You’re sitting there, again. Your computer screen is staring back at you. “I don’t have anything yet,” it says. “I don’t have anything, either,” you reply. Your deadline is creeping closer and closer, but you still do not even know where to start.
We’ve all been there. Writer’s block is the worst.
However, it's not something that has to stop your progress. Over the past month, I have written over 20,000 words, and I haven't had to deal with writer's block really at all. In this post, I share my top 25 ideas for overcoming (or, better yet, preventing) writer’s block. All of these activities are ones that I do regularly, and they work for me. As you read them, I hope you will find some that you actually try out for yourself. Remember, the key is to actually do the exercises, not just read how-to posts about them.
There are three times that you should work to prevent getting hopelessly jammed up in your writing cycle: before you start writing, as you are writing, and when you hit the block. Preferably, you can avoid hitting that roadblock in the first place.
Preventing the block
1. Read! This is critical. Read broadly, deeply, and often. A well must have water seeping into it in order for you to draw that water out of it. Fill your mind with wisdom, otherwise what comes out of it might be something else.
2. Get your topic early and think about it. If you have an essay for class, get your topic and begin thinking about it as soon as you can. If you are trying to write a speech, choose your topic as soon as you can. If you can’t choose between your topic ideas, just ask yourself which topic is more critical for this generation to hear about right now. Then begin thinking about what you can say. There are lots of times you can do this, for example, you can...
3. Think about your topic when driving, showering, mowing, walking, falling asleep, and eating. Essentially, anytime your mind is not engaged in some other verbally-oriented activity, think about what you want to say. Refine exactly the way you want to phrase something. Practice delivering jokes. Think about the moral implications of your assessment. I have even thought of arguments for debate in a dream (not sure if that’s a good thing…). By the time you sit down to write, you should already have a pretty good idea of what you to say.
4. Write often. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does help you improve. Think of ways you can start writing more often. Start a blog. Find a pen-pal. Write essays for extra credit. Study a subject you don’t know a lot about, perhaps a theological one, and record what you are learning. You can also…
5. Keep a journal. This could be to record your life story, to write down things you are learning, to vent the frustrating details of your like life, or to pen poetry (Okay, writing poetry is the one activity suggested in this post I don’t actually do… yet). The journal can be for whatever you want, really. Nobody is going to be reading it anyway. (Well, hopefully…)
6. Write down things that pop into your head. Have you ever had an amazing revelation pop into your head that totally clarified something for you? Whenever you think of something that you could include in your next speech, essay, blog post, or even conversation, write it down right away! Carry an actual notebook with you or an electronic one on your phone, like Evernote. Write notes on your hand. Get a paper towel from the restroom. Just get that idea written down before you forget it! One specific thing you should do is…
7. Remember life events. This is critical. A few years ago, several people judging me in Impromptu Speaking told me I needed more personal examples. So, I started writing down a lengthy list of every notable life event that I could think of, and how I could use it in a speech. Incidentally, I never used any of the stories during Impromptu rounds (although I have used them in prepared speeches and blog posts), but what I did do was train my brain to remember life events and how they can be used as illustrations. Speaking of Impromptu Speaking, though, you should definitely…
8. Do impromptu. There’s nothing like having two minutes to create five minutes of content, and then be expected to get up and speak eloquently while you are already using all of your brainpower just to generate the remaining words in your current sentence. But after a lot of time and practice, you can become at least competent at it. Plus, the skills needed to create 750 words (~150 wpm x 5 minutes) in 120 seconds will definitely crossover to help you thoughtfully pen a 500-word essay in the comfort and leisure of your living room or desk, where you can write as you…
9. Listen to music. I am listening to music as I write this. Music gets your brain juices flowing. Well, metaphorically, at least. Listen to music that matches the tone of your writing project. Music helps me really get into the feeling of my message.
However, sometimes you know what you want to say, but you can’t find the words to say it. That’s what I will cover next.
Putting it into words
10. Do more research. Your problem may be an incomplete understanding of the topic. Read more about it until you understand it thoroughly. Then, if it seems too complicated to explain…
11. Think of metaphors. Finding a simple example or illustration can help your audience comprehend it much more easily. For example, I was recently tasked with describing the element of balance in a song. The composition alternated between stringed instruments and wind instruments having the dominant parts. I said the emphasis alternating the two types of instruments was similar to a tennis ball bouncing back and forth. Several other people in the discussion said my metaphor was very helpful to them. Speaking of which, another way you can explain something is by...
