Writer’s block is one of the biggest obstacles to increasing your productivity as a writer.
Many people think that it’s inevitable: the muses can’t always be smiling at you, can they?
However, the reality is that when you make a living writing, you can’t really afford to spend hours staring at a blank word document.
What can you do in order to overcome writer’s block and become a more productive writer?
Make sure that you stay healthy and full of energy
Mental performance is a function of your brain, which is a part of your body, which means that your overall health will heavily influence your ability (or lack thereof) to write well.
- Get enough sleep. The sad reality is that majority of adults in our society are chronically sleep deprived without even realizing it. Usually, healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night in order to function at their best (you might need more than that for a while to clear your sleep debt, though). It’s time to ditch the alarm clock!
- Eat healthy. I suggest you to start with eliminating crap from your diet and replacing it with healthier alternatives. Nutrition experts may have different takes on many issues, but everyone agrees that water is healthier than Coke, apples are healthier than Snickers bars, and salads are healthier than French fries. Focus on making the most obvious improvements first.
- Exercise regularly. When you start working as a freelance writer, it’s almost inevitable that your lifestyle becomes more sedentary, especially if you are working from home. That’s why it’s important to put in an extra effort to make sure that you get your daily dose of exercise. Even walking for an hour everyday will do if you can’t stand the thought of going to the gym.
Sleep, nutrition, and exercise have a tremendous impact on your energy levels, physical and mental performance, mood, and overall well-being. You can often massively improve your productivity simply by taking care of these three things. Remember, you can’t expect to be at your best when your health is compromised, therefore make sure that you stay as healthy as possible!
Eliminate unnecessary stress from your life
It’s very unlikely that you will be able to write well when you are under a significant amount of stress: your brain tends to prioritize dealing with the sources of stress over writing. The problem is that many adults are under a constant pressure due to the demands of their everyday lives. Minimizing the amount of stress in your life will free up a lot of energy that you can then direct to writing.
- Make sure that your finances are in order. Financial obligations can quickly become a massive source of stress if you don’t handle your money properly. Try to pay off your debts, build an emergency fund, get a good health insurance, and set up sources of passive income. Peace of mind that comes with financial stability is well worth the effort that it takes achieve it.
- Surround yourself with the right people. It’s wise to surround yourself with people who support you and respect you. Those who don’t meet this criteria shouldn’t be a regular part of your life.
- Get organized and stay organized. It’s amazing how much stress we can eliminate from our lives simply by becoming more organized. Do your best to not be late, meet deadlines, clean your house regularly, handle your taxes on time, etc. Don’t allow little things like that to add more stress to your life.
Remember why you started writing in the first place.
You probably enjoyed writing long before you became a professional writer, right?
Most of us started writing in our childhood or adolescence because we were full of emotions we wanted to express and stories we wanted to tell. Writing was fun! However, it’s often the case that once people become professional writers, they lose that passion for writing they once had. It’s understandable, though: dealing with deadlines, revisions, editors, clients, and financial obligations is a bit different from writing short stories as a teenager, isn’t it? It’s very easy to burn out without even realizing it.
- Take time to think about your long-term writing goals. It’s probably safe to say that almost everyone starts out their writing careers full of ambition. However, once people settle in the less-than-glamorous reality of meeting deadlines,chasing clients, and paying bills, all the pressures of everyday life make them lose the sight of their initial dreams. It’s time to remember those forgotten dreams: what do you want to achieve as a writer?
- Schedule time for working on your personal projects. Once you have decided what your long-term writing goals are, commit to working on the projects that will help you get there, even if that means doing a bit less client work. This will help you get unstuck in your writing career and move towards the life that you really want, as well as approach client work with new energy.
- Recreate writing rituals and environment that you enjoyed when you were younger. When people write as a hobby, they often have some sort of rituals and environment that they associate with writing, which they tend to forget when they start writing for a living. For example, when I was a teenager, I used to write short stories at night, with a cup of tea and some blues music on, which helped me to relax after a long day at school and martial arts classes. I occasionally do the same thing today: it helps me to remember why I enjoyed writing long before I was getting paid for it.
