Get over your writer's block fast!

My foolproof method for beating writer’s block

Being a professional writer means scheduling your creativity. If you have a looming deadline, and you just can’t get anything on the page, try these foolproof techniques for beating writer’s block. I’ve used them for years to push my way through difficult writing projects. I’ve also taught them to teams of non-writers to help them turn out high-quality writing with their own unique twist.

Let me show you how to get out of your own way and get from "blank page" to "published" in the shortest time possible.

My approach

Start with a brainstorm, not an outline

An outline tends to force a structure to your thinking that you may not be ready for. If you’re absolutely stuck, you need to start with something more basic than an outline.

Start with bullet points, not paragraphs

Paragraphs also demand a structure that will handcuff you at this point. Bullet points allow you to think in short, unrelated bursts. They’re great for getting your thinking flowing.

1. Write down everything you already know about a subject

This is a brainstorming step. It doesn’t matter if your thoughts seem random or irrelevant. Resist the urge to be logical or chronological; that step comes later. Just get your thoughts down on paper.

Example

Here’s a brainstorm I did for a post about my experience using Chromecast:

Hands-on with Chromecast

  • Chromecast lets you stream video on your TV
  • Fun to steal control of the TV to force your friends to watch your YouTube videos
  • Cheap to buy, so why not experiment?
  • Chromecast works over a wireless network
  • Hardware actually supports bluetooth as well
  • Could run HBOGo from my phone
  • Running a version of Chrome TV
  • Game of Thrones running from my phone in extremely high quality
  • Gives the illusion of easy setup, but actually unforgiving of any misstep
  • You install software to set up your connection to the device
  • The Chromecast software installs plug-ins to existing apps so you can cast what’s playing
  • Chromecast is similar to hardware like Roku and Slingbox

2. Group similar points together

Chances are that many of your points are already related. When you group them together, you lay the foundation for a nice, meaty paragraph.

Example

Going with my Chromecast example:

Hands-on with Chromecast

  • Chromecast lets you stream video on your TV // How does it stream? Wirelessly.
  • Chromecast works over a wireless network
  • Fun to steal control of the TV to force your friends to watch your YouTube videos
  • Could run HBOGo from my phone // HBOGo and Game of Thrones go together
  • Game of Thrones running from my phone in extremely high quality
  • You install software to set up your connection to the device // Setup
  • The Chromecast software installs plug-ins to existing apps so you can cast what’s playing.
  • Gives the illusion of easy setup, but actually unforgiving of any misstep
  • Running a version of Chrome TV // The OS and hardware go together because you’d hack the OS to run unsupported hardware
  • Hardware actually supports bluetooth as well
  • Cheap to buy, so why not experiment?
  • Chromecast is similar to hardware like Roku and Slingbox

And a new bullet that came to me while I was working with the material:

  • If you have an older "dumb" TV, Chromecast can make it "smart."

3. Put them in logical order

Some information will obviously lend itself to an introduction or conclusion. There may be a natural sequence to follow in making your point. No need to fill logical gaps yet.

Example

  • Chromecast lets you stream video on your TV // What it does
  • Chromecast works over a wireless network
  • Chromecast is similar to hardware like Roku and Slingbox
  • If you have an older "dumb" TV, Chromecast can make it "smart." // Benefits
  • Running a version of Chrome TV // The guts of the gadget
  • Hardware actually supports bluetooth as well
  • You install Chromecast software to set up your connection to the device
  • The Chromecast software installs plug-ins to existing apps so you can cast what’s playing.
  • Gives the illusion of easy setup, but actually unforgiving of any misstep // Hands-on cons
  • Could run HBOGo from my phone // Hands-on pros
  • Game of Thrones running from my phone in extremely high quality
  • Fun to steal control of the TV to force your friends to watch your YouTube videos
  • Cheap to buy, so why not experiment? // Conclusion

4. Add transition words and turn them into paragraphs

Join your sentences with "and," "also," "in addition," "then." If the sentences contrast with each other, use words like "but," "however," "on the other hand." Connection words are the glue that make your unrelated points cohesive.

Example

Chromecast lets you stream video on your TV over your wireless network. Chromecast is similar to hardware like Roku and Slingbox. And if you have an older "dumb" TV, Chromecast can make it "smart." The gadget is running a version of Chrome TV. The hardware actually supports bluetooth as well.

You install the Chromecast software to set up your connection to the device. Then, it installs plug-ins to existing apps so you can "cast" what’s playing.

On the other hand, while Chromecast gives the illusion of an easy setup, it’s actually unforgiving of any misstep.

