As someone who writes for a living, I easily churn out at least 10 000 words per day – whether it’s in the form of a blog post, a magazine article, an Instagram caption, my daily to-do list, emails, personal journal entries… truth is, the writing never really ends, but the inspiration very often does!
If you’re a fellow writer, blogger, or creative, I’m fairly sure that you’ve come face-to-face with writer’s block at some point in the past month or two. At least! Despite the fact that I’ve been writing for a living for well over 10 years, I still find myself grappling with a mental block at the start of every single article I’m commissioned to write. In fact, I think that getting those first few words onto a blank document are quite possibly the longest part of the writing process for me, and it often takes me a good two or three hours to simply begin.
I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s going to take a few hours for the fear of failure to fade away, for my writing brain to finally switch on, and for the coffee to kick in… but I’ve also got a few handy writing tips and exercises that I turn to when things are really dire, and I thought I’d share some of those with you today.
Start a word bank
A word bank is really just my fancy phrase for all the hundreds of dog-eared notebooks I own that are filled with quotes and catchphrases that I’ve collected throughout the years. I always have a notebook and a pen on me, and I’m forever jotting down random quotes that I come across in books I’m reading, on TV, or even while scrolling through my social media feeds. I also note down catchy headlines, or any fun, alliterative phrases that pop into my mind throughout the day. I also have several running documents saved to my laptop, where I’ve stored any sentences, headlines, and chunks of copy that have been cut from articles – but were too good to delete for good.
Whenever I’m feeling stuck and don’t know where to begin writing a piece, I’ll pull out a couple of my notebooks or open up my word bank documents on my laptop, and scour the pages for some inspiration. Every now and again, I find that I’ve already crafted the perfect opening sentence, or I’ll come across a famous quote that’s an ideal starting point for the piece I’m working on.
Don’t have a word bank? Find an empty notebook, start a new Word document, or simply start a new note on your phone. Now find three quotes, sentences, or headlines to add to your word bank, and commit to doing this exercise daily.
Try writing morning pages first thing every day
Writing three morning pages first thing every morning is something I used to do religiously and am trying to get back into. It’s not only a great tip to help get those creative juices flowing, but I also find that it puts me in a better mood and helps me to start my day off on the right foot.
There’s no real ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do this: simply grab a pen, the nearest notebook, and begin writing – stream-of-consciousness style. I first heard about morning pages in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, where she recommends writing three pages, non-stop, first thing in the morning. However, I find that some mornings I simply don’t have the time or inclination to write three, full A4 pages, so rather than skip the ritual altogether, I give myself a little leeway and allow myself to write for just 15 – 20 minutes. Something is better than nothing, right?
Read more books
This is an obvious one, and I’m pretty sure that every writer has been told that in order to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. I fell out of the habit of reading regularly after my son was born, but I’ve slowly started getting myself back into the swing of things (six years later!) by committing to reading just 10 pages of my book every day. I usually do this first thing in the morning while drinking a cup of coffee (after my morning pages), and it hardly ever stops at just 10 pages!
Create before consuming
You know that little habit you have of picking up your phone and scrolling through your Instagram feed first thing in the morning? Stop. I’ve started banning Instagram before 11am in the morning, and it’s made such a huge difference to my overall mood and creativity. In fact, there have been times where I simply couldn’t help myself and succumbed to the urge to scroll literally five minutes after my alarm went off, and I noticed an immediate effect on my mood. I suddenly felt as though I wasn’t good enough – or that my content wasn’t good enough – and I’m pretty sure that those feelings of inadequacy and comparison have everything to do with consuming others’ content before creating my own.
As a writer and a creative, it’s hard not to compare your work to that of others’ in your field, and to judge yourself and your supposed lack of talent as a result. I’ve found that by focusing on creating my own content first, I’ve been less likely to compare my work to others’, and I feel a whole lot more creative to boot!
Get it all out, then edit
One of my worst habits as a writer is to edit as I go, but I’ve learnt that it’s best to get all your thoughts and all those words out onto paper (or your keyboard), then to give yourself an hour or two before looking at your work again – this time with your editing hat on. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to perfect a specific sentence that I lose track of my thoughts. By letting go of the need for perfection and allowing my words to come tumbling out, I find that the writing process goes a whole lot quicker and smoother.
Develop a journaling practice
I started journaling when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and it’s a habit I’ve continued throughout my life. I find that journaling really helps me to process my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and I’ve noticed a profound effect on my overall outlook on life when I fall off the wagon and stop journaling for a few weeks… It helps me to grapple with my moods and feelings towards certain people or situations, and makes me feel a whole lot more in touch with myself, if that makes any sense?
My journal is also the starting point for many blog posts, and the occasional freelance article too. Sometimes I’ll be journaling about my day, when I’ll suddenly come up with an idea for a blog post (or even a business idea), and I’ll just let go and allow my thoughts and ideas to pour out onto the page with reckless abandon. I’ll often stick a post-it note on the page to mark the spot, then go back to it later when I’m feeling inspired to write that blog post or article. (In fact, this very blog post started out as a journal entry!)
The biggest tip I have when it comes to journaling is to let go of perfectionism. Your handwriting absolutely doesn’t have to look beautiful, and there’s no pressure to write in your journal daily – or even weekly. I only really write in my journal when I have something to write about, or when I’m feeling all sorts of emotions and don’t know where they stem from. Sometimes I write several pages, other days I write a couple of lines. I firmly believe that journaling should be fun, and that it should never be a burden. I’m also of the belief that a regular journaling practice is an essential for every writer – we’re often told to “write about what we know”, and a journal is the perfect tool to help you get to the bottom of your feeling, thoughts, and history after all!
These are just a few of the activities that I use to help pull myself out of a writing funk, and I wanted to share them as you never know who else may benefit from them. I’d love to hear from you, too – are there any tried-and-tested tips that you swear by to help you overcome writer’s block?