5 ways to beat writer’s block.

Have you ever had writer’s block?

It’s the feeling of being out of words. The blank page is no longer a canvas to be danced upon with vocabulary and joy. It’s now a terrifying desert, devoid of adjectives and ideas, completely white and empty without an oasis in sight.

How do you beat moments like that? Here are 5 things I’ve learned to do in my 16 years as a professional writer:

Block

1. Write fast.
Writer’s block is just a longer name for “fear.” One easy way to beat it is to write quickly. Don’t worry about spelling, mistakes or details. Just write. Write so fast your fear can’t keep up.

2. Write in different locations.
Sometimes, writer’s block likes to set up shop in my home office. It perches on my favorite chair and waits for me. Know what I do then? I find a different place to write. I head to the couch in the living room. I retreat to our bedroom. I hit up a local coffee shop. I throw writer’s block off the scent of the trail.

3. Do something unrelated to writing.
I have some of my best ideas about writing when I’m not writing. It’s almost like the ideas are hiding in the corners of my life and if I try too hard to catch them they see me coming. But when I’m out running they don’t suspect anything and they walk back into the open field of my mind. A mile in, they appear and I grab them.

4. Read something brilliant.
Good writers read good writers. If the tank is empty, fill it back up with something that inspires you and challenges you from the space you’re trying to write in. The books Bird by Bird and The War of Art  saved me in the middle of writing my first book. (Non-fiction writers read great non-fiction readers. Songwriters analyze other songs. Etc.)

5. Get outside your medium.
Got a blog post you need to write? Listen to music. Writing a new play? Read a magazine article. Stuck on a non-fiction book? Pick up a novel. In point 4 we stayed within our medium. Now it’s time to jump mediums and stretch our definition of “writing.”

I think every writer thinks every other writer doesn’t struggle with writer’s block.

That’s nonsense. We all feel like we run out of ideas. We all get stuck. But it doesn’t mean we have to stay there.

Those are 5 techniques I use to beat writer’s block, what do you do when you run into it? Share your best tip in the comments!

31 Comments
  • Nick
    Posted at 08:05h, 14 July Reply

    I’ve done several of these and they totally work! I also write about other topics (my book is about marriage; if I feel stuck I write about personal finance, another topic I enjoy). It gets my fingers moving and inevitably triggers progress on the marriage writing, too.

  • Joey E
    Posted at 08:10h, 14 July Reply

    #3 — my best ideas come to me when I’m jogging or in the shower. The trick is to remember them, and the brilliant wording that hits me in the moment.

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 12:04h, 14 July Reply

      So true. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the exact phrase!

    • K.S.
      Posted at 23:08h, 14 July Reply

      They make waterproof notepads for that reason!! 🙂

  • Ceil
    Posted at 08:13h, 14 July Reply

    I usually read. When something ‘hits me’, I know I can sit back and meditate on that idea, and try to see why it’s so attractive to me.

    I’ve never tried to ‘write fast’ although that sounds interesting. I wonder if all it would be is a huge rant about how I can’t think of anything?

    • Casey
      Posted at 17:46h, 15 July Reply

      That made me laugh. 🙂

  • Charles Johnston
    Posted at 08:19h, 14 July Reply

    The timing could not be better as I continue to be blocked or maybe I just have lost my voice…music usually helps but lately even that is clogging the pipes. Currently reading more blogs and a book to act like drano.

  • AmyT
    Posted at 10:41h, 14 July Reply

    Dug this recent article in the Times: “Writing in the Here and Now” – http://nyti.ms/1tICusM

  • Kayla Dawn Thomas
    Posted at 10:41h, 14 July Reply

    I’ve had success with all five, but my favorites are changing location and writing fast. Some days there’s not time to put off writing or with my daughter home for the summer, changing location isn’t an option. Then writing myself out of a funk is the quickest way to get back on track.

  • Chandler
    Posted at 11:14h, 14 July Reply

    I agree with Charles, it was good timing. I struggled with this over the weekend as I was preparing for an upcoming guest post this week. Finally I sat in my garage (I usually write in my guest bedroom/office) and cranked out a good cool 2500 words this morning. Sometimes an odd change is what’s in order. Thanks, Jon!

  • Shelly Calcagno
    Posted at 12:47h, 14 July Reply

    Thanks for this great post!

    One day I took time to brainstorm a list of ideas and I have them hanging on a bulletin board beside my desk. Somedays I stare at them like they are the grocery bill. Other days, one will jump out at me and be totally inspiring depending on where I am at and what is going on in my life. I also use a great app called the Idea Organizer where I can record, take a picture or make a list of ideas – it’s helped me organize my crazy brain!

  • Scott Asai
    Posted at 13:54h, 14 July Reply

    I remember doing an exercise in an elementary school writer’s camp where we just had to write for a period of time without pausing. It is uncomfortable at first, but later on you write more freely without trying to get it right the first time. I do that now with my blogging and it helps my ideas get on paper more freely and I can always refine them later.

