Hey there Sea Changers. Today I wanted to discuss with you a problem that many of us suffer but never really want to talk about… and that is writer's block. I experience it from time to time as do many others in some of the blogging forums that I hang out in and if left untreated, it is something that can really put a stop to all things online business creation and blogging. So grab a cold drink (there is one tip already) and let's check out my 10 tips on how to overcome writer's block.
What is Writer's Block?
When I started thinking about this post, I always considered writers block a simple case of sitting in front of the old laptop and not being able to think of a single thing to write. But once I did some research, I realised that it really is a complicated can of worms to open. In general, Writer's block is the inability of a person to be able to produce new ‘work', or compete something that is half done. It is generally considered an affliction to those who are attempting to put words to paper in areas such as:
- Book writing
- Paper writing
- Song writing etc.
And I have also seen some also assign this issue to painters (artistic, not house) who are unable to think of something to paint.
Something I did find interesting however is the ways that this problem is described. Some call it a real scientific issue that can last years, whilst others consider it just an excuse for laziness or procrastination. Personally, I ‘suffer' from it when I am tired so maybe I could be placed in category number 2 in that regard. Regardless, as with many problems that we in the first world experience, let's take the approach that we cannot solve something without knowing the causes…
Common causes of writer’s block
There are obviously a lot of reasons why a person may suffer from writer's block. And to be honest, the list below could place it in both the scientific or laziness/procrastination columns. Let's have a look at some of the common causes of writer's block:
- Time 1: As with many things we do in life, if we have limited time or are under time constraints, we tend to do one of two things: The first is panic meaning we are unable to put clear thought into what it is that we are trying to write. The second is to simply shut down – i.e. “I have no time so why bother even starting.
- Time 2: Now I don't know if this is scientifically proven but in my experience different people work better at different times of the day. Unfortunately however, at times our daily commitments mean that we are sometimes forced to do this type of work at a time which does not suit our preference.
- Fear: This is one that tends to be suffered by those newer to the writing or blogging caper in that they freeze up out of fe4ar that what they write will not be any good. This can also be incorporated into a fear of having whatever is read rejected by the intended target – either be actual rejection or simply by having no one read it. Regardless, those suffering with this issue will often take the tack that if they don't write it, it can't be judged or rejected.
- Perfectionism: This one is probably the same as fear but again, nothing is done due to the fact that the writer is so afraid that what they write won't be perfect.
- Exhaustion: – A common cause and probably related closely to Time 2 above. A tired mind will always struggle to get some decent output achieved regardless of how hard they try.
- Laziness: Yearp, although most common in writing tasks that are forced on us rather than chosen (if you have ever had to write a Government briefing note you will know what I mean), writer's block is often used as an excuse for plain laziness. Procrastination ensues and then nothing get's done.
- Lack of understanding: This is another area where writer's block is often used as an excuse for not getting a task completed. If the writer simply doesn't know where to start or how to complete the task, then they can hide behind writer's block. This can also lead to procrastination as per above.
What can we do?
Ok, regardless of whether it is a real, or pretend problem, there are a number of things that you can do in order to get over the ‘block' and get some actual work done. Let's work through them now:
1. Eliminate distractions
This is a big one and could potentially lead to solving many of the causes of writer's block that we have discussed above. You see, once you descend into that “I just can't think of anything to write” spiral, anything – and I mean anything – that we can find to distract us we will look at or play with. For me, it is browser tabs. Because I write on a cloud based application, I can see all of my browser tabs all the time. FaceBook, Email and all those extra little goodies are oh so easy to flick to when the tab is open. Close them all, or open a new browser tab when you are writing.
The same goes for smart phones, tablets, the TV (although some like the noise), music or even an open window can give us ample opportunity to find things to distract us from the task at hand. If this is a common issue for you, then make sure you can remove these distractions at every opportunity. We will actually refer back to this in a number of our other remedies below.
2. Story board
As above, a common cause of writer's block is simply the fact that we cannot get a clear idea in our head as to what we are trying to do – or may not be sure on where to start. Story boarding is a great way to get around this by working exactly out what it is that you want to write and where it all fits in. This can be pictures, headings or simply just a list of the topics that need to be covered.
Once these have been added to the page and placed in order, then research and or ideas can be plotted in each section individually removing any overwhelm and giving a good starting point for the task at hand.
3. Write a skeleton
Skeleton writing is similar to story boarding in the fact that with this method, all of the required headings are put on the page with one or two bullet points under each. This again allows the writer to work in sections rather than trying to think about the whole thing at once.
The advantage of skeleton writing is that is also a good way to accommodate those who are easily distracted. The trick here is to write one section, then let your mind go on whatever distracts you for a few minutes (I browse news sites), then come back and write the next section. As a writer, this is my most common method of writing and it works a treat for me.
