Lesson 2 – 10 Strategies to Beat Writer’s Block

Personally, I don’t believe in writer’s block – I think we just get stuck sometimes. It often helps to take a break from writing for a few days, but that’s not always a realistic possibility for freelancer writers.

So, if you’ve got looming deadlines (or worse, missed deadlines) and you’re struggling to write, then start here. These are all quick ways to give your productivity an instant boost.

1. Use a Timer

This is an instant and incredibly simple trick – but it can make a massive difference to your writing. Set a timer – you could use your cell phone, a kitchen timer, or an online timer like Tomato Timer. While the timer’s going, you’re writing.

Don’t try to write full-out for an hour at a time – it won’t be that effective. Try setting your timer for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes, and repeat. Tomato Timer works this way by default.

2. Listen to Music

Find music which you enjoy but which doesn’t distract you (lyrics – particularly ones you want to sing along to – aren’t too helpful when writing). Put an album on and start writing. This works in a similar way to the timer – you can write for the duration of a certain number of songs.

Music can help you to stay on task because in those moments when your mind goes blank and you don’t know what to write next, you can rest your hands on the keyboard, take a few deep breaths and listen to the music. There’s not so much temptation to check your email or Twitter.

3. Turn Off the Internet

Drastic? Maybe – but it’s very effective. With Skype, instant messengers, Twitter, Facebook, email, comics, videos and a bunch more distractions, the internet is a mixed blessing for most writers.

If your excuse for staying online is that you need to look things up, then change your writing process slightly. Get the draft down, and leave a note to yourself to look up any URLs or facts that you need. (I do this by putting notes in square brackets or highlighting them in yellow.)

4. Bribe Yourself

Use the power of rewards for new motivation. Get that article finished, and treat yourself to a slice of cake. Turn in your project, and take a long bath. Reach a particular milestone, and take the rest of the day off.

Although there are plenty of natural rewards in freelancing – like the satisfaction of completing a great piece of writing and the thrill of getting paid! – it really does help to give yourself short-term rewards too.

5. Go For a Walk

Lots of writers enjoy walking – and you don’t have to be a romantic poet to find it beneficial. Walking gets your blood flowing and your thoughts moving. I’ve talked to lots of writers who get their best ideas when they’re out walking, or who simply find that, after a walk, they can sit down and write more easily.

You don’t need to go on a day-long hike: just a brisk fifteen or twenty minutes walking around the block is often enough. Don’t forget to take a notebook with you, just in case inspiration strikes…

6. Choose a Different Format

If you’re staring at a blank page, mix things up a bit and try a different format for your writing. Maybe you’re struggling to write a sales page for your client’s product – how about turning it into a letter to the prospective customer?

In some areas of freelancing, you’ll have a lot of freedom to come up with your own formats. You can get particularly creative with blog posts: readers often enjoy something which is a bit different from usual. You could try a “what not to do” post, or something which uses an extended metaphor.

7. Keep a “Swipe File”

Whenever you come across a great piece of writing, save it. Copywriters call this a “swipe file” and pack it with great examples of adverts, sales letters and similar items. If a particular piece of web copy grabs your attention, bookmark the page or copy it into a document for future use.

Obviously, you shouldn’t copy another writer’s work word-for-word – but you can use similar phrases, or structure your piece in the same way.

8. Create a Mindmap

If you’re responsible for coming up with ideas – often the case with freelance blogging – then you may feel like you’re running out of things to write about. Mindmapping is a great way to shake some extra ideas loose.

You can use computer software for mindmapping, but many writers find that pen and paper is just as effective. Get a sheet of blank paper, write the blog’s name in the centre (or the rough topic which you have in mind), and start adding notes and ideas around the edge. Within minutes, you’ll find that you have enough material for your piece.

9. Pick a Great Image

When you’re freelancing for the web, you’ll often be supplying images along with your words. Most writers finish the piece first and then look for a great photo to go with it – but there’s nothing stopping you from finding the image first.

An interesting or striking image can spark off all sorts of ideas. Try browsing on Flickr or another photography site, and picking something – even if it doesn’t seem especially related to your topic.

10. Expand an Earlier Idea

If you write regularly for an online magazine or blog, you’ve already come up with plenty of ideas that worked. Go back to a previous post or article, and look at the comments. Did readers respond to a particular point? Do they have questions?

Even if there aren’t any comments, you can go through the post and look for a new angle, or a tangent to explore. Often, you’ll find that a subheading could become a whole post, for instance. You might even turn the whole post around and provide a counter-argument or a more nuanced opinion.

Writer’s block only lasts for as long as you let it. Use the ideas above as tools to smash through your block – and keep writing!