  • J.T. Smith
    Posted at 14:08h, 14 July Reply

    #4 is spot-on. I’ve never come out of reading a great book without being inspired for at least one or two blog posts.

  • Christiana
    Posted at 14:39h, 14 July Reply

    I have been known to text myself

  • Kevin Ashcraft
    Posted at 14:42h, 14 July Reply

    I’m currently writing a book. Some of my best ideas are in my mind immediately upon waking up. I immediately grab my phone and open Evernote and list everything that comes to mind. Then later on I will organize those thoughts when I’m not half-asleep.

  • Rick Theule
    Posted at 14:59h, 14 July Reply

    I love the “Write Fast” idea. Works for me almost every time. Keep writing. Don’t think about it, just keep it moving. Amazes me every single time.

  • Meghan
    Posted at 17:53h, 14 July Reply

    Thank you for this post Jon! I am a young writer writing my first book. I started on the 19 of June, and know I am on my 58 page. I stumble on writers block though and these tips will help me in the future! I like to watch tv because I am writing a Fiction book, and that helps me! I am so happy I saw this post because I would if never thought to just, “write as fast as I could” as you seas on 1. Thank you! God Bless!

  • Steph
    Posted at 18:10h, 14 July Reply

    Thanks for calling writer’s block what it really is…Fear. I never thought about it that way before. I thought it was just procrastination which happens to be a personal pet peeve of mine so it was like a double whammy! I will now try the writing fast idea to defeat fear! I feel the most mentally free when I’m outside exercising. When an idea happens, I use voice dictation on my smart phone and take a “note” so I no longer lose those thoughts.

  • Jeff Miller
    Posted at 19:45h, 14 July Reply

    1. Chat with my wife and try to get some ideas or inspiration
    2. Spend time editing other work and come back to new writing later
    Thanks Jon

  • Travis Tjelmeland
    Posted at 21:10h, 14 July Reply

    I usually just write a blog post advising my readers about conquering writer’s block, but it seems I’ve been beaten to the punch 😉

    But seriously…

    As a young filmmaker, I find it incredibly useful to read or watch reviews/commentaries/behind the scenes of other films. People just spell out what does and doesn’t work in movies. It’s like free advice!

  • Zechariah
    Posted at 08:47h, 15 July Reply

    Great post Jon! Love all of it and have found them all helpful. Thanks for the wisdom:)

  • Martha Brady
    Posted at 10:40h, 15 July Reply

    i have a 6th one for you:) live a long time (almost 70 years). then you’ll have so much to write about it will be oozing out of your pores and your problem will be learning how to edit:)

  • David Mike
    Posted at 12:50h, 15 July Reply

    I don’t suffer from writer’s block as much as writer’s block of time to write.

  • Kimanzi
    Posted at 17:34h, 15 July Reply

    Great tips Jon and I’ve used every one of them! I especially like changing locations, heading to a coffee shop really helps me.

  • Scott
    Posted at 17:54h, 15 July Reply

    Number 3 is probably my favorite way of getting over it. Whenever I find myself not being able to think and getting in this rut, I just go live life. Through that process it seems like more and more ideas just come to me. Specific to my site, I think doing this helps me improve personal relationships if I’m with other people and really “practicing what I preach” and not just writing about it. However, in turn, I gain a lot of good material that I can use later on down the line.

  • Katie C
    Posted at 11:33h, 16 July Reply

    “Write so fast your fear can’t keep up” — I love this!
    I think my biggest struggle with writing is that I get so in my head and wrapped up in what to write that I can’t actually get words on a page.

  • Linda M Au
    Posted at 16:00h, 17 July Reply

    Seems my best ideas comes while I’m driving. I bought myself a small digital voice recorder for the car, put Velcro on the back — and then put the other side of the Velcro on the dashboard. Works like a charm, and now I don’t forget the bits and pieces of ideas that come while I’m in the car.

    Best $40 I ever spent. 🙂

  • Jennifer Dougan
    Posted at 13:51h, 20 July Reply

    Jon,

    I’ve seen your name on social media around me but this is the first time I’ve hopped over. I’ve enjoyed browsing through the top few posts here, and liked this article, especially. Your personalizing of writer’s block made me grin, even while I was learning tips. Smiling at this image: “they don’t suspect anything and they walk back into the open field of my mind. A mile in, they appear and I grab them”…

    Nice to meet you,
    jennifer Dougan
    www,jenniferdougan.com

  • Val
    Posted at 18:30h, 30 July Reply

    Tetris. I find, particularly when a deadline is looming, that the process of sorting the blocks and having to shut out other distractions while I do, is a great kickstart to sorting out my thoughts on one topic. It has never failed to restore focus (and nimble, warmed-up fingers).

    Of course, I’ve also had to learn to set a max number of games I’ll play before I buckle down to face the screen. 🙂

    • Val
      Posted at 18:32h, 30 July Reply

      Of course, I’m on a deadline now so “wrote fast” and didn’t proofread the comment for typos. Oops. Thanks for the list – they are all great strategies.

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