As a writer, one of the biggest obstacles standing in your way is yourself. For some writers it’s easy to make a start, for others, it’s difficult to stop. But both the professional and amateur-writer alike has likely battled the great beast blocking our path – Miss Writer’s Block.
Whether you’re a journalist writing another article you’re disenchanted with, an author working on their first manuscript or a student trying to push through their dissertation, the content writers at DMT are well-versed experts in blocking out writer’s block. So read on, try our tips, then get back on it!
- Take a break and find a *good* distraction (that doesn’t mean social media).
I promise you there is nothing on your Facebook feed that will give you writing inspiration. Even if you’re writing an article about social media (a regular occurrence when you work in digital marketing, of course), you’ve either done enough research by now or should take some dedicated time away to research more. Don’t be tempted by a quick Twitter catch up that leads to an hour-long content binge where you find yourself watching a woman in L.A. ranking the Land Before Time movies on Youtube (*not* based on true events, I promise).
Instead, brew a coffee, have a tea, go and sit in your nearest green space for fifteen minutes. Read a chapter of a book that has nothing to do with what you’re writing about. But stay the hell away from Auntie Brenda’s “hot takes” on the government or your ex-colleague moaning about bin day. It brings more harm than good.
- Find something else creative to do.
Even if you’ve been writing away in some magical otherworldly realm for days, it can’t hurt to exercise your creative muscles a little bit more. Do some colouring in, or grab a notebook and doodle like when you’d pretend to be listening at school. If you have kids around the house (or are just an ageless manchild like me) whack out the Lego and do some building. Just find something that doesn’t take you too far away from your workspace, but gives you a tiny chunk of respite and may soothe your writer’s block just a little.
- Go for a walk, or run, or stretch, or do yoga.
Or whatever exercise suits you best. While the last tip said it doesn’t hurt to exercise your creative muscles, you can definitely overwork yourself into mental exhaustion while needing to give your body a physical challenge. Go out and stretch your muscles, breathe some air, see some sights.
For me, running on a treadmill just doesn’t cut it. I can’t do laps, either – I need to be visually stimulated by different streets, paths, and buildings. It’s even better when I have no idea where I’m going (as long as I’m safe and know how to get home, of course). By the time I’m back, I’ve either A. took my mind off of writing for long enough to be ready to return, or B. thought up a couple of new ideas on the way.
If you’re just going for a walk, make sure you’ve got a voice recorder or notes app on your phone at the ready- you’d be surprised how quickly thoughts will come to you when you’ve got a bit of fresh oxygen going into your noggin.
- Take a shower.
This tip was submitted by our lovely Head of Content, Aimee, and while at first, I couldn’t get my head around what smelling fresh has to do with overcoming writer’s block, it eventually hit me: where do I get my best, most organic, zaniest ideas? Of course, in the shower!
Not only is this a great moment to give yourself some me-time, try and get some perspective while you’re under the hot water, and let your mind wander just a little bit. Maybe you’ll write yourself out of the hole you’re in. And if you don’t, at least you’re returning to your workspace clean and exfoliated.
- Find a piece of writing you look up to, and dissect it.
Depending on the task you’re working on, try and find a piece of work that you value or see as the pinnacle of that specific form. Maybe you’re writing a children’s book and think there’s nothing more amazing than a good Roald Dahl, or you have a fave journalist whose articles kick ass. Look at their best work, break it down into bits, and see how they took on the part you’ve got yourself stuck on. Take a bit of inspiration from them, and you might even notice that your very favourite writers have stumbled a little on their way to a great story.
As an aspiring screenwriter, I learned during my Master’s degree that one of the greatest movies that applies a simple but effective narrative structure is Finding Nemo. Whenever I get stuck writing fiction, whether it’s a hard-hitting social commentary, a murder mystery or a romantic comedy, I look at what happens narratively in the Disney Pixar film and find ways in which I could apply a similar technique in my story. You’d be really surprised at how many stories follow the same or similar structures, even when the genre or intended audience is completely different.
- Write something completely different and completely stupid.
If you can keep on writing without feeling burdened by the subject matter, then that’s part of the problem fixed. Try some freewriting exercises- open a notepad and start jotting down the first things that come to mind. Write a letter to your future self or your dream grocery list for an imaginary dinner party.
Avoid doing this on a computer or laptop because part of the problem nowadays is that often the faster you type, the faster you write down the first thing that comes to mind instead of allowing your brain to mull it over as you scribble. When you return to writing your project, consider writing the next part down on paper to see if it changes anything.
- Do NOT wait for inspiration to grab you, or procrastinate or make excuses.
This is one we all know and yet all ignore. You are not going to move forward with your work if you give yourself a break and resort to watching Netflix, or start cleaning the house or decide to grab a drink with a friend and return to writing when you’re back.
