How to Overcome Writer’s Block
As a writer, I have encountered writer’s block on many occasions. I would go down to start writing, and I wouldn’t be able to start — my mind was empty. Most people attribute writer’s block to being caused by a lack of ideas, but I would argue that the ideas are in your mind, but you just haven’t found them yet. When you are looking at a blank page, you may start to become stressed, and ask yourself why you are not making any progress. But this state of mind is not appropriate for any writer. And when you start thinking this way, your mind will start to ask why you have wasted so much time doing so, and the vicious cycle will continue. Instead, we must learn to face writer’s block head-on, and focus solely on generating ideas.
Writer’s block is a state where you do not have the inspiration necessary to produce the quality of work you are used to. When you are in a period of writer’s block, you may feel as if you have no ideas, or that all of your ideas are not good enough. A healthy level of scrutiny around your ideas is always a good idea — it helps us filter through bad ideas and get straight to the good ones — but when people have writer’s block, this idea gets taken to a whole new level. I can recommend three main strategies, based on my experience, which will help you overcome writer’s block: take notes; start with something and; develop a good creative routine.
When I first started experiencing writers block, I thought to myself in-the-moment that I didn’t have enough good ideas. Or perhaps I was not cut out to be a writer. I would sit in front of my computer and a blank page, questioning my ability to produce quality content. And when I did have an idea, I would find that I didn’t have enough thoughts on that topic to go into the level of depth I enjoy. Writer’s block is not caused by a lack of good ideas, but our inability to generate good ideas on the spot.
Most writers will do no planning in advance and will opt to start writing as soon as they open up their writing tool. This is the wrong approach to take. Why? Most of our great ideas are synthesized away from our computer. We may be taking a walk and a great idea will come to us. Or we will be talking with someone else and they recommend that we check out a good article that discusses one of our interests.
Instead, you should take notes as much as possible, anywhere you are. If you are talking with a friend, have a notebook ready in case the discussion gravitates toward a topic you are interested in. If you are going to visit family, take a notebook and write down your experience and your thoughts. If you are trying something new at work, write down your initial thoughts and consider how you can improve your ability to learn the new thing you are doing. Rather than leaving your writing until the last minute — when you have opened up your writing tool — you should take notes wherever you go. Inspiration happens randomly, and having a notebook at the ready ensures that when it strikes, you will be able to take note.
The best writers do not have great ideas by looking at a blank page. Instead, they go out and experience the world. Great books and articles are written by people who have experienced life, and who spend a lot of their time away from their writing tool. These people will walk away from their computer and go find inspiration during the day, then come back later with a few ideas that they have observed. If you write down an idea, you know you can always refer back to it. You will have a record of exactly what you were thinking at the time you noted down that idea. And you can even expound on that idea while you are doing something like waiting for a coffee in a coffeeshop or commuting to work.
Take as many notes as possible about yourself, your experiences, and the world. Over time, you will build a repository of many ideas. When you go to start writing, you will have a whole list of things which you could write about.
Start With Something
Looking at a blank page is intimidating. There is nothing in front of you. A lot of writers get hung up on the fact that their page is blank and start to worry about their inability to make progress. Therefore, it can be helpful to start with something in front of you.
Each evening, I curate some useful articles that I have read and save them in a specific folder. I also often highlight different ideas I have seen and save them for later. When it comes time to write, I have all of my notes on my screen, as well as my blank page. So instead of looking at just a white page, I can see all of the quotes, articles, and notes that I have saved for my writing session. There is a sea of ideas next to my page, which means if I lack inspiration, I have something to look at.
Another useful strategy can be to write a paragraph about the topic as quickly as possible, and continue to work as the ideas flow. Most great ideas — unfortunately — get filtered out because we don’t spend enough time thinking about them. We write a sentence and think “this isn’t a good idea; I don’t have enough to finish this article”. Instead, if you write a paragraph, you know that you at least have some thoughts on the topic. And now the introduction is over, you can focus on the main body of your work. Your best ideas will come half-way through an article, and starting with something, no matter how small, can help boost your motivation and makes it easy for you to get to the most interesting part of your writing.
The more time you spend focusing on being creative, the more creative you will become. In order to reach your peak state of creativity, you should try to develop a schedule around your creative work. I like to spend the first few hours in the morning writing, and I leave the monotonous tasks for the afternoon. Indeed, taking notes and reading as much as possible will help boost your creativity, but having a routine around your creative work will help you improve your long-term creative prospects.
When you are writing, it is important to build a good creative routine. Whether you are writing a book, an article, an essay, a letter, or whatever else. You need to have a routine around your work. Having a creative routine makes it easy for you to be more creative because over time your mind will adjust to your routine, and it will become automatic. If you only write for the first three hours in the morning, over time your mind will adjust to your only writing during that time. It will naturally start to prepare for your writing time because it knows when to expect it. And having a creative routine also takes out the trouble of scheduling time to be creative and starting with a new environment each day — everything is already set up so we can get straight to work when we are ready.
My creative routine looks like the following:
Go to bed early. I know some people are night owls, but I find I am more creative in the mornings. Thus, I ensure that I get a good night of sleep which means that when I wake up, I will feel refreshed and ready to start writing. If I don’t get a good sleep, I will not be able to give all of my attention to my writing.
Prepare to write in the morning. Before I start writing, I like to read over a few ideas and perhaps experiment with writing a paragraph or two about a few of my ideas. When I don’t have one specific idea I want to explore, writing a paragraph about a few other ideas helps warm me up and allows me to filter the best from the worst ideas.
Read as much as possible. I like to read for a few hours in the evening, and I end my day by reading a book for 45 minutes. Every time I find a good article I will bookmark it in a specific folder, and come back to it in my evenings. I will take notes on anything that I find interesting, and save it for later if I think I should read it again in the future.
Writer’s block is a natural part of being a writer. But, contrary to what people may think, it is not a lack of ideas that causes writer’s block, but rather our processes. We claim that we have no ideas yet we are surrounded by them. In our conversations, people share with us great ideas; in books, there are thousands of words of ideas. It is all a matter of developing a sustainable process that helps us gather those ideas effectively so that when we start writing, they are ready for us. And when you start writing, more ideas will flow your way.
The worst mistake writers make is to do all of their ideation at their computer. Looking at a blank screen is a bad source of inspiration. Instead, prepare ideas upfront so that you have something you can look at. Take a walk around the block if you run out of ideas and think about nature. Let your subconscious take over for a moment. As you continue to develop a good routine to combat writer’s block, it will become a less prominent problem. Of course, suffering from a lack of inspiration is almost inevitable in knowledge work, but good routines and processes can help us minimize this problem.