Here’s the scenario: You’ve got an article to write on an interesting topic. You have more than enough time to meet your deadline and an editor lined up to perfect your words. There’s one big problem, though. The words won’t come. You’ve got writer’s block.
You’ve been staring at a blank page for days. And your deadline, which seemed generous at first, is starting to close in on you. Every writer has been there. What can you do about it?
One idea is to put your article aside until the eleventh hour. There’s nothing like the adrenaline of an immediate deadline to make you put pen to paper – or hand to keyboard. We know from experience that this trick often works, but it also leads to plenty of stress. What it likely doesn’t lead to is your best work.
Try one of these tips, which we think you’ll find more productive:
Do something fun
Writers are often told that they should write early in the morning. Science says that’s when writers are most creative and least likely to be distracted by all the other things they have to do that day.
But when you’re completely stuck on an article, going straight into writing mode first thing in the morning might not work. What’s more, it might derail your day as you spend hour after hour trying to figure out what you want to say.
Why not start your day with a project you’re excited about? It’ll be more fun, make you feel productive and put you in the right mindset.
Take it one step at a time
At this point, you just want to get this article done. You’ll be tempted to start at the beginning and work your way through until you’re finally – finally! – done.
When you’re dealing with writer’s block, though, we find the best approach is to break your task up into chunks.
Step 1: Get organized
Start with something small, like creating a new folder (physical or virtual) where you’ll keep all your research and drafts. With this one little step, you’ve accomplished something and you’re one step closer to meeting that deadline.
Step 2: Research
Do some reading. Find out what other people have to say on the topic you’re writing about. Make a bullet point list of any ideas you find interesting, and add your own thoughts to those bullet points.
Step 3: Create an outline
Use your bullet points to create a rough outline. It doesn’t have to be great at this stage, because you’re going to do a bit more research and continue putting more and more ideas under each of those bullet points. Move those bullets around until you have groups of ideas that fit nicely together. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid outline.
Step 4: Write
With a solid outline, getting started on the task of writing will suddenly seem much easier. All you need to do is turn those bullet points into sentences and paragraphs, and you’ll have a first draft. The draft may still need some polishing, but you’re most of the way there now!
Remember that writing is more than putting words on paper. It’s also about thinking through your ideas and deciding what you want to say and how you want to say it. You should feel free to walk away from what you’re writing when you need to for some quality “thinking time.”
And if you use these breaks to do something productive, you won’t think of it as time wasted. Here’s an idea: offer to go on a coffee run for your colleagues. You’ll get fresh air and exercise – which are both known to be good for creativity – and your colleagues will thank you.