10 Surefire Steps to Beating Blogger’s Block

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Dragging or pushing yourself to the computer? Too many posts starting with an apology for not having been around of late? The joy you first brought to blogging now a distant memory?

Looks like a case of blogger’s block. Don’t worry… there is a cure.

It’s largely a matter of making friends with your creative mind. The reason so many of us find this difficult is that our education has trained us to respond to problems only with linear, rational, conscious thought.

Willpower, discipline, and good old-fashioned work may squeeze another blog post out of you but to produce words effortlessly, to connect with the joy and optimism and inspiration which makes it all worthwhile, to be as good as you can be, you need to know how to nurture abstraction and your hard-working subconscious.

First off, stop focusing on your block and start thinking about establishing flow. Flow is that delectable condition where the words seem to appear of their own volition. Where all we writers have to do is turn up at the page and get ‘em down. Below are ten tried-and-tested methods – five daily practices, five writing practices – for keeping in flow, not just for the next blog post but for the rest of your writing life.

Establishing Flow Part One – Writing Practices

  1. Understand the stages of writing process. Any piece of writing moves through distinct, though not always separate, phases. I have seen so many writers who start to edit or judge their writing (stage 7) when they are only in the first draft (stage 4), or even the preparation (stage 2), point in the process — and thereby strangle their work before giving it full form. Delay the actual writing for as long as you can, until you can’t wait to get at it. At a minimum, never sit down at the computer until you have your beginning, your ending and your research notes in place.
  2. Change your timeframe. A blogger feels like the deadline is always now but this is a false pressure. It’s far more important to write something worthwhile than to post today just for the sake of it. Always give yourself more time than you think you’ll need.
  3. Drop your standards. Wherever there is block, there is fear. “I can’t say that.” “What if people laugh?” “This is garbage.” The only way to get beyond those carping inner voices is to give yourself permission to be bad. I love Annie Lamott’s suggestion of the “shitty first draft”: “The only way I can get anything written at all,” she says, “is to write really, really shitty first drafts… romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later”.
  4. Know when to stick with it and when to walk away. The thing about the unconscious is that it needs time to percolate some ideas (you know what they say about watched pots). You can’t bully the unconscious into producing on demand and that’s why every writer needs a physical, automatic task to turn to when focused, rational thought is not getting the goods. Peter Beadle fools around with his Gibson guitar. Barbara Ehrenreich does housework. Joe Survant plinks at squirrels with a BB gun. John Lennon took a bath. Find something for yourself — and enjoy.
  5. Leave a little ink in the well. This one from Hemingway. Don’t finish your day with your writing tasks complete. Stop in the middle of a sentence. Tomorrow, when you sit back down, you will pick up immediately from where you left off, without any time-wasting faffing about or tortuous analysis of what you’re doing and why.

Establishing Flow Part Two – Daily Practices

  1. Consciously fill the well. Too many bloggers, holed up “working” or surfing, are locking themselves away from new experiences, sights and insights — and then they wonder what’s become of their imagination’s sense of play. After decades of trial and error with my own routine and observation of hundreds of writers and writing students, I now recommend three simple, daily practices as the most effective and time-efficient ways to keep our writing wells stocked and our ideas overflowing: 1. A good walk/jog (30 minutes or more); 2. A half-hour meditation session; and 3. Three early morning pages of F-R-E-E-writing.
  2. Read, read, read. I am always stunned by writing students who say they don’t read. Whatever kind of writing you aspire to do, however long you’ve been writing, however good you think you are, always search out and carefully read other writers that are good at what you aim to do.
  3. Get organized. All good writers have an organizational structure and a discipline that works for them – no matter how chaotic things might appear to others. So, right now, do whatever organizational task you’re currently leaving for later – tidy your desk, set up a filing system that works, write an outline – right now (The more you resist this task, the more you need to do it).
  4. Keep a notebook. Research has shown that creative people are creative because they respect the intuitions, ideas, snags on their attention that pass through all minds while less creative beings let them pass. Creative theorists call it capturing. The simplest, most effective capturing device is pen-and-paper, a notebook but you may prefer to use your cell phone or a more high-tech solution. Fine, so long as it is something small enough to carry everywhere. Make as many entries as possible each day– ideas, quotes, snatches of overheard dialogue, feelings, description. You won’t use everything but you don’t want to miss anything.
  5. Play. Creativity tutor and author of The Artist’s Way Juliet Cameron, recommends a weekly Artist’s Date, “an hour or longer weekly block of time spent on yourself and with yourself, doing something festive”, fun and creative. “Aquarium stores, museums, cathedrals, flea markets, or five and dimes… vintage films, lectures on the odd, the improbable, or merely interesting… musical performances by traveling Tibetan monks, a trip to acquire to come a riverside spot — any of these can function as an Artist Date.” This creates inflow, new images and perspectives and thoughts that are there when you need them, back at your desk.

