Sick And Tired Of Writer’s Block? Then Try These 6 Quick Writing Tips.

Someone typing on a brown classic typewriter

I don’t believe in writer’s block. That’s right, I said it, the words of an ex-journalist that had this term banished straight from his soul through the involuntary administering of deadlines.

Editor just gave you a one-hour assignment? You better have the finished product by then, even if it includes quotes and facts from people you haven’t called.

Know nothing about property but tasked to cover a real-estate association’s meeting? You’ll never get to leave till you email your story in.

Before my time as a journalist, I used to leave my writing to the hands of the creative gods. Art wasn’t something to be rushed, and thus my words only flowed with the presence of my muse.

I even made the mistake of bringing that attitude to the newsroom. Boy did I learn quick that there was no space for romanticism in journalism.

But you know the good thing that came out of that? It’s that I stopped believing in ‘good’ writing. More specifically, my definition of good. Too many times I’ve had an editor praise the one-hour articles that I had seemingly pulled out my ass. And too many times did they also shit on the pieces I’d poured my heart and soul into.

And I believe that writer’s block stems exactly from that belief of good or bad.

We need to sow, not reap

Oftentimes, we wait till we put out our version of presentable work before giving ourselves credit. But why not judge yourself on how much work you’ve put in instead of how well you did?

But that’s not my best work, you might say. And you could be right. But what use is putting out only your best work if that means publishing a blog post just once a year?

And here’s a good one: What if people love what you consider to be shabby work? What then? Would that give you the confidence to write more? Or would you feel like you’re shortchanging people?

So the next time we talk about writer’s block, we need to be honest with ourselves. Are we blocked because we truly can’t find the words? Or is it just a matter of fake perfectionism?

If it’s the latter, then we need to stop judging ourselves by the type of trees that we plant, and start acknowledging the fact that we’re actually planting trees, at least in the metaphorical sense.

A bonsai-looking tree with orange autumn leaves

Planting trees is good, so it doesn’t matter what seeds your sowing. Photo: Faye Cornish

Fine, you have writer’s block

Anyway, I know you didn’t come here just to hear me rant about how writer’s block doesn’t exist and how everything can be solved with a little change in perspective.

So maybe you’re blocked. I totally get it. Just last week I posted about not being able to get into the proper headspace when life gets busy, so I do acknowledge the plights of a writer.

That’s why you’ll find a list of methods to get over your block, as advised by famous writers and tested by yours truly.

Now, it’s important to note getting over your block doesn’t necessarily require you to write. Given the choice, however, I’d definitely pick writing-based tasks because, just like how exposure therapy helps people deal with their phobias, so too will writing tasks help you with your problems.

But what better way to start off than with a non-writing task that anybody can do?

1. Exercise

Yes, this is a hackneyed piece of advice, but if you’re going to do anything for yourself, you might as well kill two birds with one stone. So why not deal with life’s dissatisfactions and writer’s block at the same time?

Granted, your writer’s block may not vanish just because you’ve done a hundred burpees, but it sure as hell makes the blank page seem tame in comparison.

Murakami runs. Hemingway boxed. Dickens walked. Dickinson did her calisthenics. Maybe you’ll be the next big writer to also have a regular workout routine.

At the very least, you’ll have life’s volume knob turned down after each session. So if words elude you, and you have no idea what to do, maybe go out for a quick run and see how you feel. I know I get my best ideas while I shower after my workouts.

2. Use throwaway tools

If you can only write on a specific laptop or in a specific room, let me tell you that I’ll be the first to sympathise with you.

I’ve always been a picky writer—only mechanical keyboards with an actuation force of less than 45g ever made the cut on my desk. Then I discovered pens, and naturally, only the smoothest nibs were worthy enough to write with.

But then I decided to throw away the crutches, and drafted with a pencil and legal pad, just because. You know what happened? I started finding my voice.

That’s because writing on trashy paper—or the back of receipts—felt like play instead of real work. I’m not bound to publish a post I’ve typed up in WordPress, nor do I need to find the most suitable words for my best notebooks.

It’s all trash that I could throw away if I wanted to. You know what ends up happening, though? I’d write as I normally would on my laptop, but more liberally, and because of that, I end up with so much more usable material for my stories.

So go low-tech for a while. See what that does. Or try a voice recorder. Anything that lets you create without the formality of writing.

