We’ve all been faced with a blank page, a blank screen, an empty notebook. Our minds are either a swirling vortex of ideas with no guidance, or they’re as empty as the page you’re looking at.
It’s the dreaded Writer’s Block, the bane of every writer at least once in his or her life.
You’re stuck for a single idea to write about, and it looks like there’s no way out.
Professional writers usually don’t have writer’s block. It’s not that we’re so much better, it’s that writer’s block is a mindset. It’s an attitude. It’s something we’ve learned to avoid. And it all has to do with how you practice. Here are six secrets the pros use to avoid getting writer’s block in the first place.
1. Write every day, not when you feel inspired.
The big difference between a professional writer and not-very-serious one? The professionals sit down and write every day. It’s their job. They block out time, and they get it done. The amateur writer waits for the mood to strike. For the temperature to be just so, the house to have a certain amount of quiet, or the coffee shop to find just the right playlist.
But the pros don’t wait for inspiration. Because when inspiration strikes, you may be busy, and when you wait for the “right” time, your well may be dry. They write every single day so it becomes a habit, and their mind doesn’t have time to block up.
2. Carry a notebook, and flesh out ideas.
There will be times that an idea hits you, and you need to write it down. If you wait until your scheduled writing time to work on it, it may be gone by then. Work, life, sleep will all distract you and cause your idea to leave, and no amount of tapping your head, scrunching your face, or jumping up and down will make it come back. On the flip side, if you ever have an idea stuck in your head that won’t go away, writing it down will get it out of your head, and give you room to think of something else.
Finally, keep your notebook or some note cards by your bedside table. If an idea pops into your head before you drift off, write it down. I can guarantee you won’t remember it the next morning.
3. Write in your head.
A lot of times I’ll work on a newspaper column or blog post in my head for a few days before I sit down and actually write it. Whenever I’m driving, waiting for someone, or standing in line, I’ll flesh out ideas in my head, and decide on the verbiage to use and main points I want to discuss. Then, when it’s time to work on that particular piece — because professional writers schedule their projects too, not just their writing time — it’s just a matter of reconstructing what’s in my head.
4. Don’t stop at a natural stopping point.
Ernest Hemingway often said stop writing for the day when there is still more to say. That way, when you return to it the next day, you still have things to talk about to get you back into the flow of the work. Don’t stop at the end of a chapter, scene, or section. Get rolling on the next one, or quit before you reach the end of the current one. Then, when you come back to your writing the next day — always the next day — read what you wrote, get into story mode again, and continue on.
5. Have something else to work on.
You can’t be totally blocked if you have several things to write. Professional writers usually have more than one project they’re working on. So if you’re stuck on one thing, work on something else. When you’re done with that, go back to the first project and start on it again. Another idea is to send an email to someone describing what you’re supposed to be writing about. That will get your brain engaged on that topic, and you’ll get unstuck.
What you’ll find is that the writer’s block is not so much a block as a collection of little stones that are damming up your thought stream. Writing something else or writing about your project will jar loose that one little stone holding everything else in place, the dam will collapse, and the thoughts will flow again.
6. Just do the damn work.
You don’t wait for inspiration to go to work, so don’t wait to be inspired to write. Just sit down and start writing. If you push it hard enough, and start free writing, the words will soon flow. Don’t worry about whether it’s any good, just write. Go back and fix what sucked later, for now, you want to get the words down on paper. Eventually everything will return to normal, and you’ll be back in the groove.
This is how the pros do it, because unlike most other jobs, they don’t get paid for just showing up, and they don’t get paid for trying. They get paid for the work they produce. That means they can’t afford to be blocked, and they’ll grind it out until it gets done. It’s that repeated grinding that eventually wears down any blocks, and eventually you’ll be hard pressed to remember the last time you were blocked.
For professional writers, writer’s block is a not a luxury they can afford. They work hard, train their brains, and grind it out until they wear it down. Don’t wait for inspiration, just do the work. Write down ideas, flesh them out in your head, and leave yourself a starting point for the next day.
If you can get into the habit of doing these things, you’ll find that you never suffer from writer’s block.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing. His third book, The Owned Media Doctrine, will be available this summer.