Increase the quantity, expand the range, and add variety to your reading
Your ability to generate good ideas largely depends on your exposure to the ideas of other people.
Here are three ways to become more creative in a relatively short period of time:
- Increase the quantity of information you consume. One book a week equals to four books a month and fifty two books a year. Everyone can find time to do that. No excuses!
- Expand the range of information that you consume. Most people limit their reading to a few topics that they are interested in. This limits the amount of information and ideas that they are exposed to. Why not embrace your curiosity and allow yourself to become more eclectic in your reading choices? Start reading books about all kinds of random things that catch your attention, from biographies of chess masters to genetics to Native American shamanism, or whatever else you find at least remotely interesting. You’ll be surprised how much easier it will be to come up with great ideas on a regular basis.
- Expand the range of styles and formats in which you consume the information. The same way martial artists learn a lot of different techniques that they can then apply in different situations, writers should familiarize themselves with different styles and formats of writing, so they could then use this arsenal to express different ideas. Read fiction books, non-fiction books, articles, blogposts, interviews, textbooks, research papers, short stories, and everything else that you can get your hands on.
Keep an idea journal with you at all times and capture the ideas when they strike you
Once you increase the quantity, the range, and the variety of the information you consume, you will start coming up with interesting ideas all the time. However, if you don’t capture them, they will most likely be forgotten the next day. What a waste of creative potential!
Many writers have a rather bizarre attitude towards ideas. They come up with interesting ideas all the time (while in the shower, while making breakfast, while jogging, etc.), yet they don’t bother to capture them. Then, once it’s time to write, they mind just goes blank, and they spend hours staring at a blank screen trying to think of something that they could write about. Do you see the irony here?
Keeping an idea journal can help you to avoid spending time in this annoying “blank mind” state. All you have to do is get a small notebook and a pen, carry them with you at all times, and make an effort to write down each interesting idea immediately after it strikes you. This way, when you sit down to write, all you have to do is open your idea journal, pick an idea, and start typing.
Establish a regular writing schedule and stick to it
Most professional writers who are serious about their craft have established regular writing schedules for themselves. You see, the whole “writing when inspired” thing doesn’t really work when you make a living as a writer and have bills to pay. You need a schedule if you want to keep getting things done day after day, month after month, and year after year.
- Make an effort to figure out at what time of the day your creative output is the highest. It seems that most professional writers write either very early in the morning or very late at night (somewhere between 2AM and 8AM seems to be THE writing window for many professionals). That might be different for you, though, therefore it’s best to test different times.
- Schedule a regular time slot for writing at the time when your creative output is the highest. Keep in mind that writing is a mentally demanding activity, though: you will probably only manage to write for 3-6 hours a day. That’s okay, assuming that those hours are focused creative work, not editing or replying to e-mails.
- Schedule all your other tasks around that time slot that you have dedicated for writing. For example, if you write early in the morning, move editing to the afternoons, and e-mails to the end of your work-day. Never compromise your writing time!
- Don’t write at other times throughout the day. People often feel uncomfortable with the idea of only writing for few hours a day, which leads them to mess up their schedule and write at random times. Please resist this impulse if you want to stay productive in the long run.
Eliminate as many distractions as possible
We are living at a time when there are more distractions than ever before. It might be the case that your writer’s block simply means that you are too distracted to write (what else can you expect when you have Facebook, Twitter, Youtube,and Skype all open at the same time?). How can you free yourself from as many distractions as possible?
- Don’t have Internet connection at home. Okay, I know this is a rather controversial advice, but since our biggest distractions are on the Internet, cutting it off is the most straightforward way to become more focused. You don’t really need a 24/7 access to the Internet: there are plenty of places that have free wi-fi that you can use when you need to.
- Avoid social media as much as possible. Yes, I’m out to kill sacred cows today, and this is another one that’s going down. The most addictive websites are the ones that provide you with a false sense of connection: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, etc. Either avoid social media altogether or pay close attention to how much time you spend on those websites and what you get out of it.
- Check your e-mail only once or twice a day. E-mail is another massive distraction that prevents people from focusing and getting things done. Important thing to understand here that a compulsive need to check your e-mail every five seconds does not mean that there’s any rational reason for doing so. Schedule a specific time slot for dealing with e-mail. Don’t even open your inbox at any other time throughout the day.