Writer's Block Pencil - Thought Catalog

All hail the mighty pencil! Photo: Thought Catalog

3. Assemble instead of write

For some of us, tackling an entire story in one go—especially when we haven’t even formulated the idea alone—seems less realistic than running a hundred-miler.

And that’s when the excuses start rolling in. I’m blocked quickly comes to the fore. I have no idea what to write. I don’t even know where to start.

What we need to do is just start hacking at a random part of the story. Do it word by word, paragraph by paragraph, and as each section takes shape, we’ll notice our confidence growing along with it. Get a few chunks of words together, and what was once scary quickly turns into a doable assignment.

Just like assembling an IKEA shelf, you first have to source your material before you can start bolting the pieces together. That’s how you’ll approach assembly-based writing. You only write enough for one part of the story, then you set it aside as you work on another. What you’ll end up with is one chunk.

So google for supporting facts, or read what others have to say about a particular section (yes, this entire subheading is a separate section in my eyes, and I watched model-building tutorials just for this bit).

Taking on your story bit by bit beats writing an entire one from start to finish.

Once you have enough chunks, start piecing them together like a jigsaw puzzle. But until then, don’t try seeing the big picture, especially if you’re blocked.

Sometimes, you’ll end up with pieces that don’t fit the puzzle. Don’t worry. At least you’d have written, and can take pleasure in having done your job.

However, there are also the miraculous moments when the words catch on and you’ll run with it. And that’s how entire stories are born.

4. Just suck it up

I bet you know we’re all different, and that there’s no one way to go about things. Which is why I’ve also included a little dose of tough love for those who are into this sort of thing.

You know the question that gets asked a lot? The one that goes ‘When can I call myself a writer’?

Well do I have the answer for you. You get to call yourself a writer after you stop whining about your writer’s block.

It’s not after you’ve set up your blog, after you’ve earned your first dollar from writing, or even after you’ve published your book.

Being a writer is not something you do once and you’re set for life. It’s not a bachelor’s degree, nor is it turning twenty-one. It’s a title you have to claim daily, and that only comes from acting like a professional.

Amateurs let their mood decide when they should write. They write ten different first chapters but never see a book to the end.

But if you truly want to be a professional, you won’t let something like writer’s block or a lack of motivation stop you from working.

In Steven Pressfield’s words: “Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit every day.”

Wooden art mannequin sitting on a toilet

How do you know you’re turning pro? You write on the toilet instead of complaining you don’t have the time. Photo: Giorgio Trovato

5. Procrastinate

Whoa there, let’s not celebrate too early. Yes, you read that right. No, it doesn’t involve Netflix. What I want you to instead is to procrastinate with writing. And thanks to this amazing video from Film Courage, you can learn exactly how.

For those of you who don’t want to spend seventeen minutes watching that video, the main point is to list down things you’d really enjoy writing.

This could be stand-up jokes, angry letters to people you hate, or movie scripts. Surely, you have something you’d have fun writing? You are a writer after all.

Once you’ve determined what you like, you can start going to town on it. Spend an hour on it if you have to. You’ll find that once you get into the groove of writing, it becomes much easier to return to your original project.

And that’s the goal here—to move the needle forward in your project. In the end, it wouldn’t do you any good to purposely write things that don’t bring you closer to your goals.

Like Marcus Aurelius mentioned in his journal: “People who labour all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.”

So have fun with this, but don’t forget that you actually want to finish your project. Don’t have one? Then you best get to thinking right now.

6. Publish the worst thing you can think of

Write stilted dialogue. Make clunky sentences. Imagine handing over your final product to your worst critic, and making sure that it’s one that’s worthy of giving them a heart attack.

This has been my most effective method of overcoming writer’s block, one that I’ve saved for last. There’s nothing much else to say, really. Just publish what you think is utter crap, and either one of two things will happen.

You could leave things the way they are, especially if you’re in a particularly dry spell, or you could want to edit that piece out of embarrassment. Either way, something’s going to be published, whether you like it or not.

You think I liked ‘make clunky sentences’? I’m leaving it there because this article is drawing close to 2,000 words and I’m running out of editing juice. So yeah. Ship bad work. Then maybe you’ll realise that your words aren’t as bad as you think.