4. Free write
Free writing is a great remedy for those who have a fear of it not being good enough, or a sense of perfectionism in their work that is holding them back. With free writing, you just write – there is no attention to grammar, spelling, sentence structure or even whether it makes sense. The key here is that writing is done without over thinking or correction and from there, all you then need to do is simply go through and effectively plagiarise your own work as you tighten it all up.
Now I do understand that those in the perfectionist category will argue that this point might hold them up but the advantage here is that most of the writing is done – and you will be surprised in many cases as to just how good the writing is. Spending time in re-writing is often not as hard for the perfectionist once the main piece of work or draft is done. Overcoming the fear that it is not good enough is unfortunately a bit harder to manage however what this process does is at least gets some words down, which is in most cases the biggest hurdle – confidence is often a lot higher from this point forward.
There is a term in project management circles called sufficiency – which in layman's terms means just doing what the task requires and nothing more unless asked for it. One issue that comes with both the perfectionism and fear causes of writer's block is that we tend to get bogged down in all of the things that we think we ‘should' be doing instead of concentrating on what it is that we really have to do.
Don't get me wrong, sufficiency is not about doing half a job (I hear you perfectionists), it is about doing only what is required and doing it well. Say for example you are writing a blog post on how to groom a poodle. You might be tempted to write great detail about the products to be used rather than the technique required. Cover all of that well and if someone asks for more detail about the actual clippers, then you write about it in a separate post. If in doubt, free write the process and not about the tools and you will hopefully see what I mean.
Are you easily distracted by the noise, temperature, lighting, smell or anything else to do with the environment in which you are writing? If so, then move. Find another spot where you can write which removes those distractions and lets you concentrate on what you are doing.
On the other side of the fence, some writers actually need those external factors. I personally struggle to concentrate if my environment is too quiet. I will then turn the radio or TV on just so I have some background noise. This is not moving as such I know but if you are somewhere where you need some ambient noise, then you might need to move your environment to somewhere where you can hear it.
7. Take a break
This is another critical aspect of overcoming writer's block. Let me see if you have experienced this – You know that you have to get a post out by 4:00pm or else it will not get done that day. You then panic as you are running out of time. The more you panic, the more you struggle to write. And before you know it, 4:00pm is here and nothing is done.
Take a break – walk away and have a snack, get a drink, go for a walk or workout at the gym. That half hour you have lost is quite often made up quickly by a fresh mind when you get back. And whilst I am on the topic, even though I have not included it as a topic on its own here, exercise is a fantastic way of taking a break and getting the old writing juices flowing. A healthy body means a healthy mind and advocates of this method will tell you how much they can write after they have been for a jog or to the gym.
And never underestimate the power of just having a bit of a rest – let yourself play on your FaceBook, sit and watch the birds, watch a silly movie, or catch up on the latest episode of your favourite soap. Just a half hour can really make a difference here.
8. Time block
This is a great method for those who are juggling work, a household, kids activities and so on. Part of the causes of writer's block for those trying to build an online business at home is often guilt. Guilt that you are not with your family, guilt that you are not getting as much done as you wanted – which then leads to guilt that your site is not making money to justify the time spent on it.
Time blocking means that you can designate time for everything… For example, you might pick the kids up from school at 3 and then time block to spend time with them until 4. Then, you set an hour to work, then at 6 you have family dinner time. You then work from 7 to 9 once the little ones are in bed. I know that life is not always as simple as that, however if you can make it work then you are able to get on with it without wondering what else you should be doing meaning the concentration levels will be there to help you write.
9. Change your time of writing
When I used to work in Government, there were two types of people that I worked with.
- Those that liked to start work early and leave early.
- Those that liked to start work late and leave late.
And the one guy that started at 5 in the afternoon and worked until the early hours. Now this is again not always the easiest thing to arrange but if you are a morning person, set up your time blocking so you do the most of your writing in the morning and vice versa if mornings are a blur. I used to write training manuals for a living and would often start writing at 5:00am until the kids got up at 7. I used to get so much more done in that two hours than I ever did at night.
When we are busy, this is another life staple that tends to fall to the wayside. The old “I'm too busy to eat” will definitely cause you to slow down and make concentration difficult. Blood sugars drop when we don't eat and brain function slips. Here are some things you can incorporate:
- Don't skip meals – our body needs to eat at least the standard 3 times a day.
- Eat healthy foods – this goes without saying but again, when we are in a rush, a packet of chips is a lot easier than a salad.
- Have snacks at hand – if you really don't want to step away, have some healthy snacks at the ready so you can nibble as you go.
- Drink water – have a water bottle with you and make sure it is emptied at least once.
Now obviously there are many dietary influences here, but at the end of the day, as long as you are eating, then, as with exercise, you are giving yourself the best possible chance of getting some good writing done.
So there you have it… 10 tips how to overcome writer's block. Each can assist in their own way and trick, as discussed, is to try and identify the real causes of your writers block and implement strategies to overcome them. Happy writing…
I hope this has been helpful and as usual, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, need some advice or have any experiences to share.
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Until next time
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