Layout Image

30 Practical Ways to Get Round Your Writing Road Blocks

Don’t start with a blank page. Take a line from a poem, or a song, or something someone said. Don’t start with a blank page (Liz Lochhead*)

Starting with such a practical, block busting suggestion seemed like a good way to open this compilation of tips, suggestions and strategies for getting round your writing road blocks.

Thanks to everyone who took part, in the comment box here and via Twitter.   I’ve tried to bundle the suggestions together into categories to make them easier to read and digest.  Some comments straddle more than one category, and some could have gone in more than one.  I’ve also bolded key words to make the suggestions more scannable. Apologies if I’ve over-simplified what you meant.

The Twitter contributions are inevitably a little cryptic, being compressed into 140 characters or less.  They’re the ones where the attribution starts with @

Here’s what you came up with: 30 Practical Ways to Get Round Your Writing Road Blocks

Change Location or Environment: Get Into the Flow

1. While struggling through the final stages of my thesis, I frequently found blocks to my progress. Largely they were caused by moments of panic when all I could think was, ‘You’re not going to make it. You’re going to miss your deadline.’ When the panic struck, the words did not flow.

My tactic was to have a shower. Something about the movement of the water would relax my mind, connections would begin to occur, sentences would leap into my head fully formed, just waiting to be committed to the page. As a tactic for breaking through those writing road blocks, it never failed! Amy Palko - Less Ordinary

2. Take a walk - sometimes you just need a break @jayfrawley

3. Listen to inspiring brain music;talk to critic/fear; walk @jenlouden

4. Often I head to the nearest spot of nature, always with a few index cards and a pen in my pocket. When I try to force an idea or just the right words to come, I will draw a blank. But when I relax a bit and immerse myself in the natural world, I often find the ideas start to flow naturally. Then I plop myself down on the nearest log or dry space, and scribble as fast as I can. Bo: Seeded Earth

5. I go away from the house with just a notebook and pen. I stay out, doing whatever, until I’m itching to pick up my pen. B J Keltz: Enriched by Words

6. What I find works for me is to just get up and do 20 mins of Tai Chi after that I’m 100% focused and ready to go. David Atkinson

7. The main things that seem to work for me are: workout, meditate, go somewhere inspiring and quiet. If none of the three works I have a few drinks so that my mind can relax and allows me to write Alexander - Quest of a Warrior

8. I do something completely different : going for a walk, listen to music, watch a candle. Suddenly the idea comes my way - Ulla Hennig

9. Writing badly just grabbing a pen and scribbling on the back of an envelope. When I was really stuck writing my website copy I took myself to a cafe and wrote there - sometimes moving locations helps ! Creative Voyage

10. What usually works for me is to get away from the computer and phone. I go to Starbucks and find a comfy chair, get some tea, and open my notebook. Somehow I always wind up with anywhere from 5-20 topics. Brad Shorr - Word Sell

11. I take a shower, do 10 minutes worth of yoga, then sit down and just write anything at all (even “I don’t know what to write” ) until something usable appears. Works every time. Jean Gogolin - Word Tales

In the Cafe by DWinton on Flickr

Put Your Fingers on Your Keyboard, Move Your Pen on the Page

12 Extemporize. Record writing/ideas on dictaphone. Listen. Engage. Automate Pencil & paper. 10 mins write ‘automatically’. @LondonTheatre

13. Fingers on keyboard, internal edit function disabled, capture random thoughts ’til wisdom flows…To disable internal editor: forbid yourself from re-reading a single word. I use ideas scribbled on index cards 2 start flow. @bethbeck

14. I get writers block thinking I have to say something beautiful at first go. I make myself type something, even “This sucks.” @tracymueller

15. Free writing is often helpful since I’m often obsessed with structure and flow. Another is to jot down thoughts about another topic that personally interests me. If necessary, I’ll reward myself for completing a smaller phase of the overall written project. Rewards vary, but often include sweets Gennaro - Enduring Wanderlust

Learn to Work with the Gremlins

16. I give them a space to be what they want to be - I call them idontwannas. They just want to be heard, really! @TheCharmQuark