Now go forth and write

I know you can write, because I can too. And I fall right in the centre of the bell curve (which I’m assuming you do too). So just keep at it. Every word you put down is money in the bank. Sure, it may not feel like it at the time, but one day you’ll look back and see just how many words you’ve accumulated, words that you’ve grown through, words that you could actually use.

What’s important to remember is that the time is going to pass anyway. And you can look back years from now and enjoy the achievement of having written, or you can let ‘writer’s block’ stop you from at least trying for your writing goals. You decide.

Me? You can bet I’ll be starting my next article after this, even though sometimes it feels like I’m putting out nothing but drivel.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

67 thoughts on “Sick And Tired Of Writer’s Block? Then Try These 6 Quick Writing Tips.

  1. The first point is soo accurate. As bloggers we often strive for perfection in our posts that we publish, but like you said something you think of to be not good, could actually be something really great in another person’s perspective!

    • Oh yeah! It took me so long to learn that. There’s this saying in the creative world in that you should make your work ‘good enough’. Aiming for perfection takes up too much time that can be spent creating another piece of work and learning more. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. I love the IKEA metaphor. I’ve found a lot out lately about writer’s block. Always glad to read it. I’ve used just about all these techniques and they work well. That being said, by writer’s block is usually because I have too many words to get out. I use the exercises to slow down.

  3. When you said procrastination does not involve Netflix, I was genuinely disappointed 😜😉
    This was such an informative valuable post as always!!
    I still believe that writer’s block does exist. It’s not the same experience in everyone, ofcourse, just a long period of feeling “bleh”.

    • I love different perspectives, and thanks for sharing that you do experience writer’s block. Though we can explore if the ‘bleh’ is for life in general, or just writing? I find that I get supercharged for writing if my life is going well (or very bad too, weirdly).

      Maybe in the future I’ll include Netflix somewhere :P

      • Actually, I can’t recall having experienced “writer’s block” per say, but I agree with the idea that the “bleh” feeling goes for life in general. I can’t write very well when I’m depressed. So that makes sense. I think writer’s block is more like a burn out after prolonged periods of being creative.

  4. Loved reading about these tips! The exercise and procrastination tips were definitely something I’ve come across. Sometimes I’m not in the mood simply because my body doesn’t feel pumped up, which generally means that I’m not pumped up for anything else either, so a shower or exercise can help start it up. Other times I’ve sort of lost the inspiration to write, so doing something gives me that inspiration once again, even if it’s not even related.

    • Yup yup. Non-writing tasks are sometimes pretty danged helpful, are they not? I myself really do rely on exercise nowadays, because it helps turn down the inner editor’s volume knob. Love the things you share here. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Thanks for another enjoyable and practical article! I liked your first suggestion of exercising. Exercising helps clear the mind, so it makes sense to do that before you want to sit down and write. I like to tidy up before I start writing. Working in an uncluttered environment gives me a ‘clean slate’ feeling and recharges my motivation.

    • Ooh yeah, and lately, thanks to Andrew Huberman’s podcasts, I’ve begun to use exercise as a way to retrain the way I see pain, to enjoy the process, and to apply all those learnings to my writing. Thanks so much for sharing part of your writing routine as well!

    • Fellow pantser reporting in, so I totally know all those feels. But sometimes the moment calls for tunnel-vision—writing for a very small portion instead of maintaining a ‘wide view’ that many of us pantsers usually do. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective! It’ll be super useful for getting a broader view of the writing process.

    • Hahaha, I talk a big game about not believing it, then there are times when I just can’t seem to put out the necessary work.

      But yeah, writer’s block is as real as doctor’s block, or chef’s block. It doesn’t exist and is mostly an excuse more than an affliction.

  6. I loved this post. You always have gold. I think your nontraditional path to writing is how you bring a different angle to the topic. I like this quotation you shared: “Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit every day.” I believe in this strongly.

    • Oh yes. It wouldn’t matter what your portfolio is, or how long you’ve been in the industry. As long as you don’t write that day, then you’ve just told yourself that you don’t take it seriously.

      Different people have different views on this, but I subscribe to the ‘daily vows’ thing too. And seeing your output lately, you definitely have turned pro.

      Thanks so much for your great comment, Hetty!

    • Haha, I have to admit that I dread the actual work most times, but I’ve recently learned that it’s the resistance we should be thankful for, and once I’m thankful for it, doing the work seems that much easier. Thanks so much for stopping by, Fiona!