Always remember that your blog is in service to you, not vice versa. Know your intentions and goals for your blog. Frame them within a plan that includes self-care – eating and sleeping well; time with your loved ones; plenty of fun and frolics and a routine that nurtures your creative side – or else you’re almost guaranteed to grind to a halt.

About the Author: Orna Ross is a novelist and blogger. Check out her site for writing and publishing tips.

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Comments

  1. Great article

    ‘Play’ is an interesting one. In his book ‘Screw it, Let’s do it’, Richard Branson talks about the part having fun plays in generating ideas. I remember studying / researching ‘why people play’ for an ad campaign and reading about scientific claims for play releasing creative chemicals in the brain.

    ‘Keep a notebook’ I think is really important. This was one of the most important lessons I learned during a creative writing course.

    ‘Read, Read, Read’ surely has to be one of the most important. Not just because it leads to one becoming an expert but, also, because it can stimulate fresh thinking during a block.

    Finally, one of the best tips I ever picked up was from reading Graham Greene’s biography, where, he admitted to being a lazy writer, but forced himself to sit at a desk and just write when he absolutely didn’t want to.
    My experience is that slogging during a block can reap rich rewards, even though, at the time, it seems as if what one writes is of no value.

  2. It’s nice to establish a routine and guides to writing. Sometimes a change is necessary. I think another tip to add is to just write. Even if it is off topic and has no relevance to your blog, just being able to write something can start getting the process started.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  3. Love this post. Your suggestions are just what I needed to get the juices flowing again and remember why I have days where I can write and write and days where there is nothing. Need to recharge!

    I also appreciate your comments on getting organized. As a productivity consultant, I find that when my space is surrounded with a bunch of stuff my mind wonders too much and nothing gets done. I see that often with my right-brained clients as well. While there is a common perception that creative people have to be messy, I have found that order of various kinds actually assists the creative process. That order just looks and functions differently for different kinds of people.
    To your success!
    Stephanie
    Productive & Organized – We’ll help you find your way! tm

  4. ‘Play’ is the most important thing imho. You gotta get out and do something to clear the brain. Plus it helps to prevent “fat blogging”. :-)

  5. I always keep a notebook so that I have all my ideas written down on paper. If all my ideas are already written down on paper then it is pretty hard to have writer’s block. I do not even remember the last time I had writer’s block and I do believe it is because I write all my ideas down.

    This will make you more organized and productive and you’ll never have to worry about having writer’s block. If you do not find success in doing this then I’m not sure what can help you.

  6. Great tips.

    Another more specific way I come up with new blog posts when I have a block is to read through my old blog posts to find an idea that I can elaborate on. This has helped me out in the past.

  7. Great tips, i needed them :)

  8. One of the best tips I’ve received was to read fiction books. As a technical guru moving towards blogging and copywriting, I needed to find a way to create interesting content.

    Reading fictional books and keeping a notepad with me helped so much that I think I’m getting better each day.