- Create and consume on different devices. In case you can’t implement the previous advice for some reason, you can always get an old laptop or even an old desktop , and only use it for writing and nothing else. No Internet connection or games allowed!
Make sure that you have done your homework before you sit down to write
It’s very hard to write something worthwhile without proper research and planning. You might be able to write fiction this way, but when it comes to non-fiction, preparation is essential. Don’t skip it.
- Take time to do your research. Many people understand “doing research” as googling random things while watching funny cats videos on Youtube, chatting with their best friend on Skype, and eating a sandwich. Well, that’s one way to go about it, but if you want to do it more efficiently, it’s better to set aside an hour for research, and only focus on that.
- Make an outline of whatever it is that you are going to write. Once you have done your research, you probably have a pretty good understanding of what you want to say, and your task now is to create a rough outline that will help you to express these things in a coherent manner. Again, it’s best to set aside some time specifically for that, and do nothing but work on the outline until it’s done.
- Organize all the material that you will need when writing. You won’t be able to focus on writing if you have to shuffle through a million of open windows in order to find the information that you want to use. It’s better to print out and organize all the material that you will need beforehand. This way, once you sit down to write, you will have everything at your fingertips.
Don’t mix writing and editing
Many writers get stuck because they try to write and edit at the same time. It’s important to understand that you can do either one or the other: when you mix them, you end up doing a crappy job at both. That’s why it’s very important to learn to write first and edit later.
- Set a timer. People often get so carried away with editing when they are supposed to be writing that it takes them hours and hours to get the first draft done. An easy way to speed up the process is to set a timer for a short period of time and try to write the first draft before the timer goes off.
- Don’t stop typing. The idea behind this popular “keep your hand moving” writing advice is very simple: you have to start writing and keep writing either for a set period of time or until you hit a certain number of words (no deleting words, changing words, arranging paragraphs, or any other editing, and no stopping). This is a good way to add some speed to writing your first draft in case you manage to go back and edit stuff even with a timer on.
- Consider doing writing exercises. Some people find it extremely hard to silence their inner critic and allow themselves to write atrocious first drafts. Writing exercises can help in these cases: the idea is to pick a completely random topic, set a timer, and write a poem/short story/article on that topic before the timer goes off. This will help you to learn to get that first draft out very fast.
- Schedule a specific time slot for editing. When you are a writer, you can’t really avoid editing, therefore you should schedule a specific time slot for it. It’s much easier to avoid the temptation to edit as you write when you know that you will have time to make corrections later. Plus, having a specific time for it will increase the quality of your work, since you editing skills will improve quickly.
The idea is to get the first draft out as quickly as possible, then edit it, until it becomes something publishable.
Remember, it’s much easier to take a mediocre draft and turn it into a decent piece, than to write a Pulitzer prize-winning article on your first try!
Consider that maybe you should take a break from writing altogether
There are times when it seems that you can’t force yourself to write no matter what you do. You know, those occasions when you almost feel physically sick when you try to write something? This usually means that you have burnt yourself out. When that’s the case, pushing harder won’t help: it will simply make you feel even more burnt out. The wisest thing to do at moments like that is to take a break from writing altogether: take a day, few days, or even a week off. This will allow you to restore your energy, regain a sense of balance, and approach your writing projects with a fresh perspective.
Remember, nothing changes, unless you take action!
Here’s my challenge to you guys: pick ONE idea from this article that you are going to implement in your life over the next four weeks.
I don’t care if it’s something small like replacing your Coke with water or something large like blocking out four hours every morning for exclusively for writing.
What’s important to me is that you TAKE ACTION.
Remember, making one small positive change is better than not making any change at all, so no excuses!
What is the ONE idea from this article that you are going to implement in your life over the next four weeks in order to be more productive as a writer?
Let me know in the comments!
Agota Bialobzeskyte is the author of “How to have more willpower”. What could you achieve if you had the willpower to do what you have to do? Well, good news: you can have all the willpower you need! Here’s how to have more willpower.