    • Lol oh my, reader’s block is real, but only because I’m facing it haha. I’m sure other people don’t have such a bad time with it. I have a hard time imagining things and I’m a slow reader too. Will definitely check it out. Thanks for stopping by, Kelvin!

  7. A bit late on this one, but loved it!!! Your six tips actually make sense. Exercise totally gets the brain’s ass working too. Healthy procrastination is a good point to make. I love your writing posts, you being somebody with some good credibility in the craft.
    Now, writing trash is what I have yet to learn. In really long projects (my last half-novel) I totally do it. Heck, I don’t even pause to check chapter numbers, and till now I’m still sure I have 6 chapters entitled ‘CHAPTER 16’. But with articles and short stories, I tend to write a near-perfect first draft and then work on the wording rather than the ideas in the next drafts. Any ideas?
    Writer’s question of the week: Would you rather be able to write without sleeping for one month or have a writing habit of 5 minutes a day from the second you were born?
    See ya!

    • Great to see you as always!

      I have to admit, writing trash isn’t easy, and it irks me to know that I have so much stuff to edit later (I have this habit of needing things to be ‘right’ before I move on).

      But I think my morning pages have helped somewhat, and using throwaway tools have further solidified the fact that I can always edit later. Besides, I HAVE edited my crappy work before, so it’s not like I can’t do it again.

      I think if you find a certain process to work for you, that you should keep doing it. A writer I respect, Dan Abnett, says that he writes and edits at the same time, which would never work for me, but it does for him.

      And that final question is a no-brainer for me, because I’m all about the marathon and not the sprint, so five minutes every day for my entire life is good.

      Here’s a writer’s question for you: Would you prefer to have your writing be well-received in a language you’re terrible in, or ignored in a language you’re awesome at?

      • Lol, THAT question’s obvious. Well-received in a language I’m trash at. At least I’ll be fooled into thinking I’m great.
        Great to see you sending writer’s-questions-of-the-week and getting into the routine. Lololol.
        Of course I know you’d pick the habit, being Stuart and all. I’d say that was a trick question from my side.
        And thank you for your advice! I’ve benefited greatly from this.
        Have a good week!

  8. Thank you so much for this!! I hate the term “writer’s block”. Not because I never get stuck (I absolutely do), but because it feels like an excuse to make one feel better about being stuck and stagnant, and a way to avoid taking responsibility. (I hate the terminology of “Imposter Syndrome” for similar reasons, but that’s worthy of a whole other blog post!)
    It made me crazy when one of the dVerse poetry prompts this week was to do a haibun on writer’s block. Seriously! Do we really need more WordPress poetry on writer’s block, a stupid useless concept to begin with? Is this really going to get the inspiration flowing and lead to better poetry? Argh.

    • Lol, I sense a lot of disdain for the term here, and it’s awesome that you’ve shared your point of view.

      I myself think there’s a lot of over-romanticism related to the term, and that some people enjoy being perceived as the struggling artist.

      But I have to admit I use ‘impostor syndrome’ a lot as well. Fortunately, I’m starting to learn that there’s a reason why I feel that way, and it could be from me taking shortcuts in certain things (thus why I feel like I’m not worthy).

      Great comment here. Thanks so much for sharing!

      • Yes, the romanticism of the struggling writer/artist is annoying after a certain point.

        I think with “Imposter Syndrome” there’s some truth to the idea, but then, people misinterpret the idea as meaning that they must be great at something they don’t feel confident in, or as an excuse to not improve in areas they’re weaker in because it’s just “imposter syndrome”. You can be legitimately qualified for something and simultaneously, have room for improvement in certain areas. #rantover

  9. Tip #3 is something I do a lot. I call it “hopping” though. I hop around a lot and then thread the paragraphs to make something that is more than a blank page. For #1, I usually do yard work, though. Or take a walk to the gas station to buy a drink. But writer’s block I believe can be compared to a lack of confidence. Some (maybe a lot) probably are lazy, but for me, and pretty sure for some, when I get nervous I get locked up mentally or physically, and when I write for others to see I want to give the best, but there’s the voice in the back that says “You suck”. So I do planning and planning and planning to make the writing perfect, then go back and rewrite what I wrote thus overwriting what I originally planned, and next thing I know, an hour has passed and only half a page has been done. That might actually be writer’s trudge, now that I think about it.

