Strategies to Get Through Writers Block

We’ve all been there, staring at a blank document or sheet of paper, trying to get started writing a blog, essay or a report. It’s one of the most frustrating feelings, and when pressed up against deadlines, the anxiety to produce increases. Over the last few months, I’ve been writing, researching, blogging quite a bit on GovLoop, and thought I would take some time to share some of my tricks to fight through writers block, and keep positive energy flowing.

1. Start by taking a walk
The GovLoop office is right around the corner from the White House. I’ve randomly left my desk and walked around the block, thinking about the subject I am writing about and having a conversation with myself. Sounds crazy, but it really works. Don’t bring your phone or anything that may distract you, take the time just to think about the subject you are writing on how to get through writers block.

2. Change up the Scenery.
Try changing up your location. I’ve sat in a conference room, gone to coffee shops – sometimes just being somewhere new helps you get started again. On walks, I’ve also sometimes carried a notepad and sat down to jot down ideas.

3. Talk it out.
Ask your co-worker if you can just talk about it. Sometimes I’ve found myself sitting and struggling, ask a simple question to a coworker, and then writing is way easier. Engaging in conversations has been critical to me to keep up energy.

4. Write About Something Unrelated
For me, blogging is all about rhythm. Sometimes you get into a rut where you can’t get posts out as quick as you would like. When this happens, start by building up your confidence. Write something you know a lot about and comes easy to you. I’ve written quick poems, jotted down family stories, just getting something down on paper helps get everything rolling again. I’ve also read through my old posts if I am writing on a similar topic. If you have written a lot of posts, a good trick is to reference back to previous posts you have written. It’s good to either drive some traffic back to an old post, and also just as a solid starting point to help get ideas flowing.

5. Draw a picture
As much as I blog and write, my first instinct is to always draw a picture. I’ve drawn bizarre pictures of cloud computing, citizen engagement, organizational charts, mentoring, I’ve found it works for me. I’ve also found this to help me in storytelling, it’s just the way my brain operates.

6. Keep a running list of ideas & outlines
Anytime you think of an idea, just throw it into a Google Doc and make some bullet points. Down the road it will help if you are really stuck on a topic. The best scenario is if you are able to write a few “stock” posts that you can use at a later date. I’ve done this lately and it really helps me, so rather than writing, I am editing. If you find yourself in a hot streak, try out writing a few extra posts and take advantage that you are in a creative peak.

The creative process has a certain rhythm to it, as you continue to write, draw, design, you begin to realize what your rhythm is and how you operate. Take some time to think about what works best for you, and what your style is. Those are just some strategies that I have used, and would love to hear some of yours.

How do you fight through writers block? What are you strategies to improve the creative process?

This post is brought to you by the GovLoop Communications & Citizen Engagement Council. The mission of this council is to provide you with information and resources to help improve government. Visit the GovLoop Communications and Citizen Engagement Council to learn more.

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David B. Grinberg

Great advice, Pat. As a writer, I recommend all of these tips — however, some may work better than others. Taking periodic breaks to clear one’s head through a walk, working out, or whatever works for the individual writer, is essential throughout the writing/editing process.

I always try to do a first draft asap after formulating a few ideas/points/etc. — regardless of writer’s block and no matter how poorly I may think of it — and then edit, edit, edit until you are satisfied with a final version. The bottom line is that one must start somewhere with words on a page as a preliminary step to lauch the process. Procrastination only begets procrastination.

If one can’t put together a first draft, then at least get ideas down on paper (as you note). Do some stream-of-consciousness thinking and brainstorming to get started. Then sleep on it and revist with a clear head the next day.

Also, ask colleagues or friends to informally review your preliminary draft(s) and seriously consider any constructive criticism. Good writing is a marathon, not a sprint — unless one is on deadline, of course.

Again, awesome tips, Pat.

Eric Koch

Good advice Pat and David. Changing the scenery can play a big part for me. I often find that I have to come up with a quick outline of an article I plan to write, then take a stab at the first draft after. I prefer to wait on editing the draft the day after as this helps me to get a better look at what I wrote with fresh eyes — but this all depends on when an article is due by. Thanks for sharing.

Pat Fiorenza

David, you’re absolutely right that it depends on the writer. Even with the tips I listed above, I’ve found that some work better than others. Typically what works for me, is the combination of a walk and a change of scenery. I am the same way with a first draft, I throw it down on paper and then edit mercilessly. Sometimes I feel like I am throwing the whole kitchen sink down on paper, and then working to clean it all up. As a writer, you just got to learn whatever works for you..

Eric – I like to wait as well before I publish things. Sometimes I have to get something out quick, so it is not really an option, but waiting a few days to look at a report or post with fresh eyes always helps me out.

Thanks for the comments!

Dan Davies

Hi Pat

Thanks for the post. Just finished writing a blog myself which took longer than usual so this is well-timed! On the pictures theme I sometimes find putting a word or phrase associated with the idea or a concept you’re writing about into Google and doing an image search can help inspire some flowing prose!

I agree with waiting a few days before publishing – sometimes when I write stuff and go back to it a few days later I end up changing a lot of it. Sometimes though, you gotta just go ahead and publish!


Todd Solomon

These are all good tips, but perhaps the most important idea here is the proposition that writer’s block happens. Could it be–and I don’t mean to offend–a way of rationalizing procrastination?

I am a lifelong procrastinator. Like many other PhD candidates, for example, I was ABD for many years before finally admitting I did not at that time have the discipline to finish my dissertation. Writer’s block was one of the many excuses I used, and probably the least valid.

But for 3 and half years now, I have been responsible for two 500-word blog posts every day. I no longer have the opportunity for writer’s block. I don’t have permission to get writer’s block; I don’t give myself permission to get it; and–guess what?–I don’t get it.

Do I sometimes have difficulty finding my way into a piece of writing? Sure. More often than not, any delay I encounter is linked to some reason I have for not wanting to write that piece. That’s where the tips y’all have shared, and other tactics, do come in handy.

So, many thanks for this post. There is indeed a need for ways to fool one’s mind into jumpstarting the drafting of various writing tasks. But I suspect, although I dare not generalize from my single particular case, that we each have our own reasons for not diving into an assignment, and that we have pinned those myriad reasons under the sign of /writer’s block/.

Kate McNeel

What works best for me is to write a draft that is deliberately as bad as I can make it. using every possible buzzword and cliche in each and every sentence for a couple of paragraphs usually gets me going.

Wendi Pomerance Brick

When I wrote my book The Science of Service, I had writer’s block in a bad way. I very much wanted the book to be in my voice, so that if one of my friends read it, they would say, “That sounds just like you!”

Granted, it’s much different from writing a document for work, but what worked best for me was to buy a digital recorder and tape my speeches, training classes, and seminars on different topics. Then I could capture my main points, stories and jokes (such as they are). It was very successful.

A friend is also writing a book and is not a lecturer. I also suggested buying a digital recorder, but instead of recording herself in front of a room of people, invite a few close friends over, turn on the recorder, and talk about the subject. With others involved in the conversation, it would be easier to answer their questions and then capture the appropriate responses in an engaging way.

Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote called “The 11 “To Do’s” that turned my potential snooze-fest into an award nominated book” just in case it’s helpful

Todd Solomon

Kate, that’s a great idea! I often advise other writers that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let the first draft be absolute puke; just get something on the screen. Lots of good writing doesn’t get done because writers are editing sentences as they form instead of after a complete run through a draft.