Using Chromecast, I could actually run HBOGo from my phone. I was able to watch Game of Thrones streaming from my phone in extremely high quality. It’s also fun to steal control of the TV and force your friends to watch the YouTube videos you choose.

In conclusion, Chromecast is cheap to buy, so why not experiment with it?

My bullet points are already looking like a real post. For a casual blog, I could stop here. It’s "good enough" to start the conversation with my readers.

5. Do a quick pass to find any obvious gaps or flaws

This is the "writing" part. It should be easier to do now that you have a framework built. For more rigorous technical or academic writing, you can spend more time on this step or repeat it several times.

Ask yourself:

  • Are there any points that need to be supported?
  • Am I using absolutes (words like "always" or "never") that need supporting? Can I use softer words like "often," "sometimes," or "rarely?"
  • Is there anything that clearly does not belong? Can I make it belong by giving more detail? Fortunately, discarding content should hurt less because it was so easy to create in the first place.
  • Are there any technical points that I need to research? Resist the urge to get bogged down here in research. You are researching to confirm a technicality or support a point. This is not the time to explore a whole new premise.
  • Is there anything I need to make explicit for my readers?

Example

In my example, I should include a little bit more on the nuts and bolts of the Chromecast dongle. I need to make it clearer why the OS and the bluetooth hardware are relevant. I need to make it explicit that I liked the Chromecast. I also need to support why setup isn’t really that easy. And my conclusion is weak.

Chromecast lets you stream video on your TV over your wireless network. It connects to your TV via HDMI and charges via USB. If you have an older "dumb" TV, Chromecast can make it "smart."

Under the hood, the gadget is running a version of Chrome TV. The Chromecast hardware also includes a bluetooth radio but current software doesn’t support it. Look for future hackers to jailbreak the device to make better use of the existing hardware.

You install the Chromecast software to set up and authorize your connection to the device. Then, it installs plug-ins to existing apps so you can stream what’s playing. Supported software includes Netflix, YouTube, and the Chrome browser.

On the other hand, while Chromecast gives the illusion of an easy setup, it’s actually unforgiving of any misstep. So make sure you follow setup instructions carefully.

Overall, I was very pleased with the gadget’s functionality. Using Chromecast, I could actually run HBOGo from my phone. I was able to watch Game of Thrones streaming from my phone in extremely high quality. It’s also fun to steal control of the TV and force your friends to watch the YouTube videos you choose.

In conclusion, I definitely recommend Chromecast. It makes it easy to stream from your computer without dealing with a bunch of specialized cables. Plus, I don’t even need to haul my laptop around to stream video. I can do it straight from my phone. And at such a low price point (around $35), it’s something you can easily try for yourself.

6. If you get stuck on something, fix it, or throw it out

Getting stuck on a concept or phrasing is fatal to your deadline. If you notice you’re stuck, do something about it fast. Even if that "something" is throwing it out. Shorter and done is better than longer and perpetually unfinished.

Throw it out

I threw out the sentence "Chromecast is similar to hardware like Roku and Slingbox." I was pretty sure it was true, but I needed to verify it. Research would take time, and it wasn’t a very useful point.

Go generic

I got stuck when trying to think of examples of Chromecast’s finicky installation. I had installed 5 machines on 2 wireless networks with 2 Chromecasts, so I knew installation was actually kind of tricky. But, when I tried to come up with a definitive example, I could feel my brain start locking up. I had to get out of that brain bog fast.

I could have thrown out the whole point about the tricky installation, but I wanted to include it as a caution to others. So I just followed up with the general warning: "So make sure you follow setup instructions carefully."

Replace it

I also got stuck on the word "cast" when describing what Chromecast does. I could have spent some time defining it, but it was slowing me down and offered little reader value. I replaced it with the more generic term "stream" instead.

Do a mini brainstorm

To strengthen my conclusion, I actually went back to the beginning and did a mini brainstorm to get at the heart of what I wanted to say about Chromecast. You can do this for any paragraph you want to make stronger.

Pro tip: Save what you’ve thrown out

Coming up with a creative idea in the first place has a mental cost associated with it. Make the most of your mental currency by capturing everything you think of.

By now you should have a number of conceptual bits and pieces that don’t have a place in your current project. Toss them in a capture tool like Evernote so you don’t have to spend the mental energy to "rethink" them later. Maybe they’re fodder for a new post. Or for a longer piece with a later deadline.

8. Publish and move forward

It’s time to send your writing out into the world. Resist the urge to do yet one more revision. You will always have more to say about a topic. And you will always notice mistakes after something has been submitted. That is the nature of being creative on a deadline. Perfect is the enemy of done.

Come, join the global conversation. We want to have to hear what you have to say.

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