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Strategies for Dealing with Writer’s Block

Updated on April 10, 2017
SMD2012 profile image

Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

These strategies for dealing with writer's block are easy to implement and will make you feel like you're making steady progress even when you're not writing.

Help! How do I move past this writer's block?

Some writing coaches suggest that if you don’t feel like writing, you need to park yourself at the computer and just write. They encourage you to write whatever comes to mind. "Don’t judge your work. Ignore your inner critic. Write about anything."

But sometimes, no matter how determined you are to stare down your writer’s block and push on through, you just can’t do it.

Hello? Creativity? Where are you?

Writer's block can feel as scary as staring down a deep, dark, empty well. Learn how to turn on the creative taps when your well runs dry.
Writer's block can feel as scary as staring down a deep, dark, empty well. Learn how to turn on the creative taps when your well runs dry.

What is short-term writer's block? Short-term writer’s block can be described as any short period of time, such as an 8-hour work day, where you just don’t feel at your best and writing is the last thing you want to do.

Short-term writer’s block can be caused by:

  • Hearing some mildly upsetting news about a friend or family member that distracts you from writing
  • Having an argument with someone close to you
  • Coming down with a cold or bug that zaps your energy
  • Completing a long list of writing projects and then feeling like you have nothing new to say
  • A lack of exercise
  • An unexpected change in your daily routine (i.e.; home renovations, house guests, medical appointments)
  • Waiting for something: a test result, a special delivery, an urgent phone call -- sometimes waiting for news, whether good or bad, can make it hard to focus on creative projects. Even while you're attempting to write, a part of your mind feels like it's in limbo, waiting for a knock at the door, a phone call or an e-mail

Any one of us can be challenged by minor life events that distract us from our work. Short-term writer's block isn't about whether or not you're a competent, creative writer (you are!), it's about external events that you can't control edging in on your work space.

The good news is that you can still have a productive day as a writer, even when you feel like you can't think of a single thing to say!

Writing about writer's block is better than not writing at all.

— Charles Bukowski, The Last Night of the Earth Poems
Don't push yourself too hard when you are coping with writer's block.
Don't push yourself too hard when you are coping with writer's block.

Are you ready to get busy? Here are six projects you can work on to keep you busy while you let your distracted writer’s mind take a day off. You may decide to tackle just one project. Or you may feel like you can handle more than one. It’s up to you. The only rule is that whatever project you work on, it must be related to your writing practice. (Polishing the silverware doesn’t count.)

1. Get organized. Clean up your desk. Dust your bookcase. Wipe down your keyboard. Empty the trash. Water your plants. Vacuum under your desk. Organize your mail. There are so many little tasks you can do that will perk up your writing space and refresh your creativity.

Mindless tasks that don’t require much mental effort free your brain to run wild and sort out personal issues that are holding you back. When you're ready to write again, there’s nothing quite like sitting down to a clean and tidy desk.

2. Sort your computer files. Do you have a file folder on your computer containing multiple documents that are just random bits of information you thought would make a great article? Pull up that file folder and review each document. Cut and paste all of the titles, introductory sentences, and notes onto one single document and save it as a list of writing prompts. It’s much easier to browse a list of creative ideas on a single page than to look at a list of random files scattered all over your computer.

When you’ve finished compiling your writing prompts, delete the original files. Then, print a copy of your writing prompts page and pin it above your desk. The next time you're looking for something to write about, pick a writing prompt and start a brand new document.

3. Clean up your social media accounts. Make sure that your G+ contacts are in the appropriate circles. Update your Facebook friends to make sure that everyone is on the right list. Sometimes we get Friend requests, Twitter followers, or G+ contacts that we quickly approve, thinking we'll sort them out later. Instead of adding new contacts to a specific list (i.e., family, coworkers, clients), these new contacts end up in the miscellaneous pile. By keeping well-categorized lists of your social media contacts, you can customize the information you send to each group. This is especially important for freelancer writers who want to stay in touch with clients and editors.

4. Check your work-life ratio. Grab a pen and paper, and using only your memory, summarize all the non-work related things you did last month (i.e.; parties, spending time with family, having some alone time). Then, create a list of all the work-related things you did in that same month. Look at both lists and ask yourself if you're happy with the balance between the two. Sometimes, if your work-life ratio is too heavily weighted towards all work and no play, you can find ourselves in a stress-induced writing rut. On the other hand, if your social life is taking up too much of your time, then don't be surprised if your freelancing career isn't moving forward.

5. Create a piece of art: a painting, a doodle, a pencil sketch. Design a new logo. Create your own avatar. Draw a picture of what your next article will be about.