  9. Really great tips, thanks for sharing.

    I also found out after a while that a session of free form writing will make my mind sharper and more relaxed. Might have some connection with what you call ‘F-R-E-E Writing’ on your blog…

    Free form writing as in jotting everything that comes up in your mind, regardless of their “value” or “goals”. Just write everything that pops up into your focus, without any form whatsoever, no punctuation signs, for 5-6 minutes and then let yourself caught in the flow. You may not finish the post you “planned” for today, but you’re surely come up with 10 more others for the upcoming weeks.

  10. Hi Orna,

    Great post. I can’t remember who said it, but the quote is something like, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” I think it’s another Anne Lamott quote, actually.

    As a professional copywriter, I’ve found the hardest part of writing is just getting started. Especially when there are so many distractions (like interesting blog posts to read …) And since it IS so hard the key is eliminating those distractions.

    My business partner and I have recently instituted quiet hours at our office where we unplug — no email, phone, etc. — for four hours each day. Two in the morning and two in the afternoon. It’s always amazing to me how much REAL writing I get done in this time … then I can go back to the fun writing, guilt-free — like coming up with clever status updates for my facebook page.

    Cheers!
    Anna

  11. Some great tips. I had the same problem for today’s post. Typically I set my posts to auto-publish at 4am. When I didn’t get anything finished I was paniced. I eventually just binned it and went to bed. Today during lunch I had a brainstorm, logged in and finished my posts. It’s not brilliant, it’s no-where near my best, but it got finished. Changing things up helped complete that process.

  12. In my opinion, play is the most important one. It does not only get your creative juices flowing, it also motivates you. He who plays hard, works hard ;-)

  13. I liked this a lot, Orna! “Lower your standards” is the hard one for me. But usually my work is better when I’m not hovering so much over it.

    I could do a lot better with “play” as well. And hanging around on Twitter, engaging though it is, really doesn’t work for that “Artist’s Date” energy.

  14. Also, be willing to write material that is imperfect. Sometimes we get stuck because the ideas we’re having seem less than stellar. If you just work through the weaker ideas and let yourself produce stuff that’s not quite up to standard (don’t worry – you can toss/delete it), eventually you’ll regain your stride.

  15. @ Eamonn & Franklin – On the vexed notebook question, I have four :). 1. One for F-R–E-E-Writing first thing in the morning. That’s an A4 hardback and I do three pages in that first thing each day. 2. My Writers’ Notebook, which some time back I converted into a looseleaf binder, so I could stick in the torn pages, napkins, store receipts and other assorted bits of paper that I found myself scribbling ideas on when I didn’t have my notebook with me. 3. A little hardback that fits in my pocket that goes with me on my walks, when inspiration tends to flow freely. 4. Another similar small one that I keep in my meditation den, for the same reason.

  16. @ Craig – Yes, I always say to writing students (and often to myself): “Write, just write”.

    @ Stephanie – Many thanks. Delighted to link in with a professional organizer. Could always do with a bit more of that :)

    @ ierict – I’m intrigued – what is a a”fat blogger”?

    @ Computer guy – I completely agree. And great to create links from those old posts to the newer ones that didn’t exist when you originally wrote.

  17. @ Farrhad A – you’re very welcome and thank you for the feedback

    @ Rowell – As a novelist, I couldn’t agree more :)

    @ Dragos – What you’re talking about sound similar and yes, I agree. F-R-E-E–Writing doesn’t TAKE time, it MAKES time.

  18. @ Anna – thank you. Yes, sounds like something your namesake, Annie, would say. Four quiet hours a day is a brilliant idea. I’m going to spread it. Another approach I heard from a friend is to only answer email and phone calls once a day, at noon — on the basis that anybody will wait half a day for a response. I’m not sure if she’s right because I haven’t had the discipline to stick to it!

    @ Neil – glad to have helped. :)

    @ Bullseye – and without hardly trying. Thanks for that.

