You know the feeling.
You’ve been staring at the blank page for far too long and feel incapable of putting words down.
A new year has started, and it can be daunting to think about coming up with new content for the next month, let alone the next year.
That’s how I felt when I decided to write about writer’s block and what journalists and bloggers can do to get past it.
Causes of writer’s block
It’s important to understand what can cause writer’s block.
Spotting the common causes can help you prevent the dreaded mental freeze-up.
While there are many things that can factor into writer’s block, these are some of the most common:
- Perfectionism: The need for perfection can cause anxiety for many journalists and bloggers. It also can create frustration with the writing process, leading writers to feel the urge to give up.
- Fear: Whether it’s fear of criticism, rejection, or pushing the “publish” button and making your words public for all to see, fear can be a large factor in causing writer’s block.
- Exhaustion: When you’ve hit your limit, either physically or mentally, writing can feel like an impossible task.
- Distractions: A noisy office, social media notifications, and the 24/7 news cycle all can distract and draw attention away from the task at hand.
- Procrastination: Putting off your writing again and again can lead to problems. You could end up putting it off indefinitely or coming down to the wire and having to throw something together, sacrificing quality.
- Lack of motivation: If there is no plan, deadline, or reward for finishing, it can be difficult to get motivated to write. Getting started becomes a large hurdle when there’s no organization.
How to start writing
The path back to writing will be different for everyone. It will depend on what works best for you and your process.
Some of the most common ways to battle writer’s block also are the simplest.
- Take a break. Don’t confuse this with procrastination. If you feel your brain turning to mush or going into overdrive, give yourself a break and some time to reset. Take a walk to get the blood flowing and breathe fresh air. If you’re working late into the night, consider a fresh start in the morning. If you’ve been doing a lot of research, try reading something different. You never know when a new idea will hit you.
- Remove distractions. When we feel stuck, we welcome any reason to do something other than try to write. Turn off social media, TV, and other app notifications to remove temptation. Productivity programs like Freedom and RescueTime can help you stay on task.
- Write an outline. Starting small by creating the shell of your story can be a great jumping off point. Answering the 5 Ws can help you figure out what type of story you’ll be writing.
- Get creative. Writing prompts and exercises, like the ones here, can get creative juices flowing. You also can make a list of keywords and phrases that you’d like to include in your story. Or consider using the autocomplete and related search fields in Google to find even more ideas and topics to cover.
- Listen to music. Music can be a good way to tune out noisy distractions in a loud environment, like a busy office, for example. But be careful. Different types of music can have a variety of effects on productivity, so choose which type works best for you. Try Classical for Studying Radio on Pandora if you need to focus – it works for me. Video game music is another option, as it’s created with the specific purpose of keeping players engaged and focused without distracting.
- Set doable deadlines. Thinking about finishing the entire project can be overwhelming at times. Setting smaller deadlines – writing a few headline options, a body paragraph, or creating art, for example – can help it feel more manageable.
- Change it up. While setting a routine or creating an outline can help many writers, others may benefit more from switching things up. For those with rigid routines, loosening up by writing at different times or in different places can help get the creativity flowing again.
- Don’t edit yet. When perfectionism creeps in, it’s tempting to fix any mistake as soon as it’s spotted. But it’s a good idea to avoid editing during your first draft, which can be distracting and discouraging. Just focus on getting ideas down; you can edit and re-edit later.
- WRITE. You’ve heard that the simplest solution usually is the answer? You’re going to have to write at some point, so just start! You will eventually get into a rhythm.
When you’ve found your words and are putting them to the page, take some time to evaluate your process. What was happening when you got stuck? What helped you move past it and start writing?
Everyone’s writing process is different, so don’t be afraid to make adjustments and find the routine that works for you.
With the start of the new year, it can be beneficial to take a fresh look at your writing, go outside your comfort zone, or try a new routine.
Understanding the causes and solutions for your personal writer’s block can help prevent it in the future.
Subscribe to Beyond Bylines to get media trends, journalist interviews, blogger profiles, and more sent right to your inbox.
Rocky Parker works in Audience Relations at PR Newswire. Check out her previous posts for Beyond Bylines. When she’s not working, Rocky typically can be found cooking, binge watching a new show, or playing with her puppy, Hudson.