Using your creative left brain is a great way to relax the tense "thinking muscles" in your right brain. Don't be surprised if you experience a few writing breakthroughs while playing with your markers, pens, and colored pencils.

6. Proofread your old online material. It doesn't hurt to revisit pieces of writing from your past and proofread them for errors you might have missed. Are there any new keywords that can be added? Are all the links working? Look out for any internal linking opportunities between your website, your blog, and other web content. Reviewing your old writing projects and updating them can be time consuming and easy to brush off when you're busy, but doing so is an important part of a strong content management strategy.

How long was your worst writing block?

See results
Taking care of small tasks such as organizing your computer files, cleaning your hard drive, and updating your anti-virus programs is a good way to spend your time while you wait for your writer's block to disappear.
Taking care of small tasks such as organizing your computer files, cleaning your hard drive, and updating your anti-virus programs is a good way to spend your time while you wait for your writer's block to disappear.

Five Things Your English Teacher Never Told You About Making Money as a Writer

1. Sometimes writing for a living is not fun. Every type of job has its ups and downs, good days and bad day. Just because you love writing, there will be some days when you really don't like writing, at all.

2. People sometimes expect you to write for free.

3. Rejection happens. Get used to it. In fact, why not embrace it.

4. Writing can be lonely.

5. Recognition isn't guaranteed. People may not always understand what a big deal it is to get an article published. Learn how to be your own cheerleader.

© 2012 Sally Hayes

How do you cope with writer's block?

Submit a Comment

  • Keri Summers profile image

    Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

    Good Hub. It's frustrating when these things happen, but very positive to do something else which is healthier anyway. I'm lucky not to suffer writer's block very much at all, but it does start to feel unhealthy to do too much too intensely and I'm sure I would have fewer energy crashes if I took up some of your suggestions.

  • Lorenzo Brown profile image

    Lorenzo Brown 5 years ago from West Palm Beach, Fl.

    Tis really helps a lot thank you very much!

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    Thanks @Movie Master. I think we underestimate the power of distraction sometimes. It works in the same way that trying to remember something is easier to do when you stop trying so hard to remember it. Ten minutes later when the conversation has moved on you blurt out "Kansas!" or whatever it was you were trying to remember.

  • SMD2012 profile image
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    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    Yes! Back up your files! Thanks for the reminder @UnnamedHarald. That's the one thing that I always put off doing...I really should have a regular file back-up schedule.

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    @sen.sush23 Thanks! Funny thing about the clean desk is that it's always the last thing I do, but it really should be the first because it's such a simple, quick thing to do. Once it's clean, I always say to myself, "Now why didn't I do that sooner! It would have made things so much easier!"

  • Movie Master profile image

    Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    These are some great ideas, a distraction always helps me when I can't focus on something.

    Voting up, thank you.

  • UnnamedHarald profile image

    David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

    These are great ideas, SMD2012. I frequently suffer short-term writers block and there's certainly plenty of stuff that need organizing around here. Voted up and useful. May I add one more: BACKUP YOUR FILES.

  • sen.sush23 profile image

    Sushmita 5 years ago from Kolkata, India

    Yeah! You are so right- a clean desk can help. Nice little points, one leading on the the other. Voted up and useful.

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    Thanks! If all I can do here on HubPages is help other people in small ways, I'm happy with that. Have a great weekend!

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    Thanks!I think we overestimate the power of doing the little things to help us tackle the big things when they do come along. I think it was Oprah who said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    Yes, those small projects do add up! If we do them, they add up to a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of being organized. And if we neglect them, they add up too, until they're so huge that we just keep putting them off, again and again.

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 5 years ago

    Wow! Four hubs in one weekend! That's awesome. I agree with you that what we eat really can affect the level of energy and motivation we bring to our work. I try to avid too much sugar in the day, because it makes me crash in the middle of the afternoon.

  • inevitablesecrets profile image

    inevitablesecrets 5 years ago from California

    These are some great ideas! Thanks.

  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

    These are all great ideas. We all have those days when it is hard to get focused, and your list will certainly get us ready for the big surge we are sure to experience when we do them.

  • starstream profile image

    Dreamer at heart 5 years ago from Northern California

    I completely agree with you about just finding another small project to work on which is perhaps related to your writing or creativity. The list of reasons for writer's block is a good and accurate one. Cheers for writing on those high energy days. Isn't it fun?

  • ktrapp profile image

    Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

    SMD2012 - I love your articles. They're all so well written and full of terrific advice. You're expertise always shines through.

    Now, call me crazy, but I have certainly had writer's block and my motivation stalled, but since I have lowered my carbohydrate intake my mind is clearer to write and I have the energy to do so. I even published 4 hubs (almost 8,000 words) last weekend. And I really like the idea of using the left-brain to relax the right brain. Great advice!