Writer's Block Busters: How to Conquer Procrastination So You Can Write More

Do you find yourself making excuses to avoid writing? Do you get instant writer's block at the sight of a blank page? Read on for help.

"The scariest moment is always just before you start." 
- Stephen King (On Writing)

Writer's Block Busters


Recently, we asked our e-mail group to send us "the number one question about writing that you need an answer to RIGHT NOW." (Not a member of our e-mail group yet? Find out more here). A lot of people wrote us with versions of the following problem:

"I have a lot of ideas, but I still just don't seem to start writing."

Getting started is often the hardest part of writing. Why is it so difficult? You might feel that you don't have enough time to write, or that distractions are always getting in the way. You might find that when you sit down to write, some part of you freezes up and your mind seems to go blank.

All of these problems are generally only symptoms of the real underlying problem, which is fear. We're afraid of not being able to write well, afraid of failure, afraid that someone will criticize what we do.

Almost every writer has an inner voice that says, "You can't do this." Self-doubt is normal, but you can fight back. When that doubting voice in your head speaks up, here are some answers you can use to silence it.

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Problem: You don't know what you're going to write. You don't have it clear in your mind. You're not sure how you're going to start or whether you'll be able to come up with an ending.

Answer: It's scary to start down a path when you don't know where you're headed. But think about it: if you already knew the beginning, middle, and ending of your story and all the sentences along the way, that would mean that your story was ALREADY FINISHED. Writing is more than just typing a story into a computer. It is the process of creating that story in the first place.

Problem: Your writing might not be good enough.

Answer: This is a FIRST DRAFT. It's supposed to be messy. Think of a baker kneading the dough for bread; think of a sculptor softening the clay. First, you're going to get your hands dirty and make a big mess, and then LATER, you will start shaping that mess into something wonderful.

"I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts."
- Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)

Writer's Block Busters


Problem: Someone might criticize what you write.

Answer: You don't HAVE to show what you write to anyone. Your writing is private until YOU decide to share it. So it's too soon to worry about what people will say. If you're not happy with what you write, you can always throw it in the trash when you finish and start over. No one will even know. It's not as if you were carving a statuette out of jade or some other material too expensive to waste. You don't even have to use up paper -- you can just click "delete" on your computer screen.

Techniques and Tricks

Just knowing that your fear isn't rational might not be enough to make it go away. If the fear runs deep enough, logical arguments only touch the surface. But even when you can't get rid of your fear, you can still find sneaky ways around it so that you can get the writing done.

Here are some techniques that might help:

Set a fixed writing time.

If you try just one strategy in this article, try this one. This is the number one strategy that writers use to get the work done. When you follow a strict writing schedule, with NO exceptions, then the fearful part of your brain starts to get used to it. It knows there isn't much point in arguing because the decision is already made. You don't have to think about sitting down to write -- it becomes automatic. You don't have to find writing time in the day -- writing is already a part of your daily routine.

No matter how busy you are, you DO have time to write regularly, just as you have time to eat every day. Set a realistic schedule for yourself, even if it's just ten minutes a day, five days a week. The important part is to establish the routine and stick to it. Try to choose a time when you're not likely to get interrupted -- early in the morning or late at night are times that work well for many writers.

You might find it helpful to develop a writing ritual; for example, reading a page from your favorite book or writing a page in your journal every day before you start work on your story. This type of ritual can work as a "warm-up," sending a signal to your brain that it's time to switch into writing mode.

Free-write.

Try free-writing as a warm-up activity. Here's how it works. Just set a timer or alarm clock for a short amount of time (5-10 minutes is good). Then during that time, write about ANYTHING, without stopping. If your mind goes blank, you can write, "My mind is blank" over and over until something else occurs to you. Or you can describe what is in the room where you are sitting. Or you can plan your next meal. It doesn't matter, as long as your pen or pencil remains in near-constant motion.

There's zero pressure in free-writing. There's no way to fail, so the fear factor doesn't enter in. And just the physical act of moving your pen on a paper can start the creative flow.

When you're finished with free-writing, dive right into work on your story or your main creative project. Do this quickly, while you're still feeling relaxed. If you hate facing a blank page, then you can use the same page where you did your free-writing and continue on the bottom.

Dictate instead of writing.

Does the idea of sitting at your computer or picking up a pen stress you out? Try talking instead.

If possible, talk into a recording device (there might be one on your cell phone). Pretend you're talking to a friend -- if it helps, put a picture of an actual friend in front of you. Tell your imagined friend what you want to write about, what happens in your story. Describe the scenes to your friend.

Talking is often easier than writing. Once you finish, open a notebook or go to your computer and just transcribe what you said. Just write it down. That's easy too -- you don't even have to think; you are just writing or typing.

Now, you don't have a blank page any more. You have part of a rough draft! Reread what you've written, and think about what's missing, what parts are most interesting, what you can improve. Start rewriting -- revision is a lot less scary than writing a first draft!

Read and copy.

Reading a lot is a MUST if you want to be a writer. Writers learn the craft of fiction by reading the stories and novels of other writers. When you're feeling uninspired, a good way to get excited about writing again is by reading writers you admire. Wouldn't you love to create something as wonderful as they have? If you keep practicing and working at it, you can learn to write fiction that inspires your readers in the same way that your favorite books inspire you.

If just reading isn't enough to get you writing, then try copying by hand a page from one of your favorite books. This can give you an intimate sense of the author's writing, almost as if you BECOME this author for a short time. You might notice techniques that the author is using, details that perhaps escaped you before. And this exercise gets your pen moving on a page. Again -- this physical act of putting words (any words) on paper is often enough to break through the inertia and get your creativity flowing. When you finish copying the other writer's work, switch quickly to your own creative project before you lose momentum.

I hope some of this advice helped!

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Writer's Block Busters


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