17. Sometimes… I like to use meditation. I sit with the part of me that’s struggling, and accept it completely. It can take time to do this.  I go for walks. I read books. I do anything else until the ideas flow. Joely Black (aka TheCharmQuark)

18. I’ve also found some success with refusing to write for a few days. I let words build up until I’m choking on them, and then free write them out over a day or two. Sometimes all a log jam needs is a big wave from upriver. B J Keltz: Enriched by Words

Play with a Different Format

19. I outline or use a mind map using paper or pen or sometimes I skip around writing the middle or end first. @KaraSwims

20. I sit down and take the time to brainstorm and write down everything that comes to my mind. Not everything that gets written down can be used, but some ideas are worth working on Ulla Hennig

21. I sit down, open Google Docs and take my time to choose the weirdest background and font-color I can find. Colours that really hurt the eye and don’t match. Then I write down the exact thoughts moving through my brain, however strange or senseless they may seem, as fast as I can. Most of the time I manage to get into a flow - and I can work from there. Detlef

22. The blocks I encounter in business writing are: Lack of excitement about subject matter and not getting the message quite right (the copy must engage, have warmth but also sell and sometimes the words simply won’t come).  To work through lack of excitement, I try to find something other than the subject to get excited about - the excitement of discovery, the challenge of making boring fun for the reader, etc., this takes the focus off the words and always helps me to break through. Karen Swim - Words for Hire

Read a Lot, Write a Lot… and Watch Movies

23. If I’m stuck, I usually do some reading – of good writing. As far as actions, writing everyday makes you good at writing everyday. Quinn Creative

24. I discovered most of my writing topics from the movies and dramas (You can call me the “Drama King” lol) When I’m lacking of ideas, I’ll spend hours watching movies or documentaries… wilson - Will You Mind

25. When the words simply will not come, I turn to my swipe file and writing books (Words that Sell, Phrases that Sell, Writing Magic, Writing Down the Bones) to find inspiration. Often just reading aloud other ideas sparks my creativity. Karen Swim - Words for Hire

Get Structured

26. For my fiction it’s not just a matter of letting the ideas come floating up. There’s all the nasty masochistic writerly stuff going on. So I’ve decided to get structured about my writing, following The 2 Year Novel program by Lazette Gifford - a little bit each week that keeps me going. Plus for another stalled novel, I’m going to move through the program more quickly on my own as a way to get unstuck. Alex Fayle - Someday Syndrome

27. Plus I track my goals daily with a group of writers on http://www.fmwriters.com - a great resource! Alex Fayle - Someday Syndrome

28. I have an accountability buddy and for the past 26 days have followed advice and written a post every day. this has given me both joy in writing and inspiring others. Suzie Cheel - Abundance Highway