    @ Sonia & Melissa – It’s the balance, isn’t it, between making it better and fiddling about. The 80/20 rule would say that a lot of the final fiddling is unproductive in real terms but I admit I am a compulsive fiddler and would love the chance to have another good at my published books. Sad but true. With blogging, though, the longer I do it, the more I’m moving to an approach of “Do my best and let it go”. It’s so much more ephemeral than a book and there’s always the chance to write something else tomorrow.

  19. I modeled a bunch of copywriters and found that while few of them have the exact same routine, they pretty much all have one. They all go through the same research, writing and editing stages too even though most spend different amounts of time in each area. The key is to find a routine that fits for you and stick to it. Checklists are essential as well.

  20. When I feel like there is some sort of mental block, I like to pull out a sledgehammer. Going to the extreme my favorite way to get past that.

  21. “Where there is block, there is fear”: love this one. Yes, dropping standards is a biggie for me. And of course, anything I write is never up to “standard” anyway, so it truly isn’t a jump off a 40-foot cliff to get past this one. Thanks for a juicy, yet concise guide. I also appreciate that you separated “writing” and “daily” practices

  22. I’m just a new subscriber to Copyblogger. I visit here whenever I get stuck working on our food blog. You have great tips on copywriting and seo.

    Thank you very much and more power to Copyblogger.

  23. Awesome tips! I think the last one is hardest for me. Well, I guess it depends on the definition of play. I consider play reading my favorite blogs, tweeting, and plurking (all hermit-related). Going outside to play… that’s the hard part!

    I’ve been trying to get back into a regular posting schedule on my own blogs, so I’m going to take your advice.

    Loved this article – gave it a Digg!

    *smiles*
    Michele

  24. This post came at the right time for me, I especially like number 3. I wonder if the times I’ve found it difficult to write that I’m actually just resisting and in fear of the outcome of my words.

    Great post

    Cheers,
    Glen

  25. @ Louis – I totally agree. Taking the time to know and nurture yourself and your own voice while modelling others you admire is the quickest way to success in any kind of writing

    @ Matthew – I’m intrigued! What do do with it? Sledgehammer your writing? Yourself? The cat? The kids? My novel “A Dance in Time” opens with a sledgehammer scene. So I’ve been there in my head. But please tell us more!

    @ Renee – Many thanks for the appreciation. It’s much appreciated :!

    @ Fedge – Yes, Copyblogger is just great, isn’t it? That’s why I picked it for my first ever guest post

    @ Glen – Ah, the demon fear. Only one thing to do with it, just as the old book title says. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.

  26. I love Annas idea of 4 quiet hours a day! i think i will start out with only two, but i so need this!
    I have researched alot about multitasking, and even though i love many aspects of multitasking im slowly beginning to accept that my brains wasn’t built for it.
    so for two hours a day im now gonna stop it! wow.

    Great tips! thanks!
    if you don’t write you will never have written!

  27. I self-edit all the time. I need to stop thinking “this is garbage” and just go with what I feel like saying. Excellent article. I am bookmarking it.

  28. that photo is scary…

  29. I completely agree with “Change your timeframe.” A surefire way to kill a blog is to post for the sake of posting and without any real content. It’s vital for posts to stay on topic. Something that’s difficult to do if there isn’t actually a topic to speak of – just a frantic effort to get something down before the deadline.

  30. I’d say the perfect solution is to choose the “copyblogger” theme at Edublogs.org!

    Heh.
    ;-)
    http://nashworld.edublogs.org

  31. This post has really useful advice. Thanks.

  32. When I feel like there is some sort of mental block, I like to pull out a sledgehammer. Going to the extreme my favorite way to get past that.

  33. Thanks for the tips.. very helpful and informative

  34. I love to establish a routine and guides to writing. Sometimes a change is necessary when we already tired to dealt with daily activities. I think another tip to add is to just write. Even if it is off topic and has no relevance to your blog, just being able to write something can start getting the process started.

  35. Thanks for this nice post, I myself found a block when I’m running my education blogs. When I’m running out of idea, usually I go to read someone’s article.