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Top tip for breaking writer’s block

My top tip for getting out of writer’s block is: Move to a different medium, temporarily. Yesterday I was struggling to get started with some writing, and I remembered that this strategy often works for me. So I tried it. It worked again!

By “moving to a different medium”, I mean opening a text editor and jotting my thoughts there, or writing on a scratch pad, or simply opening a page that is completely separated from the work that I’m trying to complete.

When I’m trying to write something, there are two decisions I need to make:

  • What do I want to say?
  • Where should I put it?

Sometimes the two decisions are so intertwined that my brain gets in a loop. I start writing, then I think, “Wait, this shouldn’t go here.” So I delete what I’ve written. But then I realise that I do need to write it, and start again, and … loop. Then I spend time trying to figure out where the content should go, which makes me lose my thread of thought and lose impetus.

This destructive loop can happen in any type of writing. Most recently, it happened to me when I was providing detailed feedback in a doc review. I wanted to help the author with the syntax and correctness of the content, but the work also needed higher-level input on the structure of the page as a whole and its location in the doc set. I started putting my feedback on the page itself, but some of the feedback was too high level to belong on the page, or so I thought. So I removed what I’d written. But then there was nowhere to put that feedback, and I lost time trying to figure out how to give the feedback rather than focusing on what the feedback actually should be.

I was stuck. I went for a walk to clear my head. In the middle of my walk, I remembered what’s worked before! I moved out of the doc review tool into a text editor and jotted down my feedback as it came to me, without trying to decide where it belonged. When I’d finished, it was easy to slot the pieces of feedback into the right place.

This type of writer’s block can happen when you’re writing a book (“should this content be in the book, or is it more like plot and character notes for me, or should it be in the blurb?”) or a technical document (“does this content belong in this doc or another doc, or should I split the doc, or does it belong in a blog post?”) and so on..

Moving to a different format or medium gives my brain the freedom to write what I need to say. After that, it’s relatively easy to decide where the content should go.

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