    • Lol, you actually do bring up a good point, in that the lack of confidence related to writer’s block is very much an ‘us’ thing more than it is an actual affliction.

      I actually like writer’s trudge though, because you’re actually doing something, and I don’t know what it is about facing a half-written page, but it surely does feel miles better than facing the blank page.

      Also, am loving your own versions of getting over writer’s block. Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. “What if people love what you consider shabby work?”

    This really hit home for me. There are so many times when I write something and think it is absolute garbage. But when other people read it, they share that they loved it and resonated with the piece. It is both surprising and oddly amazing at the same time.

    Really good read on overcoming writer’s block. Thanks again Stuart.

    • That’s a great way to learn the lesson, isn’t it? Sometimes, the inverse happens, and that can suck, but it’s also a great way to accept the fact that we can’t control anything other than doing the work and sharing it.

      Thanks so much for your wonderful comment!

  11. I always discover a new way of thinking about things when I read your posts. I don’t like the term “writer’s block” either. It seems a bit grandiose. In no other activity do we complain “I have ____ block!” I try to think of writing as any other task, its binary: at any given moment I’m either writing or I’m not writing. No use wallowing in the in-between. And for me, the sense of fake perfectionism you mentioned is a little too real… The antidote is definitely #6 on your list.

    • Whoa, what an awesome comment. Always awesome to read thought-out comments like yours, and yeah, it puzzles me that creatives are the only people who can claim ‘the block’ as if it’s a get out of jail free card for not wanting to do the work.

      And #6 is always the best, especially when people don’t react to them as badly as you thought they would.

      Thanks so much for dropping by, and taking the time to share your thoughtful words!

      • Thanks for your kind response, and yes my thoughts exactly regarding “the block” as you put it 😆 …there seems to be this weird romanticization of NOT being able to write, and I wonder if it comes from having overly high expectations.

  12. Great article!! I love the idea about assembly writing!! I often have components of the story ideas floating in my head that don’t get captured because I didn’t know how to string them and then they are lost forever!! So assembly writing is exactly what I need to do!! Thanks so much for the tip!! Janey

  13. These are some great suggestions to help overcome writer’s block. I like to take time out and do something with family or friends and then come back to it at a later date. Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

    • Ooo, that’s a great one too. Sadly, the pandemic may affect that method for some. Nothing like forgetting about writing for a while to get a boost later on. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  14. Good morning! This is officially my very first comment, ever! I am brand new to this world (and have many moments where I wonder what the hell I’m doing here), and this article seems to be exactly what I needed to read, and I came to it exactly when I needed to read it. Thank you for sharing!

    • Wow, I’m honoured that I’d be the receiver of your first comment. Welcome to the blogosphere! Am looking forward to more of your comments, and what you have to share on your blog. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Assembling instead of writing – yes! That’s what I do (when the sentences don’t seem to flow).

    It’s weird but before I write a post I know for a fact it will be one I’m mostly proud to produce… Even if I have a couple sentences and ideas on the page, I just know I won’t allow myself to present something I’m not proud of… And plus I’ve promised myself that I am posting once a week every Wednesday morning and when you’ve successfully done that for almost 42 weeks in a row, you tend to not quit while you’re so far along on that journey! 🤔🙌✈️

    • Weekly posters unite! I think we share the same timelines when it comes to maintaining our once-per-week posts, and yes, like you, I now find myself very reluctant to break the chain. I guess there’s something to be said about habit after all. Thanks so much for stopping by, Jen!

  16. I think, what’s good is largely subjective. You hit the nail on the head. What you think is bad is often what other people end up liking the most. As a writer your job is to produce content however shabby. It’s up to others to decide whether it’s good or not. Either way you’ll learn far more and become far better by finishing and publishing than leaving a half written piece in the draft folder. Thanks for the excellent advice Stu 🙏

  17. This is an absolutely helpful and well-articulated blog! I specially loved the point of assembling first and then writing. Going bit-by-bit, instead of getting into the big picture at the first place, helps in all spheres of life, and writing is no exception, very true! Thanks for this :D

  18. Pingback: Sick And Tired Of Writer’s Block? Then Try These 6 Quick Writing Tips. – Writing To OutLive

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s