Nothing is more terrifying to writers than writer’s block … especially when they’re on a deadline. Perversely, it’s always hardest to find the right words when you need them the most.
But good news. If you’re currently beset with a serious case of writer’s block (or suspect you’ll fall prey to it sometime in the future), we’ve got seven techniques you can use to recover. You’ll make your deadline—and your next deadline, and the one after that.
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1. Pour yourself a glass (or three) of wine
When you’re struggling to find the right words—or let’s face it, any words at all—getting a bit inebriated might be just the thing.
After all, research shows humans are more creative when we’re not sober. According to a study from the University of Chicago at Illinois, people are 30% more likely to find unexpected solutions when they’re drunk. A separate experiment pitted two groups of ad executives against each other. The first group drank water, while the second consumed ample alcohol. Guess which group produced four out of the five best ideas, as judged by a (sober) panel? Yup: The drunk one.
If you decide to bust out the booze, just make sure to follow Hemingway’s advice and edit sober.
2. Work on something else
Not feeling a topic? Give your brain a change of pace and work on something completely different.
This technique is especially helpful if you’ve got a separate piece you’re dying to write. For example, maybe you’re in the middle of an article for work—but you can’t stop thinking about an essay you want to write for your personal blog. Give yourself permission to write the essay. Once it’s out of your creative system, you’ll find it much easier to tackle the article.
However, if you’re just plain stuck, turn to a more practical project. Send emails, prepare your taxes, go for a walk, maybe even clean. After a while, you’ll be recharged and ready to write.
3. Make an outline
Figuring out the direction of your piece as you write usually leads to a dead end. When you’re struggling to figure out where to go next, try taking a step back.
First, outline the sections you’ve already written, then think about what would follow naturally. If you’re still stuck, it’s worth telling a friend or editor what you’ve got so far and asking them what they’d expect to read next.
4. Talk it out
If writing were as easy as speaking, everyone on the planet would do it. Next time you’ve got writer’s block, turn on your recorder and call a friend (or if no one’s free, talk to your cat).
Describe your piece, from the premise down to the details. In the process, you’ll typically generate a couple of new ideas—and voila, you’ll be back in business.
5. Use an app
Many people struggle with editing as they write. They end up tweaking the same sentence or paragraph over and over. When you’re having trouble getting in the zone, try switching to a writing app.
Ilys, for example, only shows you the last letter you’ve typed. The only way to see the entirety of what you’ve written is to reach your pre-set word count. It’s a little bizarre not to see what you just wrote, but it’ll help you unlock the flow.
Flowstate is even more extreme. This tool will delete everything you’ve written if you stop typing for seven-plus seconds. Nothing is more motivating than knowing your work will disappear if you don’t keep writing.
Want a minimalist writing app that won’t punish you for not typing? Try ZenPen, which boasts a Medium-esque interface.
6. Switch your setup
A new environment can work wonders. If you’re at home, try grabbing your computer and heading to a coffee shop or the library. Heading outside can also help generate new ideas; research shows that nature has a significant impact on our creativity.
It may even help to switch mediums. Are you typing on a computer? Temporarily switch to a notebook. You can even give yourself a literal blank slate by opening a new file and seeing if you’re less stuck when you’ve got an empty page in front of you.
7. Force Yourself to Write
Sometimes, you try every technique in the book—and you’re still crippled by writer’s block. In these situations, the best solution is to plant yourself in your chair and force yourself to write. Give yourself permission to write badly. Rather than shooting for quality, your only focus is quantity.
Most of what you write in the beginning stages of this exercise probably won’t be usable. However, most people find their rhythm somewhere in the middle. Once you’ve broken through your block, you can go back and delete the content that’s not very good.