Writer’s block is real.
And it can destroy your chances for success if you let it.
It’s that stuck feeling you get when you don’t know what to write.
It’s that pit in your stomach when you’re freaking out because you have to deliver something on a deadline and you can’t even seem to write a few words on the page.
If you’re going through writer’s block right now, know that you’re not alone. And you can fix the problem if you follow the steps in this post.
I used to suffer from writer’s block. It ruined my career until I learned how to fix it. Without making these changes, I would never have been able to write 27 books and thousands of blog posts.
The good news is I’ve interviewed hundreds of successful writers who figured out how to get rid of writer’s block, and I’ve studied the process of writing (and what stops people from writing) intimately.
So I’ve discovered a few writer’s block cures that will work wonders if you try them out.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
Before you try out these cures, you need to understand what’s causing your problem.
There are a few common causes of writer’s block:
- Fear and Anxiety. You may be afraid of what other people think, of not being good enough, of making a mistake, or what will happen if you don’t get your essay, paper, or book completed. Fear can sometimes be related to perfectionism, depression, or other issues.
- Confusion. You’re not clear what you need to do, what’s expected of you, or you haven’t thought out your plan enough to get clear on what your next steps should be.
- Stress and Attention Problems. Being stressed out, too excited, too nervous, or too worried about writing can get your attention focused on all the bad stuff instead of on what matters—the task at hand.
How to Overcome Writer’s Block
Depending on what’s causing your writer’s block, you may need to try a slightly different approach to fixing the issue.
However, all the best writer’s block cures follow one of these two simple formulas:
1. Change Your State
When you have writer’s block, your body and mind are not in the appropriate state for writing productively.
You might be angry, sad, upset, confused, anxious, depressed—you could have all kinds of emotions that hold you back from writing.
Instead of focusing on the negative emotions or feelings you have, you need to change your state in order to change your thinking and change your ability to think and write clearly.
Here are some ways to change your state:
- Get Physical. Move your body to change your state! Run around the block, do some jumping jacks, pushups, squats, or workout. Get your body moving and your blood flowing. This will increase blood flow to your muscles and change your nervous system and hormones, reducing your stress levels and allowing you to think more clearly in as little as 5 minutes.
- Meditate or Relax. Relaxing is a great way to change your state. Try meditation, take a hot bath or shower, lay down for 10 minutes, or just sit in nature and enjoy yourself. If you’re too excited or emotional, calming your body down can help you get clear and focused so you can write easily.
- Listen to Music. Music is a great way to instantly change how you feel, which is why it’s so popular and universal. If you need more energy or want to try getting physical, put on your favorite pump-up jams or dance music. If you need to be more calm and relaxed, put on your favorite relaxing or calming music to help you chill out.
2. Focus Your Attention
Once you’ve changed your state, you’ll notice your attention will naturally change. Instead of being focused on the bad stuff that will happen if you don’t get your writing done soon, you’ll be able to focus more on the task at hand.
Here are some things that can help you get focused on the next step so you can write easily and quickly:
- Plan It Out. Write down an outline for what you’re planning to write in 50 words or less. Keep it short and simple. The key is to think through what you want to write and the small handful of main ideas you need to include.
- Read and Research. If you’ve changed your state but you still can’t seem to write an outline or plan, you may need to do more research. Do a quick google search on what you’re writing about and just start reading. Even if you know your topic inside and out, reading what other’s have written about it can help get your mind focused on the subject so you can clarify your own thoughts and start writing.
- Eliminate Distractions. Often unproductive writers are plagued by distractions. A barking dog, a noisy roommate, a messy desk, a problem that needs to be addressed. If there’s something else on your mind that’s distracting you from writing, go take care of it right now. Once that’s done, get back to writing.
