Whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned pro, there will be times when you sit down at your computer and ... nothing happens. You can’t think of anything to write. You can’t think of the next sentence, the next phrase or even the next word.
You may start to doubt whether you’re really even a writer.
But with a few tricks to jumpstart your mind, you can get past it. Here are a few of our favorite tips for breaking through writer’s block, straight from the experts.
Gather Your Thoughts
Your English teachers were right: Creating an outline to plan what you want to write about helps you develop your ideas.
“Before I write anything, I outline the piece, thinking about key points I want to cover,” says Andrea Emerson, a writing coach who leads a Facebook community for fellow writers. “Then I go back through each section and fill in key ideas, proof points or quotes I want to include.” Even if the outline has incomplete sentences or is just a collection of bullet points, it will help you get started, she says. “I once heard someone compare it to mise en place, what professional chefs do when working on a recipe: They have all necessary tools and ingredients lined up, and within easy reach,” Emerson says. “There's no running back to the fridge or pantry; all items are organized in front of them, ready to be mixed together.”
Embrace the ‘Zero Draft’
Another trick is to just start writing... “Even gibberish or a shopping list — just write whatever comes to mind and don't worry about it,” says Gundi Gabrielle, who blogs her world travels as SassyZenGirl. “Then you’ll gradually get back into the flow again.”
Camaron Brooks, a former TV reporter and author ot “Studio Baby: Adventures of a TV Reporter Turned Stay-at-Home Mom,” says that her writer’s block is actually about perfectionism and a fear of failing, which just have to be powered through “Clichés can be fleshed out, grammar can be edited. But you must write something.”
Adam Cole, a jazz musician and the author of several novels and nonfiction books, agrees: “I give myself permission to write as little as I want each day, so long as I write something, any movement forward is a win, from a sentence to a chapter.”
Step Away for a Break
Sometimes you just need to step away from the project to clear your mind.
Devoney Looser is an English professor at Arizona State University and the author of “The Making of Jane Austen.” When Looser can’t write, she says it’s a sign that she needs to refocus and relax. But her method of doing this will depend on how much time she has. “If I have an hour, then I go to the nearby church roller rink that lets me pop in for a few minutes and whiz around the otherwise empty skate floor,” she says. “I leave completely recharged and writing-ready.”
However, if you only have a few minutes to spare, grab a cup of coffee or a cold brew and find a brief diversion to clear your mind. If she only has 10 minutes to spare, Looser says she likes to read two pages from her favorite Austen book: “Pride and Prejudice.” “There’s always something there to make me laugh, something that moves me, even in a part I know really well,” says Looser, who also taught at Louisiana State University for a time.
Karen Ullo, managing editor of Dappled Things Journal, and author of several books, composes music to get back into her creative groove, but knows writers who paint, garden or even knit socks. “Just make something - let your brain reestablish the habit of creativity, and then return to writing,” says Ullo, who lives in Baton Rouge, La. “The cure for blocked creativity is often creativity itself.”