4 Actionable Ways to Overcome Writer's Block
Have you ever sat down to write and then . . . just sat there, not getting anything down? Whether you are trying to write a book, blog post or something entirely different, writer’s block is a real thing that will not only bring your progress to a grinding halt but will piss you off in the process.
So, how can you ensure that your words flow seamlessly from your mind, through your fingertips and onto the screen, with no breaks? How can you cure writer's block once and for all? Here are four actionable tips that have helped me personally overcome writer’s block and write over 250,000 words in the past year.
1. Practice 'the kindergarten trick.'
Remember when you were a little kid and your teacher had you do simple “fill in the blank” sentences for homework? Something like:
My favorite color is ________.
My mom’s name is ______.
When I grow up, I want to be a _________ because __________.
We never struggled with writer’s block to answer those questions, right? The reason is that the topic was already defined, and all we needed to do was insert an answer!
That’s why the easiest way to overcome writer’s block is to make your work “fill in the blanks.” How? Through detailed outlining. And the more detail you put into your outline, the easier it will be to finally write.
In fact, before writing this post today, I spent five minutes outlining each point. When it came time to write, all I needed to do was “fill in the blanks” for each section, explaining the point in more detail. This entire post took less than 30 minutes to write because I didn't have to think too hard. I didn't have to make decisions. I didn't spent 30 minutes thinking, "Hmm . . . what should I write about today?"
As Omar Zenhom said during a recent episode of The $100 MBA when I guest-lectured (Zenhom is the cofounder): "Half the work is decision-making, so if you do the decision-making beforehand, it makes it a whole lot easier to do the work.”
So, don’t make your brain work too hard. When you show up to write, have your topic outlined, and simply fill in the blank like a kindergartner does.
2. Write like a professional athlete.
Have you ever watched a professional golfer get ready to drive the golf ball? Or a professional basketball player prepare to shoot a free throw? Or a baseball pitcher get ready to throw another speedball?
When these professional athletes prepare to do a task they’ve done a million times before, they almost always do the exact same routine. Maybe that means taking three steps to the right. Maybe it’s dribbling the ball three times. Maybe it’s spinning the ball in their hands. Whatever the routine, all the great ones have one.
Why? Because routines help get the mind into the right “success mentality.” The same is true for the writer. So, what is your “writing routine"?
When I recently wrote The Book on Rental Property Investing, my routine was simple:
- Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Do five minutes of stretching.
- Sit on the exact same spot on my couch I always do.
- Open up my laptop.
- Review my outline (see tip 1 above!).
- Start writing.
Every day for 100 days, this is what I did, and I never struggled with writer’s block. Through my writing routine, I was able to get myself “into the zone” immediately, limiting any distractions that would lead to writer’s block.
Author Cal Newton calls this time "deep work" and it's in that zone when the best, most productive writing gets done. I believe that the best way to get into the deep work zone is through routines. So what is your writing routine? If you don’t have one, I would suggest:
- Write in the same location each day.
- Write at the same time each day.
- Listen to the same song before you write each day.
- Use the same computer program to write each day.
- And, finally: Write each day. Nothing kills a routine faster than taking days off.
3. Get a little creepy with your friends.
Okay, this next tip is a little “off the wall," but I truly believe it can be one of the best ways to overcome the difficulty in knowing what to write.
First, decide whom you are writing for. No -- not the writer's personality type or gender or age. Pick a specific person, the ideal person who is going to love your post. Look over your Facebook friends list and pick one particular individual. Maybe it's your mom. Maybe it's your brother. Maybe it's that guy from high school who had the bad body odor. Then, (and this is where it gets weird), print out his or her photo on 8.5” x 11-inch paper. Place that photo next to you while you write.
Now, all you need to do is write to that person -- specifically. How will you explain your topic to him or her? How will you tell your story? Rather than writing to some “unknown reader,” you are now writing specifically to one person.
It’s amazing how well this little trick will work. (For example, I’m writing to "Chris." Hope this helps you, buddy!)
4. Write until it gets good.
A lot of “writer’s block” is actually not a block at all, but self-criticism. You start to write and then you read back what you just wrote and you are disgusted with yourself. "How could I have written such a flaming piece of garbage?"
Then you stop. Or try to edit. Then you sit there, too paralyzed to move forward because doubt about your skills has crept in. And you are stuck.
When I write, I simply write. I don’t edit. I don’t look back. I don’t try to second-guess every sentence. If I feel stuck, I simply write more. And more. And more. After I finish, I can go back and edit, but I’m not going to let self-criticism slow me down. The best way out is through, so keep writing and it’ll turn from bad to good in no time.
If you feel stuck in your writing, don’t panic. Just simply review the four steps outlined above and get to work. Once you're "in the zone," take a look at the photo of the person you are writing to and have a conversation. Finally, stop criticizing yourself and just write -- every single day.