You can call it writer’s block if you like, but we writers often toss that term around so nonchalantly that I think it’s lost its meaning. What I mean when I say when I have writer’s block is when I need to write a post (e.g. a client is paying for a post to be written) and I’m at a loss for ideas or I’m part way through a post (or book chapter) and I run out of gas. The words stop flowing, ideas stop making sense, the whole piece is turning into a rambling missive that, well, will need "help" to make right. When this happens I have a few tricks up my sleeve for getting things back on track—before I give up for a while and try again.
Read something unrelated
Nothing inspires me more than (other people’s) good writing. When I’m stuck in the middle of a post, having trouble getting started, or feel fresh out of ideas, I often fire up my RSS reader, pick up a book, or just dip into the treasure trove of articles I’ve stashed away for inspiration (or reference) and read for a bit. Reading helps prime the word pump so things will flow or just inspire me in general. While I was writing my Masters thesis I kept a copy of Steven King’s Different Seasons on my desk and I would open it to a random page an read for a bit to clear my head. Sometimes just putting other words into my head is all I need to start or finish a post.
If I have a few other posts or chapters in the works, sometimes I’ll just change gears to work on one of those for a while. Different topic, different audience, just plain different. Forcing myself into a different mindset often pushes my brain to get into writing mode and help the other thing that needs writing come to life.
Have a coffee (walk away)
Make some (more) coffee, take a walk, stand on the porch, start some laundry, just move away from the piece you’re working on and do something entirely different. Let your brain just get into a completely different space and maybe that will get the words to come together.
Push on through
This is my least favorite method, the soldier on, just do it, push through the wall approach. Just keep writing until you’re past the blockage and then go back and edit the dreck that just appeared on the screen. Yeah, I said it—dreck. When I push through the stuff I get down on paper isn’t usually that great and needs serious editing. Oh there might be some good ideas in there somewhere, but it’s going to take a solid edit to come out. What came after the wall came down is often not half bad, so there is that bonus.
Dip into the well
When I’m working for a client who needs a certain number of posts per week, I jot down post ideas somewhere (as well as all the things I find that I stash in Instapaper or Evernote) so I have a well to draw from when new ideas aren’t bubbling up. Just remember if you don’t replenish the well from time to time, you might visit the well one day only to discover that the well is dry (no post ideas left to use).
Ask a question (on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn)
When you have that great idea, but just need more meat to make it come alive, asking a question about the topic on your favorite social network (or cross post to several at once) can give you some great ideas and quotable quotes from friends (ask permission to quote them) to use in the post. Sometimes just asking a question can confirm your gut feeling on the tack you’re taking or give you some more depth or new approach you hadn’t thought of before.
This takes discipline, but it works. When I’m really good and stuck, I set my alarm for 30 minutes, lie down, and focus on the question/problem at hand. Usually just as I’m falling asleep the solution presents itself and when I wake up in a few minutes the idea is there to proceed with. The risk, of course, is that a 30 minute nap can turn into a couple hour nap, so you need to really be strong about getting up at the end of the 30 minute nap.
Sometimes I just doodle on paper to get a different part of my brain into the act. Not mind mapping (though I use mind maps for outlines), just doodling and drawing. Something creative and different than the act of writing that allows my brain to relax and wander (into the solution I hope).
Take a shower (or bath)
Some of my best ideas have come in the shower. So if you’re stuck…wash off that writers block with a nice, hot shower! Showers, like naps or doodling or reading, help you take direct focus away from writing and more into just mental meandering. Mental meandering is a relaxed place for your brain that helps break down or go around the block that is keeping the words from getting out.
Listen to Music
I am almost always listening to music while I’m writing (ironic exception is this post which I’m writing in silence). Usually it’s some classic jazz that’s going on the background, but I also keep several different playlists from bluegrass to ambient to rock on hand if those are what fit the bill. Beyond my own (eclectic) music collection, I use Songza to set the right tone and mood for writing.
Bonus 1: Do a warm up post
When I have a big writing job to get into, often I start with a soft and easy "warm up post" to get my mind in the right space for writing. Sometimes these posts remain unfinished and unpublished, but other times they are just some riffs on a topic that I want to get out. Few hundred words and the engine is warmed up and ready. Just like atheletes and singers warm up before the main event, writers can do that too.
Bonus 2: Change location
Some of my best stuff hasn’t been written at my desk. It’s been written at the kitchen table, in bed, in a coffee shop, on the couch, pretty much anywhere that’s not my desk. If you are feeling an itch to move and a feeling that if you do move you’ll be in a better place for writing—move! This is one of the reasons I love writing on my iPad (this post was written on my iPad, in bed, using Editorial and my Logitech keyboard); I can quickly and easily just move to a different spot and bang on the keys. No cords, don’t need an outlet, I don’t even need a lot of space. I can work where (and when) I need to without hassles.
We all get stuck sometimes
Any writer will tell you, we all get stuck sometimes and sometimes regardless of the tricks we try, the words won’t come and you have to pack it in for a while. Some days I can write for hours and hours without a break. Other days I can barely get a single (acceptable) sentance out in an hour. That’s just the nature of the job, but maybe some of these tips will help you break through and help get the words out.