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Have you ever fought with how to get unstuck when writing? Here are seven tips that will help you put an end to that sticky problem….
You’re trying to write a book or long report and you’re feeling tired and uninspired. You peck out a word or two on the keyboard but you really don’t know what to say or what point you want to make. You stare off vacantly into middle space. “This is the opposite of flow,” you tell yourself. “I have no inspiration and no motivation.”
Smart writers will persist for x minutes (note that x is always a small number) and then close up shop for the day and go do something else, more interesting. Most people however will then follow the natural instinct to declare that tomorrow they’re going to double down on their effort. This usually means spending twice the amount of time writing the next day or producing twice the number of words.
They do this because they’re determined not to pay the “cost” for having been stuck. Trouble is, this is precisely the wrong message.
Here are seven better ways to get unstuck when writing:
1-Reduce your writing time for next time: More pain is caused by over-ambitious writing plans than by any other strategy. Understand that you’re far more likely to be asking too much of yourself, not too little. (I know, I know, you have a deadline. But remind yourself that if your current strategy is leaving you without producing any words at all, wouldn’t even a small number of words be an improvement on that?) When I wrote my last book Your Happy First Draft, I went through a brief stretch where I couldn’t produce my required number of words per day, which was 500. I took a deep breath and gave myself permission to write only 250 each day and guess what happened? All of a sudden, I felt articulate and inspired. Indeed, on most days I actually accumulated 500 words, even though that was no longer my goal.
2-Make sure that you’ve done enough thinking, first: What do you need to do before writing? You need to research, of course, but you also need to think. And many people make the mistake of trying to think at their desk – the world’s worst place to do this important task. Cut the rope that’s tying you to your desk and allow both your body and your mind to wander. We all have our best ideas when we’re thinking about something else. Many people worry about forgetting their ideas if they’re not at their desk to take notes. Don’t let this concern bother you. If the idea is interesting enough, you won’t forget it. (And if you’re still worried, bring along your cellphone so you can dictate some notes to yourself.)
3-Get some exercise: I know, I may sound like your high school PE teacher when I give you this advice. But we all know that exercise does more than burnish our muscles. It also allows our brains to work better. Don’t do exercise you hate. Find something that you enjoy and find rewarding. If gyms bore you, maybe you need something more competitive. Tennis anyone? And if you’re not a team sports person then going for a long walk or bike ride might be just the ticket for you. The big benefit of exercise is that it will clear your head after all the time you’ve spent hunched over your keyboard. That breath of fresh air will allow your brain to work better and help you to see some creative alternatives to being stuck.
4-Make sure you’ve had enough sleep and that your well is full: Here’s another idea that’s going to sound like an excuse. But it’s not; sleep is essential. If you’re going to write, which is a creative act, you need your full complement of sleep (somewhere between 7 and 10 hours) and you also need to have had enough “fun” in your life to bolster your creativity. I call this having a full well – as in having enough “water” or life-giving force — to be able to sustain yourself. What fills anyone’s well? Items on the list include: seeing your friends, listening to music, reading novels, seeing plays or films, viewing art. This is not just about entertainment, it’s about you giving yourself the vision to create by having contact with other creators.
5-Make sure you’ve done at least one mindmap, maybe more. I know I talk about mindmapping a lot but it’s really one of the best ways I’ve ever found to harness human creativity. Any time you’re struggling with something (whether it’s writing or something else), do a mindmap to give you some guidance. I’m doing a 30-day mindmapping challenge with members of my Get It Done group and I’m thrilled to see all the creative ways (and manners) in which these writers are using mindmaps. Last week, one of them was on a train in Europe and she did her mindmap on the back of a napkin. For a link to the videos and posts I’ve done on mindmapping, go here.
6-Change your environment: Have you created a negative association with the place where you usually write? No problem. Break it by changing the place you write. If your home office (or kitchen table) has become unbearable, go to your local library or coffee shop and write for 30 minutes. This change in venue will give you new surroundings and new people to look at. It will also give you a panoply of different scents and sounds. Thank goodness Covid is starting to wind down enough to make libraries and coffee shops good options once again.
7-Postpone the part of the writing that’s snagging you: Don’t keep hammering away at a sentence or paragraph that’s jamming you up. Instead, pretend you’re making a Hollywood film. Movies are never shot in consecutive order. Instead, all the scenes in location A get filmed at once, followed by all the scenes in location B, followed by all the scenes in location C. The editor stitches them together in the right order, later. You can do the same thing (more easily, actually), when you’re writing. Start with the part that seems easiest and most interesting to you and deal with the more challenging parts on another day, when you feel stronger.
People sometimes describe being stuck as “writer’s block.” The more productive approach is to identify whatever psychological barrier is holding you back, and get rid of it. Review this list of seven solutions for an easy way to get yourself unstuck when writing.
Have you ever been paralyzed by fear of writing? Don’t let this nasty psychological barrier make your life miserable or cost you missed income. I’ve developed an affordable 18-video series that will help you banish the fear. Plus you’ll get membership to an online group of others facing the same challenge. Have a look at it here.
My video podcast last week addressed how to deal with resistance. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you get yourself unstuck when writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by March 31/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!