Writer's block sucks.

Thankfully, it’s not something that often plagues me. In fact, real writer's block — that is an inability to put something to words — is pretty rare in my experience.

There are plenty of days where I don’t feel like writing. I’ve certainly had plenty of them lately. Will this pandemic ever end?

Usually, it's not that I can't find the words to describe something, it’s that I can’t seem to get them to line up the way I want. I can usually push through it. Working under deadline can be a real blessing in that respect. Under deadline, good and done is better than perfect and late.

But while a deadline can lend a certain urgency to finishing something, it doesn’t actually make writing any easier. In fact, it can make things a lot more difficult, especially if you’re already struggling.

With that in mind, here are five tried and true tips for bouncing back from writer's block.

1. Do your research

The best bit of advice I can give for anyone that’s struggling with writer's block is you can’t make something out of nothing.

More often than not, if it’s just not coming together, it’s probably because you don’t have enough information. It’s kind of like trying to assemble a car without the instructions or any fasteners. You have a general idea of what it should look like in the end but nothing to hold it together.

If, for example, you’re writing about your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, you might want to take some notes. The park’s history, the names of the peaks, even the advice the park ranger gave you when you checked in are all valuable details that can make telling the story a lot easier.

Depending on what you’re writing about, it might make sense to reach out to an expert and get their take on it too. The more information you have to work with, the easier it will be to fill in the mental blanks in your story.

2. Get organized

Have you ever sat down to write something without a clear picture of what it is you’re trying to say?

I’ve started far too many blog posts this way only to abandon them when I ran out of steam. In fact, that’s how this post got its start.

My colleague recently shared this fun mnemonic device that her children were taught in school. I think it’s a good place to start if you’re having trouble organizing your thoughts.

OREO:

  • Opinion: how you or someone feels about something
  • Reason: why you or they feel that way
  • Examples: provide a few examples that reinforce the opinion
  • Opinion: restate your opinion.

If that doesn’t work, try explaining it to a friend or family member. Sometimes just talking it over is enough to figure out what the important bits are.

3. Break it up

If your story is starting to get a little unwieldy, it might be that you’re trying to say too much in one go.

Sometimes, it’s enough to break things up with a couple subheadings, but others, you might consider breaking it into multiple blog posts or articles.

You don’t have to write the definitive guide to X, Y, Z and everything in between. Three highly-focused articles on each topic is a lot easier to write and arguably a lot easier to read.

So, if your story is getting a little on the long side, it might be time to break it up.

4. Finish what you start, eventually

If you’re really struggling to find something to write about, I’ve always had good luck digging through my unfinished drafts for some inspiration.

I can’t tell you how many stories, blog posts, or Op-Eds I’ve started and never finished for one reason or another. The dog needed to go out, I got a phone call, I got distracted doomscrolling Twitter, you get the idea.

Amongst all the bad ideas and incoherent ramblings is usually a gem waiting for me in my drafts folder. If you take some time to dig through your unfinished stories, you might just find the inspiration you’re looking for.

5. Good and done is better than perfect and late

If it’s finishing what you start that you’re struggling with, this next tip is for you. Remember, good and done is better than perfect and late, and it’s certainly better than unfinished and forgotten.

Sometimes just finishing something is enough to flush away any mental block holding me back.

It’s alright to set something aside until you have the time to do it right, but at a certain point, you have to step back and say good enough.

Further Reading

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Early in my career as a journalist I learned an important lesson about computersand writing. I’d just gotten back to the office from an interview when my editorconfronted me about a story strewn with seemingly misplaced words. It’d been a long week, but not that long, but sure enough it was as if…

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below:

  • How do you beat writer's block?
  • Did these tips help you?
  • What are you writing about these days?
Main photo by fotografierende