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Getting Over Writer’s Block

These five tips courtesy of our director of editorial content, Tim Morral.

Writer’s block is real. Even though we can’t see it obstructing the creative channels in our brains, it’s just as real as you or I. And I know it’s real because I’m having it right now, sitting here trying to pick the best way to start this blog post. I could go with a snappy one-liner about how we, as writers, can overcome our cognitive black holes. Maybe I should choose an extended metaphor about how writing is a David and Goliath tale where we only have to find our adversary’s weakness. Or perhaps I should just stick with what I know best, and open with an impressive quote or surprising statistic.

Writer’s block, this crippling inability to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), is an ordeal that every writer goes through. Why? Because we struggle with options.

Comedian Aziz Ansari pinpoints the phenomenon when he writes, “[people are] turning their early 20s into a relentless hunt for more romantic options… and you have a recipe for romance gone haywire.” While Ansari is referencing love in a digital age, the same debilitating feelings pervade our ability to sit down and write. Like 21st centuries lovers, we lust after the perfect sentence, the perfect word, the perfect story to engage our readers. Then, we get lost among all of the options.

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There are a lot of words in this world, and sifting through them all can be enervating. This is when writer’s block takes hold. However, the boundless options that writing offers is an exciting, albeit exhausting chance. When we find that right word or phrase, we’ve bested the beast; we’ve proven that language is an opportunity, not a burden. More importantly, we’ve found a way to make writing benefit our clients.

No matter how inspired I may feel, though, at some point writer’s block will creep back in to my creative psyche. The next time that happens to you, try these five tips for getting over writer’s block:

  1. Write Junk: Just as any journey begins with a single step, all writing starts with a word. Our. Many. Today. Any word will do – just start writing. While this type of nonsensical writing might seem counterintuitive, chances are good that within the junk you’ll uncover an idea or angle worth pursuing. Writing digitally gives us the possibility to revise with ease, but we can’t revise if there’s nothing on the page.
  1. Outline: Outlines don’t work for everybody, but they can be useful when structuring a writing assignment. The best part about an outline is that it’s malleable to an assignment’s specific needs. Outlines can be detailed or simple, or written forward or in reverse. Regardless of their style, an outline’s framework can guide you toward the right words when you’re stuck.
  1. Research: Writer’s block can be a telltale sign that you haven’t done your research. It’s like showing up to the beach without a towel or sunscreen – unequipped with the necessary tools, the beach is nothing more than a hot litter box and an inevitable sunburn. As writers, one of our greatest tools is our knowledge of a given topic. When having writer’s block, doing more research is a great way to strengthen this tool and to find a hook or key points.
  1. Google Similar Articles: Reading what others have to say about a topic can be a helpful source of inspiration. However, be careful that your browsing stays at inspiration. The problem with Google is that, when reading someone else’s work, it’s deceivingly easy to repeat or repackage writing. Browsing needs to remain a catalyst for original content.
  1. Take a Break: Sometimes stepping away from an assignment is the best way to clear writer’s block. Go for a walk or grab a coffee. Call your mom. Do something simple that distracts your mind so that you can come back to the piece with a fresh perspective and renewed excitement.

There’s no shame in going back to the drawing board. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, revising and taking a little more time to get things right. There is a problem with creating content that has holes because you didn’t know where to start. This is especially true when writing for clients, whose PR dollars and business leads can, in part, depend on thoughtful content with targeted messaging.

While getting over writer’s block is easier said than done, hopefully these five tips can help you get started. Do you have any tips of your own?