- Start Typing Your Thoughts. Once you start writing, it’s easy to get into a flow state where you’re naturally productive and everything flows easily. But if you never get started, you’ll never get into flow. That’s why many writers swear by simply sitting down at the keyboard, and starting to write whatever thoughts jump into their mind. Getting your hands typing and your brain moving can help you get into a flow state where your ideas come much more easily.
Everyday Sources of Inspiration
If you’re still stuck on what to write, you can try these 11 sources of inspiration. All you have to do is look up from your screen!
1. Look out the Window
Let’s start small. You don’t even have to get up to find inspiration! Find the nearest window. Look out. Start a short story about the first moving thing you see. Where is it going? Where’s it coming from? What’s its motivation?
2. Pick Up a Book
Grab a nearby book. Open to a random page. Start a new story with the first quote your eye lands on. And yes, even “It was a dark and stormy night” can be the start of something new and interesting!
3. Flip through Old Pictures
Look through pictures of your last trip. Find one that catches your eye, then write about that day. This could turn into a short story, a brief memoir vignette, or a nonfiction passage about travel in the place you visited. See where your creativity takes you.
4. Go to the Thrift Store
Visit your local thrift shop and find some weird, interesting item—the stranger, the better. If you have a hard time believing someone ever owned it, it’s perfect! Work that item into a short story.
5. Gather Your Change
How much change do you have on you? Tell a story about that. Again, this could be fiction or nonfiction—maybe you can write about the process of creating coins or how physical money is becoming a thing of the past; if you’re a fiction writer, craft a story about how someone ended up with precisely 37 cents in their pocket or describe a day in the life of a penny.
6. Honor a Hand-Me-Down
We all have hand-me-downs—cherished antiques or weird knickknacks someone gave us. Pick one in your life and write about it. Maybe it’s the beautiful sideboard your aunt left you; maybe it’s that chipped mug from your youth that’s ugly as heck, but you can’t bear to get rid of because you remember your dad drinking coffee from it every morning. Tell the story of that object.
7. Empty Your Wallet
Okay, so you already checked out your change. What receipts do you have on you? Grab one at random and jot down the first item that catches your eye. Great! Time for a nonfiction piece about the origins of the whiteboard, or a short story featuring two cappuccinos and a medium Caesar salad.
8. Turn on the TV
This one seems pretty counter-intuitive. After all, most of us waste a lot of time when we could be writing (or doing, well, just about anything else) watching TV. But sometimes, the TV can be a great source of inspiration! Just don’t stick to one channel. Grab the remote, then flick through the channels. I find the best way to randomize my results is to pick a number—say, the day of the month—and punch the Channel Up button that many times. Stop on that channel, then write down the first sentence you hear. That’s your writing prompt!
9. Head to the Fridge
Again, this is something we’re often told we shouldn’t do while writing! But again, it can provide some pretty great writing prompts. Open the fridge and jot down one word from the names or brands of the first six items that catch your eye. Figure out how to incorporate those words into your story. “Almond,” “dairy,” “Purdue,” “beans,” “sriracha,” and “Tropicana” should stretch your writing muscles!
10. Get the Mail
Finally, a use for junk mail! Sort through your paper mail and check your email spam inbox. Incorporate a name or address from today’s stack of junk mail into your next story—trust me, spam emails in particular can be a bonanza of writing inspiration. How can you not want to write about Sibylla Wilkinson or Dobbin Wong?
11. Take a Walk
It’s been proven that walking boosts blood flow, including to the brain; can help us break out of a rut; and can improve creativity. So get outside and get active! Odds are, you’ll come up with 16 different ideas for what to write while you’re walking and you’ll practically run home to get started. But if you don’t, try working the third person you pass into your next story. If you’re working on nonfiction, consider researching the origins of the fourth street sign on the left, then turning that into a nonfiction narrative.
Find Your Cure
Now it’s time to take action.
Don’t sit on this information and hope for things to change.
Get up. Change your state. Focus your attention. And get to writing!
And if you need a little extra support or advice, feel free to post your comments below. You’re not alone!
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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.