29. My roadblock removing device is my recently-found ability to prioritise projects and think about what I want to be doing this time next year, and not just in the next ten minutes. Iain Broome - Write For Your Life

~~~

Comments and suggestions were in response to this question: How Do You Get Past Your Writing Road Blocks?

* Liz Lochhead speaking at a Lapidus event on Freedom and Belonging, 7 February 2009 - and her suggestion is #30 :-)

Photo Credit: In the Cafe by DWinton on Flickr

Share on Twitter

Comments

  1. Ulla Hennig
    Twitter: ullahe
    says:

    Joanna,
    thanks so much for putting all the hints and tricks and proposals together in this blog post! And for the energy and work you invested here. It’s one of your blog posts I will often come back to!

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..The Old Lady

  2. Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) says:

    Brilliant stuff!

    Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)s last blog post..My inner self smokes and other stories

  3. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Joanna, Collective wisdom at its best. I like how you divided the tips into categories. This whole area of formatting is one I’ve never given a moment’s thought to. Seeing so many people mention it makes me want to explore the possibilities.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Client Blog Makes the Search Engine Marketing BIGLIST

  4. Clare Lynch says:

    Hey Joanna

    I’ve been a little busy so missed your original call for ideas. But what a great selection - many of which resonate with my own experience.

    I’d like to add to your section on putting finger to keyboard (or pen to paper). It’s my favourite quote about writer’s block and comes from Kingsley Amis, who wrote 500 words before lunch every day (he was always too drunk to do anything after lunch). I’m sure you know it:

    “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.”

    Like Kingsley and many of your contributors, I definitely find that the more I make myself write, the more I feel the need to write.

    Clare Lynchs last blog post..St Thomas’ Hospital or St Thomas’s Hospital?

  5. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim
    says:

    Joanna, I love Liz’s suggestion and it was the perfect opener. I also found lots of new tips to add to my bag of writing tricks. Thanks for helping us tenaciously pursue audacity in writing. I am so ready for those gremlins - bring it on! :-)

    Karen Swims last blog post..What I Learned From Love

  6. Iain Broome
    Twitter: iainbroome
    says:

    What a smashing list and how lovely to be on it. I’ll be working my way through these links/suggestions come home time.

    Muchos thankos, which is half-Spanish.

    Iain Broomes last blog post..Write for Your Life Podcast #1: Me, me, me!

  7. Gennaro says:

    I don’t know many writers who are not hit with writer’s block every so often. This list would be helpful to any of them. Beautifully synthesized, Joanna.

    Gennaros last blog post..Travelers Must Help Free Rice And Kiva

  8. Audrey says:

    I have to admit I was on Twitter because I did have writer’s block…but then again, if I hadn’t have been on then I would have found Gennaro’s tweet recommending this post and allowing me to discover a new website. So, maybe there’s something serendipitous in all this?

    Thanks for compiling this wonderful list! I do a few of these things already, but have learned a few more tricks that I plan to try out soon.

    Audreys last blog post..Travelers as Diplomats?

  9. Alina Popescu
    Twitter: alina_popescu
    says:

    Great list indeed! A big thank you to everyone contributing and to you, Joanna, for putting it together. As I am struggling with a major block whenever I try to write even the smallest text for my business website, I’m sure this list will do the trick :)

    Alina Popescus last blog post..PR Ideas - Surprise Gift Meme

  10. David Atkinson says:

    Hi Joanna,

    Thanks so much for an awesome list of practical tips and tricks and so great to be among this list. I will be forever coming back to these practical tips.

    P.S. This post has done the trick. Much, much thanks to you Joanna.
    :)

    David Atkinsons last blog post..3 Bloggers I Would Love To Meet

  11. Writers Block is sort of like being the ‘New Kid on the Block’- Well Sort of « Backpacker Uni says:

    [...] ran out of things to say. Ironically today I got sent a link via twitter for  Joanna Youngs Confident Writing web site that had an article on writers block. Once again it got me thinking. ( Really scary [...]

  12. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Ulla thanks, it was fun putting it together. I think I’ll be coming back to it often too!

    Joely thanks, and for your two brilliant contributions!

    Brad, glad you think my editing worked okay. Experimenting with different formats is a good way to stretch the creative muscles I think. One of the oother things Liz Lochhead said as well was that form can give freedom - once we settle on a form (poem, song, ballad) we set to work to find the words to fill it

    Clare, thanks for sharing that quote - someone else mentioned it earlier in the week but we weren’t sure where it came from. It’s a good one right enough… and like you say, the more we write, the more we want to

  13. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Karen that tip about using another line is definitely one I’m going to use again. And one or two others that I’m pretty sure will get me out of my writing rabbit holes. Thanks for your own contributions once again.

    Iain Iain, I like doing these compilations - esp when people come up with so much great stuff. Thanks for the half Spanish :-)

    Gennaro, thank you. I do try and synthesise in my role as editor, so I appreciate you noticing and mentioning it!

