7 Steps for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Photo of shattered pencil fragments on a yellow legal pad, perhaps symbolizing writer's block.
Frustrated? It’s time to get up and go for a quick walk outside. (Photo: J.R. Bale)

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
—Mark Twain

Mark Twain, who worked as a journalist as well as a novelist, should know a thing or two about writer’s block.

All writers struggle with filling a blank page or screen at some time in their careers. Reasons include anything from anxiety to exhaustion, and from distraction to confusion.

We can experience a block at the very start of a project or at its conclusion.

What every writer experiencing a block has in common, however, is the frustration that comes along with it. Here are some strategies to try the next time you’re stuck with a blinking cursor and nothing to say.

1. Just Get Started

Sometimes when you are writing an article, the perfect lead comes to you and the article practically writes itself. Other times, you’re stuck from word one.

If you can’t seem to get the first sentence done, skip it. Skip the first sentence, that is. Maybe even the whole introduction.

There is no rule that you have to start at the beginning. Start in the middle and come back to the beginning later. Or start with your conclusion and work your way backward. Once you get started writing, you’ll find that the ideas will come.

2. Write Something Every Day

If you want to make a living as a writer, you need to write. Establishing a writing schedule helps prevent writer’s block.

If nothing much comes to mind, create an outline for the article. Ask yourself: What do my readers need to know about this topic? Jot down words or phrases. Put down possible titles, bullet points, or anything to get your mind going on the topic.

3. Get Away From Your Desk

Are you just sitting there staring at the screen, getting more and more anxious? Try moving away from your desk for a little while.

  • Go for a walk around the block or take a run in the park.
  • Read a magazine.
  • Have a cup of tea.
  • Or do something else unrelated to writing while your subconscious mind works on whatever has you stymied.

The time away may be what you need to come up with that new idea.

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4. Set Firm Deadlines for Your Work

When you know you have to get a piece of writing done by a certain time, it holds you accountable.

Avoid loose deadlines.  Knowing that someone is expecting to receive your work at a certain time can help you push through a block. For whatever reason, most of us do our best under pressure.

5. Work on Another Project

Switch over to a different assignment for a short while.

If your words flow smoothly for that piece of writing, it will give you the encouragement to go back with renewed energy to the first one.

Photo, shot overhead, of a young woman at a wooden table (looks like a picnic table) with a laptop computer; her smartphone is at the right of the laptop on the table, and at her left is a coffee drink in a cup that has some foam in the shape of a heart.
Try mixing things up by taking your work somewhere else—such as outside. (Photo: ammentorp)

6. Take Your Work Somewhere Else

Some people find it helpful to switch things up when they have writer’s block.

  • If you normally write in a home office, can you take your laptop to a coffee shop?
  • What about to a table in your backyard?
  • The library?

A new environment may free up what’s holding you back.

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7. Go Easy on Yourself

Writer’s block can be caused by our own desire for perfection. Sometimes we set expectations for our work that are impossible to attain.

Release yourself from that pressure and just write. You can always go back and clean it up later.

Image of a quote that says, "Don't worry about perfection right now. Just write. You can always go back and clean it up later."

Writer Philip Pullman puts it this way:

“Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: A professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.”

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I'm Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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