10 Ways to Overcome Writer's Block

Extremely frustrated businesswoman with laptop on table, close-up
Extremely frustrated businesswoman with laptop on table, close-up

Are you writing an important email? A lengthy sales report? A big proposal? A presentation or speech script? A book proposal or manuscript? Whatever the writing task, you may be facing a tight deadline and the last thing you need is writer's block -- that crippling feeling that nothing you write is right. Or worse, staring at the page or screen when nothing at all seems to flow from your brain to the screen.

Here are a few ways to trick your brain back into gear:

  1. Start with, "I'm writing to tell you that..." Finish that sentence. Later, you can circle back and delete that first part of the sentence. Generally, what remains will be a good opening sentence.

  • Start with what you're going to write "about." That is, if you can't seem to get to the essence of what you want to say, just begin with what the email or report or book or speech is "about" as if telling your best friend or your next-door neighbor. "This report is all about ..." Or "I need to send out an email to everybody on the team that squashes the rumor about ..." You'll gradually work your way into the heart of the matter before you know it. Then you can easily go back and delete the unnecessary opening clutter.
  • Write the overview or summary last. Most writers think that they need to start at the beginning, with a great executive overview or summary. Definitely, your final draft should begin with a polished overview or summary. But that's the most difficult section to write because you can't summarize well what you haven't yet written! So leave the overview until last. Instead, jump right into the heart of your message. Then circle back to add the overview as the last step.
  • Change your tools. If you're on the PC, switch to pad and pen. If you're writing by hand, switch to your tablet or PC. Or pick up your phone and start talking into your recorder and then email the note to yourself. Bingo, you have something in text to edit.
  • Talk it out. Try recording your ideas on your phone or with another recording app. Then text it to yourself to edit. Add to what you have and keep going. Because talking is faster than typing for most people, your ideas likely will flow easier.
  • Hang a photo of a friend by your computer. Imagine writing to that specific person. Even though your document, presentation, or book may be read by many people, write as if talking to ONE person.
  • List your topics as headings in a longer document. Skip around throughout the document, adding a sentence or two here and there about easy topics that you can quickly address. As you move along quickly, you will build momentum until the task seems "almost done" and manageable.
  • List your details as if they were headings. Then go back and fill in the explanation around each "heading." Then collapse the various details into single sentences--at least those details that you can combine concisely and clearly into paragraphs.
  • Generate a random list of ideas, facts, or data to include. Sort the list in some logical order. Then group the ideas into clusters. Subordinate the minor ideas beneath the major ideas in those clusters. The results will be your outline. Turn that skeleton outline into sentences.
  • Generate idea wheels of content (information, facts, ideas, data). Draw a small circle with spokes off the circle. Add key ideas on each wheel spoke. Add subpoints from each spoke. After you compile all your information onto the wheel, figure out the logical sequence to tell your story, numbering the spokes of the wheel and adding letters to the subpoints under each spoke (to show the proper sequence). Finally, use the wheel as a guide to draft your document or presentation.