If typing paragraphs is a painful act for you, but you need to write to get your work done, you need a strategy to overcome writer’s block.
Bosses and clients won’t take writer’s block as an excuse to miss an important deadline.
What is writer’s block? According to Seth Godin, it’s not real.
No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.” —Seth Godin
I agree that it’s not real in the sense that there is no physical thing that stops you from writing unless you have excrutiating carpal tunnel. It’s all in your head. And its name is fear and it can be a real jerk sometimes.
Are you afraid to write something because you might say the wrong thing or get a negative comment? Maybe you have an ultra-critical boss or client whose approval you desire. Or you’re feeling you’re just not good enough at this whole writing thing.
It’s true. Great writing takes practice, like any other skill. But your writing doesn’t need to be perfect right now, does it? Sure, that would be great if we could all deliver perfect prose, but for many of us, it’s most important to deliver something that serves a purpose. You’ll get better with time, but only if you start somewhere and then get back at it again and again and again.
I cringe when I read some of my work from 10 years ago, when I was just learning how to write professionally. But, I delivered that work, my bosses were happy, and I got paid. And while I thought that writing was good at the time, I kept practicing.
Writing requires humility and detachment from your work in order to get the job done. Here are some things to help you overcome writer’s block:
Name it. When you’re sitting there staring at a blank screen realize what it is that’s stopping you from writing. Ask yourself, what are you afraid of? Write that down.
Face it. Now that you know what’s causing your writer’s block, stare it down. Likely you’re afraid for no reason. Sure it’s scary, but you’ve overcome other scary things in your life. And this version that you’re working on right now isn’t the final you’ll send into your client! You can edit all you like later. Right now, you need to get words on the page.
Sometimes if I’m trying to write while tired, I’ll take a short break and go for a run, do some squats, or have a hot bath to take my mind off the piece for a moment. Then I get right back to it.
Organize and write a rough draft. It’s called a rough draft for a reason. It’s okay if it’s ugly. One thing I do when I’m starting a rough draft is to write an outline. Once I know how I want the piece to flow and what I want to say, then I go to work on the rough draft. Let your ideas flow. If your facts aren’t perfect, that’s okay—you’ll fact-check and edit during the next round.
Treat writing like you do any other work project. Plan, research, brainstorm, refine. Make it good, but don’t worry about being perfect. Perfect is impossible to achieve, because it’s subjective.
And if you need a little reminder of this exercise, download this confident writer’s pep talk, an audio recording that will walk you through overcoming writer’s block.