12. Give an example. Use those life events I talked about in #7 to illustrate what you are saying. That’s literally what I just did in #11. It’s not hard to do but it can be very helpful.
13. Leave a blank. Don’t waste time getting tripped up by a single word. If you are struggling to think of the perfect word, just write “_____.” Then you can come back to it later and…
14. Use a thesaurus. Write a similar word and then search for synonyms, and then search for synonyms of those synonyms. If you still can’t find the perfect word, don’t worry about it too much; people aren’t going to remember every word you write anyway. You could also...
15. Think: What would my mom say? You probably know what your mom would want to about your topic. Write that down. If you don’t agree with it, then think about why you don’t agree and then write that down. Now you are making progress! If you don’t know what your mom would say, you could also…
16. Think: What would/did Jesus say? Are there any bible verses relevant to the topic? Search a concordance, Bible app, or Bible study website. Bible verses are a staple in nearly all my speeches and blog posts.
17. Write to somebody. When you are writing, think of one specific person and write your message as if you are writing it to them (or at them, whatever the case may be). If you were having a conversation with them about the topic, what would you say? Better yet, do it for real and…
18. Talk in person. Some topics are best communicated in person. I have become painfully aware of this fact recently. Speaking of Bible verses, the Apostle John even stated, “I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face.” (3 John 13-14). In addition, talking to somebody can help you sort out your thoughts in your own head so you can come back to your computer or notepad refreshed and ready to put down your thoughts. However, if all else fails, here are some things you can do to power through and finish your project.
19. Recycle examples, outlines, and ideas.* I reuse life events all the time, emphasizing different aspects of the experience to make sure it is relevant to the topic. I also have several impromptu outlines I have used many times, e.g. pros/cons/suggestion, causes/what happened/what we can learn, and, my favorite, the importance of something/the lack of it/how we can have it. *Note: I am not advocating violating plagiarism rules. If your teacher says you are not allowed to reuse old essays for your current class, you should honor that rule.
20. Set a timer and work to finish. If you procrastinated and only have few hours left, then this is one is already done. If not, it may be helpful to set a deadline and work to meet it.
However, in spite of your best efforts, you may still be unable to think of anything to write, If this is the case, here are a few ideas.
When you hit a wall
21. Pray. Preferably, you didn't wait until this point to pray. However, if you did, ask God for help. Ask Him to show you what He would have you say.
22. Take a break. Caution: Don’t abuse this suggestion. The other night (in fact, when I was trying to write this very post) I started watching some YouTube videos. Three hours later, I hadn’t written a single additional word. A much better break idea would be to do something active, like mowing the lawn or taking a walk. Refer back to #3. You could also change tasks and work on a different writing project, which is one reason to…
23. Have multiple projects. That way, when your brain is worn out of one topic, you can just change over to a different one. Another benefit is that you can…
24. Spend downtime editing. Go back over your work and proofread, revise, abbreviate what you have already written. When it comes to writing, you want to cut out unnecessary words that are not adding anything substantial to the topic at hand. Like that. Additionally, as you review earlier work, you may rediscover a thought that you recorded earlier but forgot. Then you can get back to writing again! However, in the end, all tricks aside, the key to writing your paper or speech is not doing fancy tricks or reading article on overcoming writer’s block; it’s writing. So…
25. Write something… anything! Just type a single sentence. Then another one. Ramble. Start with what you do know and move on from there. As you get your thoughts down, you can begin to form a mental image of what you are trying to say. The process of writing can actually bring things to your mind that weren’t there before. For example, last year I was overcome by the painful feeling of knowing I had seen many of my friends for probably the last time ever. I knew that I wanted to write a blog post, but I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it. However, I leaped in and started typing away. About an hour and a half later, I finished. The result turned out to be my favorite post I have ever written: When we have to part for the last time. You should read it.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Before you go, feel free to bookmark this page as a handy reference for the future.
Now it’s time to actually start writing something. So stop procrastinating and get to it!
Best of wishes!
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About Nathaniel Hendry
I blog on common social issues from a reasoned, conservative Christian perspective in easy to understand writing. I am committed to academic excellence in writing and supported by solid reasoning and research.
About A Worthy Word
The Worthy Word isn't mine, but God's. I just try to explain the truly Worthy Word and encourage you from it.