Writer’s block is a symptom, not an ailment you have no control over. Still, it’s hard to know why it happens and harder still to get past it.
You might be tired. Sick. Worried. Stressed. Too much on your mind. Too many chores undone. Not enough time to relax and generate ideas. No time spent nurturing your creativity by reading, daydreaming, or simply living life.
But you’re facing a blank page and you want to be productive. You need to do something. And nothing’s happening or it’s all coming out wrong. Should you just give up?
Hell no. You could keep going and keep trying. But don’t bang your head over it. If you just can’t write, be productive and do something else.
Any writer has plenty of work besides writing. Plus, writers need to learn, expand, and explore. And instead of going down guilt-trip road or feeling like a failure, just get to it (even if it doesn’t seem like work).
1. Brainstorm future blog posts or articles.
Create an alphabetical list. Think up some potential topics that start with A, then move on to B, C, and so on. Don’t worry if the topic’s a good one; that gets decided later. If nothing comes to you for certain letters, write anything that starts with that letter (who knows?), and move on. Save it as “Blog post brainstorm” so you can add to it another time.
2. Take care of site maintenance if you’re a blogger.
Update plugins, your theme, or WordPress itself, if needed. If you’re not on WordPress—WordPress.org not WordPress.com—you probably have similar tasks. If not, explore all the many reasons why WordPress is the platform of choice for most bloggers. Create a custom 404 page, or install that editorial calendar you’ve heard about. Clear out comment spam. Speaking of spam, you use Akismet, right?
3. List improvements for your blog or website.
If you’re a blogger or website owner but not a techie, ask your developer or designer to take care of maintenance and improvements or hire someone—try Fiverr. If you’re not sure what improvements or tools you might need, check out this great article on Boost Blog Traffic.
4. Learn a new skill, like how to create your own graphics.
I like Pixelmator for Mac, but I also use Photoshop and Gimp. Gimp is free and just as good as Photoshop for most purposes, and it’s available for Mac or Windows. I create my own graphics, and while some aren’t as professional-looking as I’d like, I’m happy with most. This one took less than an hour.
5. Explore royalty-free stock photo suppliers.
If you’re a blogger or a website owner, you need photos or illustrations. Compare prices and see what’s new. Try these.
Death to the Stock Photos Offers monthly free (beautiful!) images.
Dreamstime Good stuff for a fee.
Fotolia Weekly free images.
iStock Pricey but good.
Shutterstock Similar to Dreamstime and iStock.
Flickr Creative Commons Free but not always great quality.
Wikimedia Commons Free.
6. Take your own photos.
Check out Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School for loads of great tips.
7. Teach yourself to type faster.
I type fairly fast (65-70 WPM on a good day), and when I’m on a roll, I don’t need to look at the keyboard. But I’m inconsistent, and I’d like to improve. Test your speed here and try this free course: Tough Typing Study.
8. Research blogs for guest posting or magazines for paid gigs.
9. Explore publishing opportunities for your poems, short stories, or novel.
10. Brainstorm the plot for a short story or a novel.
Take a walk around your neighborhood and ask, “What if . . .” as Stephen King suggests in On Writing. I’ve got a helluva story going on about some neighbors. Names have been changed, of course, to protect the, um, not-so-innocent.
11. Compare traditional publishing with self-publishing.
Writing a book or dreaming of it? This Forbe’s article is a good place to start: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: What’s The Best Route For Entrepreneurs. And here’s an excellent infographic at The Write Life. Do a Google search; there’s plenty of information available.
12. Read books about writing.
Writers need to read. If you don’t read, where will you get ideas and inspiration? How can you improve your craft? Your business? Your potential? This list is from 2010 (almost ancient by Internet standards), but I recommend the same books.
13. Read blogs about writing.
Here’s a starting point: 20 Fab Websites About Writing. The first section is mainly for fiction writers, and the rest focuses on bloggers and freelancers. A lot of bloggers also write fiction, though, and fiction writers need websites. So don’t limit yourself.
14. Update your profiles on social media platforms or create them.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus are essential for any writer—Facebook and Twitter are a must if you only pick two. Even if you’re an introverted fiction writer who isn’t fond of social media, publishing these days demands it.
15. Create a mastermind group.
I started one just a month ago, and it’s going great. Most of the members are from a Facebook group Chris Brogan runs, and now we have our own group plus face time weekly on Google Hangouts. Here’s one of the articles that gave me some guidelines: How To Start and Run a Mastermind Group.
16. Work on a different (easier?) writing project or bag it altogether.
Sometimes, writer’s block happens because the task is too difficult. You might need to plow through it, but the mental blanks and frustration could be telling you something: the topic is too broad (narrow it), you don’t know enough about it (do research), or it’s poorly organized (create an outline). Or it could be a lousy topic that will never work. Don’t trash it! Save it in a rough drafts folder and take a look later.
17. Learn a new writing skill.
All writers should work toward constant improvement (and that includes me). Nobody is born knowing how to write, and it’s part of the job. Take a look at literary devices and incorporate a few into your own writing. Learn about and start using transitions consistently. Develop your writer’s voice. Cut your word count by cutting prepositions. Practice with an old blog post or some other piece of writing, and explore ways to improve it.
18. Read poetry, speeches, and any genre of writing you normally avoid.
Browse through a collection of poetry by various authors, or choose an anthology based on a theme that appeals to you. It’s a great way to improve your writing rhythm and voice. I love T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats (among many other poets), but here’s something more current that will likely knock your socks off if you’ve never read it: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” You’ll find plenty more at the Poetry Foundation.
And if you don’t know Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream,” read it here. The entire speech gives me chills but especially the part that starts a little more than halfway down with the line “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.”
19. Write poetry.
Why not? Give it a try. Don’t worry about making it rhyme. Just try to capture events, experiences, and emotions in as few words as possible. How about haiku? Or if poetry just isn’t your thing, try some flash fiction. Write a complete story in 200 words or less. I had an honorable mention for this one called “Offering.” It’s a good exercise in distilling big ideas down to something short but powerful.
20. Listen to music, really good music with good lyrics preferably written by the artist (a singer-songwriter).
Explore what the lyrics mean; it will expand your knowledge, grow your vocabulary, and give you ideas for your own writing. I’m a long-time David Bowie fan, and his lyrics are amazing. It’s poetry, and if you don’t know what he’s referring to, it might not make sense. Station to Station is a great example.
And who knew that “losing my religion” means, in southern US English, getting pissed off? I didn’t, but R.E.M.’s song by that title got me curious. Hey, Michael Stipe is from Georgia, after all.
Don’t let writer’s block beat you down. If a blank page—or a page of awful writing—is driving you nuts despite your best efforts, relax. It happens. Just do something different but related so you can still be productive.
And who knows? The break might be just what you needed.
What do you do when you can’t write? Let us know in the comments! And if you found this post helpful, please share.