    Audrey serendipity indeed, and you know I should have added spending a bit of time on Twitter onto the list - it’s good for getting the words flowing

    Alina I hope so, always much harder when we’re writing our own copy. Try pretending it’s for someone / something else?

    David thanks for chipping in - glad the tips have done the trick!

  14. Bo says:

    It’s like a mini-book for jump starting that ol’ muse when she wants to take a rest. Thanks for the compilation.

    Bos last blog post..A Bit of Last Summer

  15. Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome says:

    Great list and just yesterday used the change location one - from the table to the sofa. An suddenly I could get back what was blocking me about a client project.

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Need some butt-kicking? Someday Syndrome needs new Lab Rats

  16. Raima Larter says:

    Thanks so much for this useful compilation, Joanna - I’m sending it to my writer’s roup RIGHT NOW!

    Raima Larters last blog post..The Origin of Life

  17. Raima Larter says:

    Sorry…that was supposed to be “writer’s group” - so excited I can’t spell! :)

    Raima Larters last blog post..The Origin of Life

  18. wilson says:

    Joanna, I done over half of the methods that you’ve mentioned on above! We mustn’t afraid of the writing’s block, as it will take us further, after you’ve opened up your mind!

    wilsons last blog post..Your Body Type Determine Your Healthy Condition

  19. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Joanna

    Plenty to be going on with in this post. I may have missed it (if it’s above) but one powerful tact is one that’s been used by writers for centuries. It is the momentum provided by practice. It is simply the regular routine of writing every day - no matter what.

    If you look at the diaried writings of writers over the centuries you find among them writers who simply found the drive from the routine of writing. Asimov did it. Keats did it. Conan-Doyle did it. Linklater did it. Twain did it. Shakespeare did it. Scott did it. Wordworth did it as did many of his contemporaries.

    It’s not exclusive to writing either. Musicians who compose use the same technique (if you could call it that). For some it is almost obsessive. For others, who know of the power of practice, it is sheer determination.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Ken Allans last blog post..Blog Indices

  20. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Bo that’s a nice way to think about it. It seems to me there are different tips for different moods, blocks and probably people. I know there are some I’ll be trying for the first time when next it’s needed…

    Alex it’s interesting isn’t it how even a simple shift in location signals to our mind that things are different - personal to professional or vice versa, hard to easy, challenging to fun…

    Raima Thanks for that feedback - hope your group find it useful

    Wilson That is such a good point - I also feel like I’ve learned more about myself since my recent battle with the gremlins. It wasn’t fun at the time but you’re right, it has helped me to stretch. I’m going to try the movie watching tip some time too!

    Ken it wasn’t in the tips but your point has been echoed in the comments, and is such an important one. “The momentum provided by practice” is a great way to express it. Thanks for popping over from middle earth :-)

  21. Tumblemoose says:

    Oh yes. There are some smarty pants out there for sure. These are all great ways to get the mail moving. I’ve employed at least a few of them myself.

    Such an eclectic collection!

    Good job, Joanna!

    George

    Tumblemooses last blog post..Who reads your writing?

  22. tt says:

    Very useful list. Thanks.

  23. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    George, glad you liked the collection. Eclectic is a nice word for it!

    tt, glad you found it useful

  24. Carla says:

    Leaving the house definitely helps me. When I’m stuck in the same place be it work or home, my mind freezes.

    Carlas last blog post..Save water, time and money in your yards

  25. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Carla, me too - wish I could remember to take my own advice sometime! I happened to have to take quite a long journey last week - two trains and a boat, and it did the trick no problem!

    Nice to see you again, thanks for stopping by.

  26. 20 Travel Tips From Our Commenters | Enduring Wanderlust says:

    [...] Young of Confident Writing recently compiled an excellent resource for fighting writer’s block by using suggestions from [...]

  27. Something to Shout About! | Who Is David Atkinson says:

    [...] Something To Shout About! [...]

  28. B J Keltz says:

    Oh, I’ve got this saved so I can try all the ones new to me. I love hearing how other writers do things.

    Thank you so much to all who contributed, and to Joanna for compiling it so beautifully.

    B J Keltzs last blog post..Arguing with Characters

  29. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    BJ, I’m glad you found it useful. There are some great tips in here - I know I’ve been using some already ;-)

  30. [...] Change location This one came up several times in the practical ways to get round your writing blocks.  For me, it’s going on a journey.  A trip to Edinburgh: boat, two trains and a bus… [...]

  31. Facing Gremlins | Pen-y Thoughts says:

    [...] 8. Learn from your gremlins. Wilson reminded me this month not to be afraid of writer’s block because it will take you further - once you’ve [...]

  32. Recommended Blog Reading says:

    [...] Writing. Joanna Young & readers give us 30+ ways to overcome writing roadblocks. [...]

  33. Who Is David Atkinson » Blog Archive » Can Facebook,Twitter and MySpace Teach You How to Write? says:

    [...] Joanna Young of Confidentwriting.com say’s, Experiment with your writing until you recognise y… [...]