10 tips to smash writer’s block

Set a timer, make a list, and break down big tasks into bite-size messaging morsels.  Above all, don’t let perfectionism slow you down.


You have something to write.

  • A reply to a challenging email message.
  • A brief or presentation about a new project.
  • A post for the blog you swore you would maintain.

You are fully aware that this content will not write itself. You know the subject matter better than anyone, so you’re the right person—maybe the only person—for the job.

Still, you struggle. You show up at the page or screen, and nothing happens. Frustrated, you walk away. Later, you’re reluctant to go back. You find umpteen reasons to avoid writing.

But then what? Are you willing to see your project stall or stop? Is that even an option?

Probably not. You can’t afford to stay stuck.

Some people call this “writer’s block.” But that term is unhelpful.

Claiming “writer’s block” is an excuse, as if you’re a victim of some short- or long-term disability that keeps you from the page. Nonsense. What you’re facing is a temporary situation—a problem over which you have complete control.

If I’m feeling stuck or find myself in a state of chronic procrastination, I break the negative cycle by starting a positive one. Here are 10 simple ways to get unstuck:

1. Allow imperfections.

Seeking perfection from a first draft is a great way to freeze your fingers and crush your confidence. Again and again, give yourself permission to write poorly. American poet William Stafford said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”

Lower your expectations. Remind yourself that first drafts are not permanent. Get some words on the page, even if they suck.

2. Free write with a timer. 

You can suffer through just about anything for a minute or two. Set a timer for however many minutes you can bear—one, three, five, 15—and write. Even if you veer off topic, don’t stop until time is up.

3. Mind map.

Grab a blank sheet of paper and a marker in your favorite color. Start scribbling words and phrases about your message. Look what your brain did! Take two ideas from your mind map, and marry them together. Go from there.

4. Make a list.

You could list items related to the subject you’re trying to cover: every fact you know, people who have influenced what you know, reasons others ought to know what you know. Or, just to clear your head, you could list things that have nothing to do with your project: places you’d like to visit, people you’d like to meet, foods you’ve never tried. Shoot for a list of 39 items.

5. Record yourself. 

Maybe the glitch is between your brain and your fingers. Shorten the distance the message has to travel by letting your voice do the writing. Speak your ideas into a voice recorder (smart phones have them built in), dictation software, or even a phone message to yourself.

6. Talk it out. 

Phone a friend, or sit down with someone face to face. Ramble about your idea. Have your buddy take notes and/or restate what you’ve said.

7. Search your files. 

Hunt through your own documentation, whether hard copy or digital, for good words you’ve already written. I find some of my best material in my Sent email box. Other possible sources: your calendar, meeting notes, proposals and presentations, social media posts and comments.

8. Go out of order. 

Opening lines can be daunting. If you can’t figure out how to begin, jump into the middle, or write the ending. No one has to know you wrote the intro last.

9. Talk to your people. 

Contact clients or customers or co-workers. Ask what they have heard you say about the message you’re struggling to write.

10. Shrink the task. 

Mark Twain said, “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.”

Instead of trying to draft an entire presentation or post or manifesto, break the work into smaller chunks. Write the headlines. Insert your bio. Drop in the page numbers.

You wrote before, and you’ll write again. Draw on that confidence, and choose just one simple step from this list to get the juices flowing.

You’ll no longer be stuck. You’ll be writing.

Tell us which of these methods work for you. And if you have other ideas, please share in the comments below.

Beth Nyland is a writer, instructor, consultant, and creative communications leader. Read more of her work on the Spencer Grace blog.


One Response to “10 tips to smash writer’s block”

    Vanessa King says:

    I keep a document with words and phrases that I think would be useful for the types of stories I write. If I get writer’s block, I look at the doc and it usually inspires me enough to get started.

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