Why won’t the words come? I’ve been sitting at the computer for an hour, with the cursor and I just blinking at each other. I splatter a few awful phrases onto the page, and then delete them before spewing out a bit more garbage.
I have writer’s block.
I’m not alone. Writer’s block is the bane of wordsmiths everywhere. Whether a writer is penning a poem or constructing a white paper, creative constipation can clog up the works.
Writer’s block is nothing new. In fact, Edmund Bergler coined the term “writer’s block” in the 1940s. He describes it as a “neurotic inhibition of productivity in creative writers.” That’s kind of harsh, Ed, and not particularly helpful.
Words of Wisdom (from Somebody Other than Edmund)
A friend of mine says she never gets writer’s block. I find that hard to believe, considering how often it happens to me, but she always seems to produce thousands of words a day without a problem. We even had an email conversation about my writer’s block, and she sent me a neat list of rules to avoid it. Looking for the email sure sounds like more fun than writing this article, so give me a minute…
Found it! It says:
Rule #1: Stop looking at emails when you should be writing.
Ouch, okay, that hit a little close to home but I see what she is saying in her email to me, and she sure is a lot nicer than Ed about it. Checking emails, peeking in on Facebook, glancing at Instagram, checking in on Twitter, and researching the unkind history of the phrase “writer’s block” are not particularly helpful to the writing process.
Here are her other rules.
Rule #2: Identify and address the causes of your personal writer’s block
Writer’s block is highly personal – the things that prevent me from writing might not stop you – but timing, fear and perfectionism are common causes of work paralysis. I personally blame Edmund and his snarky comment.
Rule #3: Work according to routine
While the writer’s lifestyle offers incredible flexibility over the grind of a 9 to 5, the loose work schedule of a non-traditional office can muddy the waters between your personal time and your professional time. Performing the same tasks at the same time every day teaches your brain to start the creative process at the appointed time.
Create a routine that works for you. Play three of your favorite songs prior to writing, for example, go for a jog before sitting at the keyboard, or have a cup of coffee with a life-size printout of Edmund Bergler – whatever works for you.
Rule: #4: Jump in the middle
Because so much rides on it, the first paragraph of any piece is often the hardest. Perhaps the best way to overcome this daunting task is to skip it and come back later, after you have developed the overall “voice,” flow and cadence of the project.
Rule #5: Blurt out the facts
Perform whatever research may be necessary to complete the piece, and jot down the raw information – don’t worry about creating sentence. Start by researching and writing down any facts or statistics necessary, along with their sources. Next, address any specifications laid out in the project description, when available. Determine how you might use required keywords, for example, or address a complex issue.
Rule #6: Take breaks as necessary
Burnout is one of the primary causes of writer’s block. Take a break from writing every couple of hours, even if you haven’t written a word. Go for a walk, enjoy a snack, or drink some coffee or tea.
Rule #7: Just go to work
Henry Miller said it best (or at least better than Ed did): “When you can’t create, you can work.” In other words, when you can’t come up with Pulitzer-winning content, you can always edit, do research, create outlines and strengthen your work in other ways. Performing these tasks improves the overall quality of your work and can even stimulate creativity.
Rule#8: Don’t over-think it
Excessive tweaking can clot creativity. Read your work over a couple of times and, barring any egregious passages, send it along as-is.
For other helpful tips about overcoming writer’s block, do what I did – ask WriterAccess writers how they deal with the issue. Writers are a community of professionals who, as a group, have experienced and conquered many of the same problems you encounter as a writer. Just don’t ask Edmund Bergler.
Lynn H has been a professional writer, providing exceptional content online and offline, for nearly 20 years. In that time, she has penned thousands of articles for doctors, universities, researchers, small businesses, nursing organizations, sole proprietors and more. She writes everything from blogs to white papers; her specialty is putting complex scientific concepts in simple terms. She specializes in medical writing, creating informative and engaging content for professionals in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, medical manufacturing, chiropractics, optometry, emergency care, plastic surgery and others.