You might think that “taking a bit of time away” will help, but not when your mind is off the task the entire time and you’re filling it with other things. You’ll return feeling the exact way you did before, not the imaginary enlightened future version of you that you see in your head when times like this strike. I should know, as I’ve had the last thirty thousand words of my novel put on hold for two months now.
- Stop looking at the time.
I don’t care what it takes. Throw your alarm clock in the bin. Drown your iPhone. Get a little bit of masking tape and cover up the top right side of your Macbook. If it stops you watching the clock then it’s going to help you.
When all you see is the time, all you’re thinking about is “oh god I’ve written nothing in fifty minutes… fifty-one minutes… a whole hour!” It’s so easy to keep staring at the things in front of you, and having the time right there is the easiest thing for your eyes to fall to, especially when you’re an avid clock watcher like me. But like it or not, time will keep passing because that’s exactly what time does.
Cover up the clock. It’s not your friend. Time is a construct.
- Get a social media blocker extension to stop any further distractions.
2018 me never believed in the idea of a social media blocker. I was so certain I’d turn it on and thirty seconds later find myself distracted by my phone. How wrong I was.
After starting my master’s degree and desperately needing to do work in a short space of allotted time, I installed BlockSite on my browser and I’ve never looked back (not a sponsored post, by the way, there are plenty of other great extensions that do the same or similar!). You can set a list of sites you want to avoid, a particular amount of time you want to work for and allow yourself a break in the middle. It tends to work so well, in fact, that I often work through the breaks without noticing- you end up being on that much of a roll.
- Ask yourself: “why can’t I go forward with my writing?” – what’s stopping you?
Be candid with yourself and the situation. Usually, it’s not just about being stuck or running out of steam. Maybe you’re completely disenchanted with the work you’re (supposed to be) doing. Maybe you really aren’t enjoying what you’re writing. If it’s something you’ve got to do, like a work project or something with a deadline, find ways that will maybe reacquaint you with the work, or take a few backsteps and pick up from where you were happy and enjoying the piece. If you continue to write without any care or investment in it, you’ll end up with something you’re really not proud of, which can be pretty hard for a writer.
- Take the story down a different path.
Similar to taking a few backsteps, if you’re writing fiction or telling a story, maybe it’s time to find a fork in the road where you were feeling good about the work and take it down a completely different path. This can be an absolutely ridiculous alternative/parallel storyline, and it doesn’t have to be something you take seriously or would seriously consider publishing. It will either make you feel better about your existing work or make you reconsider some of the choices you made and allow you to go back and take them down a (more serious) path later.
If you’re not writing a story, then you should still identify where you feel you lost interest in your writing, and maybe take that down a different path for a while – even essays and articles follow a narrative of sorts.
- Mix up your fonts depending on what you’re writing.
A fantastic idea suggested by another of our content writers was to change up your fonts- again, not for publication, but for your own benefit as you write. Fonts really do change the way you look at a piece of writing – just ask anyone who’s ever read something in Comic Sans if they’ve taken it seriously.
It honestly might change the game if you’re suddenly writing in your favourite font, or perhaps it’ll make you feel like a serious big-time writer if you change everything to the typewriter font, Courier New.
But just remember- there’s nothing fun about Times New Roman.
- Forget you’re writing to an audience, just for the first draft.
Listen up, you little idiot. No one but you is reading this right now. Who cares if you make a spelling mistake? What is anyone gonna do about that major contradiction you made in the last paragraph? Absolutely nowt.
It took me record time to write those above sentences because it was completely off the top of my head. It was a relief to get something like that out on paper quickly and efficiently. Just remember that getting it down on paper is what’s important for now. There’s no one breathing down your neck, and no one’s gonna tell you off for making errs in that first draft. You can tailor everything to a specific audience once you start the redrafting process.
- Break it down.
If after all of these suggestions you’re still struggling with writer’s block (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!) then it’s time to break down everything into the smallest of steps. Just like a numbered list, everything’s easier when it’s in small bite-size chunks. Decide what the next thing you need to say is, and split hairs until you’re writing in small steps. It’s all about getting it on paper. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And it doesn’t have to be concise either- you can cut it down later.
- Stay calm, don’t rush, it’s not the end of the world.
Even now, as I cautiously check to see how much time I’ve spent writing this blog post and worry that everyone I work with thinks I’ve procrastinated through the last few hours, I remember that as long as I finish this eventually, and I’ve written something I feel good about, it doesn’t matter that the clock is ticking. Don’t have an existential crisis over some letters on a document, or rather even a lack of letters on a document. You will finish, but the only way to finish is to keep going.
DMT is a digital marketing team based in the heart of Manchester. If you’re interested in seeing how we can help your business succeed online, get in touch, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.