With the combination of all the possible hiccups and productivity potholes of writing from home, ‘perfect’ work conditions are hard to come by in the best of times. There are a lot, and I mean a LOT, of ways to lose motivation and get stuck at writer’s blocks (or any form of productivity blocks for that matter).
It will happen eventually, and you’ll feel silly when it does: “This is what I do, this is what I’m good at, so why the hell can’t I get started?? How do I get past this writer’s block?”
Everyone on the planet will give you the same simple answer, even the famous and the respected: just write.
To which you are thinking: “No shit, Sherlock….”
Well, let’s keep digging, Watson!
‘Just write’ has merit, a lot of merit; there’s a reason this advice is so popular. You need to power through and force yourself to write because no one else will – there isn’t going to be a magic fairy godmother who will suddenly descend from the heavens and plop you in front of a desk and start feeding you the words because now, all of a sudden, you are inspired. Our society is plagued by the idea of the muse and of inspiration striking like lightning. Writing is up to you, moving forward is up to you. The reason you aren’t writing isn’t because your muse is on her lunch break, sorry. Real talk: the only thing stopping you for achieving what you want to achieve is you.
That said, ‘just write’ is uninspiring – here are some specific strategies that can help catalyze the writing process and motivate you to light a fire under your own ass.
Specific Strategies to Help Avoid Writer’s Block
Read the writings of authors you admire and aspire to be like. There are a ton of incredibly articulate and brilliant writers out there. Find the ones you love to read and soak yourself in their language. I think Pauline Kael is one of the best media critics to ever write, so I love to read her work and be inspired.
2. Write other’s words.
I’m not talking about publishing plagiarism here, this is purely an offline practice technique. Pick a something you like to read, that you admire, and copy it word for word: the act of writing someone else’s article or content will begin to walk you through the process of writing something you recognize to be great. You don’t have to think about what you’re writing too hard, but you’ll start seeing a structure and ask ‘how would I have done it?’ Then, once you have this great piece of content on your word processor, text cursor blinking to the right of the last word, you’ll realize that this is exactly what that writer you admire was staring at just before they hit ‘submit’.
In his early 20s, Hunter S. Thompson typed out the entirety of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby on his typewriter, just to understand to what it felt like to write a great American novel. You don’t have to write a novel, or even a massive feature; a small news piece will do if that’s what you have time for.
3. Write stream of consciousness.
Just start writing or typing, about anything. Anything at all. Rant. The mere act of writing anything that comes to mind will start to warm up your brain. Go wild.
4. Write on a throwaway page/notebook.
I have a throwaway notebook that I use daily, just to write out and organize my thoughts on a page. Putting words to a page, a page that you know you’ll never return to once you flip it, is a pretty liberating experience and helps you get words down.
5. Treat your writing like an experiment.
A lot of writer’s block tends to come from performance anxieties: will this next piece measure up to my last? Can I top myself, or have I peaked? What will the end result look like? How will that reflect on me as a person? To combat this anxiety, try treating your assignment or article like an experiment – don’t anticipate success, just write to see if something will even work. This will help you to stop judging the worth of your writing and just focus on the task of creating it.
If your experiment fails, then break out the ol’ scientific method: why did it fail? What could have been better? What did you observe happening? Think critically about your creative process.
6. Write an outline and slowly flesh it out.
If you know what you have to/want to write, then draw up an outline. Just put a word or two for each section or important piece of information. Then write a sentence under each section you’ve outlined. Then check Facebook. Then write a second sentence. Then check your email, then another sentence. Keep going until you have something that vaguely resembles a draft.
7. Take a bio break.
Get up, get a glass of water, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, take a lap around the block, stretch. A bio break (biological) is a simple way to make sure that your focus isn’t being compromised by something as silly as “Oh, I haven’t eaten yet today, maybe that’s why I can’t concentrate on anything.” Pay attention to your body, even if you’re doing brain work. (Your brain is part of your body, dummy.)
As you give these seven strategies a bash, I strongly recommend you also keep in mind the following guidelines – these are all about mindset!
Also, Remember a Few Cardinal Guidelines of Writing:
- You will write terrible first drafts.
- You will probably write terrible second and third drafts too.
- Everyone writes terrible drafts, no one just writes out beautiful and flawless writing in one go.
- Your writing can’t improve unless you have a lot of final drafts (if you write a lot of shitty first drafts but not a lot of great final drafts, guess which you’ll be the expert on).
- Completion is a muscle, exercise it. Completing your first draft might be hard, but it makes completing your second draft easier and your final draft even easier.
- Achievement is contagious. Identify and surround yourself with people who are better writers and more motivated than you; aspire to learn from them and you will become a better writer with more motivation. Never resent others’ talents, feed off of each other’s productive energy.
- You can always rewrite, rework, re-edit, and redo a project before turning it in – but only if you have something to work with in the first place. Get words down; that’s always the first step.
- You’ll never be done being a writer. Even if your assignments are in, keep sharpening your claws on every word you can imagine.
Hopefully, this post will give you a bit of a boost and help you on your way towards productivity land! Also, if it makes you feel any better: my first draft for this was absolutely atrocious. Good luck out there, and keep on writing.