explain your ideas to a pet. Earnestly try to get your tabby to understand your point. Help that budgie grasp your revolutionary idea. Pets won’t judge your prose, just your enthusiasm, so be enthusiastic!
  7. Get physical. Take a walk, take a swim, shoot some hoops. Get your body moving and let the motion untangle your brain. Often you can solve a problem subconsciously while your body is on the move.
  8. Change your scene. Write in a different spot. Sometimes physically moving yourself helps you move your mind as well. Walk through doorways, causing your brain to reset to a new space. Walk through a hundred doorways if you must. Then write.
  9. Drink coffee. Hello, darkness, my old friend. A little caffeine can get you buzzing like Calvin.

Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

It’s good to have a first draft. Sure, it’s messy, but it gives you the clay you need to sculpt and shape into something pristine. You don’t have to start with a perfectly formed vase, but just the stuff that you can mold into a perfect vase.

The critical parent will not go near the mud, but that’s where creative Calvin thrives.


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