A quick note: I wrote this infographic to go with my presentation at the Willamette Writers Conference this weekend. If you’re attending, I’ll be talking about Joyful Productivity for Writers at 9am on Saturday (in person) and 8am Sunday (virtually). I can’t wait to see you there!
A lot of professional writers say they don’t believe in writer’s block — but I totally do. I’ve been there, staring at the computer screen, knowing I should be writing but feeling totally, completely stuck.
However, as a professional writer, I’ve also had to learn tricks for pushing past that writer’s block in order to get those words flowing again. After all, when you’re up against a deadline you don’t have (much) time to wait for the muse to grace you with her presence.
Here are 15 quick tried-and-true ways to get yourself unstuck and back in the groove with your writing.
(Infographic text copied below for accessibility).
1. Interrogate why you’re stuck
Every trick in the book won’t help get you writing if you are stuck on something bigger than not knowing a plot point. Free write to tease out the problem. Are you afraid to write something too true, or too close to you? Have you grown out of this project? Are you writing the wrong thing? This can be a scary exercise, but it’s better than continuing to work on the wrong project.
2. Change your environment
Switch things up by writing from a new location. Even if going to the usual favorites (coffee shop, bar, or library) is not in the cards right now, try moving to a place you don’t normally write in the house, or even take a drive somewhere with a good view and sit in your car.
3. Go for a walk
Getting up and moving can help break you out of your rut. Go for a thirty-minute walk around your neighborhood—you can either let your mind wander, or go with the intention of mulling over whatever specific thing you’re stuck on.
4. Go for a dictation walk
Take your phone on your walk, and record yourself thinking through whatever issue you may be having. Use a program like Dragon Dictation, Just Press Record, or Otter.ai to transcribe your thoughts afterward.
5. Remember your “why”
What was it about this project that you are most excited about? If you’ve been stuck for more than a few sessions, this could be a good way to help you find momentum again. Free write on what excited you most about your project initially, and what you’re most passionate about now.
6. Try writing gibberish
Try writing deliberately badly. Set a timer for 10 minutes and force yourself to write total, complete gibberish. This will help you get out of your head so you can get back to writing real words.
7. Set a timer
This is one of my favorite motivational methods. Set a timer for 25 minutes and tell yourself that’s as long as you have to work on the project. Once the timer is up, you can get up and do whatever else you want to. Chances are, though, once the timer goes off you’ll be in the groove.
8. Writing sprints with a friend
Meet up with a friend in person, or set up a video call to do some joint writing sprints. A good format is 25 minutes on, 10 minutes to chat, for as many cycles as you’d like. You could also join an online write-in with other authors for accountability.
9. Create a “swipe file”
Start a swipe file of things related to your work that inspire you. It could be passages from a favorite author, short movie clips, a soundtrack of inspirational music. When you’re feeling stuck, spend ten minutes with your swipe file to get inspired.
10. Skip ahead
Are you stuck in one location of your story? Try skipping ahead. There is no rule that says you have to write linearly. Plus, if you’re stuck because you’re bored of a scene, you may find the scene isn’t necessary, and your readers would be bored by it, too.
11. Get rid of distractions
Use an app to block your access to the Internet, write on a device that isn’t connected, or turn on your noise canceling headphones. It could be less that you’re stuck, and more that you’re letting yourself get distracted.
12. Create a border crossing ritual
When I put in my noise canceling headphones and turn on the sound of a thunderstorm, my brain switches into writing mode like a Pavlovian response. Find your own combination, whether it’s a white noise app, a special “writing time only” tea blend, lighting a ritualistic candle, or something else.
13. Write in a different medium
Our brains work differently depending on what are using, which is why brainstorming with pencil and a spiral-bound notebook can be so freeing if you’re stuck in the more formal writing mode of your fingers on your keyboard. Shut off your computer and write longhand in a notebook, try dictating, use crayons—whatever will make you feel a new spark of creativity.
14. Box yourself in
Try giving yourself limitations to get the creative juices flowing. Try using a writing prompt, telling yourself you won’t use words with the letter L, or whatever parameters you can think of to force yourself to be more creative and playful about your writing.
15. Check your expectations
Do you have unrealistic expectations about how fast you are working? How many words you’re writing in a day? The quality of your first draft? Identify those, acknowledge them, and then set them aside to give yourself space to write in your own way.