How I get past Writer’s Block

Someone recently asked me, “What’s the best advice you can give a fellow writer?”

Though the question was flattering, it implies that I’m a writer. I don’t consider myself one, but I talk to lots of people who write, and one of the phrases I hear most often when I ask about bottlenecks is “just getting started.”

I’m no expert, but I suspect others experience Writer’s Block for some of the same reasons I do: unclear thoughts, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, feeling overwhelmed, and the White Screen of Unhelpfulness.

Here’s how I try to work around each problem. Are these the “right answers?” Damned if I know. But they work for me, and maybe they can help you.

Fuzzy ideas

If writing is distilled thinking, then cloudy thinking will surely impede not only our efficiency, but also our self-efficacy. If we don’t believe we can accomplish something, then how can we know where to start?

When I get stuck like that, it helps to think about writing as the distillation process. I try to lower the pressure by reminding myself that, although I might not know exactly what I want to say or how I want to say it, articulating my thoughts and refining them will eventually result in clearer ideas. Giving myself that grace helps me get moving.


We don’t expect much of ourselves, right? We just think we should persuade, or enlighten, or describe, or inspire as soon as we start typing. Anything else is just not good enough, right?

Well, guess what? Unless you’re JK Rowling, nobody gets it right the first time. Nobody. Why put that kind of pressure on yourself? Be patient with the process – and yourself. Trust the process – and yourself.

My perfectionism often manifests in sentence pretzels. To fix it, I break the pretzels into bite-sized subject-verb-object pieces, which help me see more plainly what I’m trying to express and the order in which ideas should appear.

That last sentence probably needs some hot mustard.

Imposter syndrome

This “feature” of HumanOS has been getting a lot more attention in the past few years, and I’m grateful for that. We all suffer from this insidious and debilitating lie. Yes, it’s a lie. There, I said it.

I’m no psychologist, so I won’t pretend to understand imposter syndrome fully. But I suffer from it, as does nearly everyone else I know. Do you think the entire world is run by imposters? I don’t. It’s run (mostly!) by competent people who are qualified to do their jobs and do them well.

You’re one of them. Don’t let that voice in your head stop you from expressing yourself. The universe wants you to succeed. Show your gratitude by doing so.

I heard some good advice the other day. When that voice starts yelling, “You don’t know what you’re doing! You’re a fraud!” try to convert it from bully to concerned friend who instead suggests, “Hey, are you sure about this?” To which you can reply, “Thanks for the concern, but yeah, I can figure this out.” And then start writing.

Feeling overwhelmed

Slice can’t help much with the first three items discussed in this post, but we intentionally designed it to help with the fourth and fifth.

We’ve all been there, whether it was a research project for school, a new initiative at work, or a remodeling project at home – a project so big that it took on a life of its own in our minds. A project so large and complex and scary that we didn’t even know where to begin. So we didn’t, because we were overwhelmed.

By supporting content “slices” in the project binder, Slice encourages you to do exactly what you’d do when tackling any large project: break it down into smaller pieces. Modular content makes ideas easier to focus on and more manageable – which becomes especially apparent when you’re producing a substantive piece and/or working as part of a team.

You could call it “divide and conquer.” We call it a smart approach to writing.

The Blank Screen of Unhelpfulness

Could software vendors have picked a metaphor that promotes Writer’s Block more effectively than a blank page? Seriously! Every cursor pulse reminds you that you haven’t written much – if anything – as the white space conjures the emotions described above and does nothing to help you create your content.

It’s like asking someone to paint a still life without a subject matter next to the canvas.

By allowing you to collect background notes in your project binder and display them as you write, Slice primes your creative pump, surrounds you with relevant information, and nurtures your ideas.

All of which beats the heck out of a glorified typewriter.

Yes, the Writer’s Block struggle is real. Nearly all of us experience it, and probably for similar reasons – which means that you’re in good (and plenty!) of company.

What about you? If you experience Writer’s Block, what causes it? And how do you get past it? Please share with us in the comments below!

Photo credit: Steve Johnson on Unsplash. Thank you, Steve!


2 Responses

  1. Good stuff Joe! I particularly like your point about unclear thoughts and not knowing what you want to say when you start our writing. “Giving yourself the space” as you put it to just start writing by recognizing the process of writing will help you figure out what to say is fabulous advice.

    The other thing that works for me (which I know is a controversial topic) is I don’t schedule time to force myself to write—this is absolutely a prerequisite for some people, but has been counterproductive for me. I try to strike when the inspiration is hot, which means sometimes I won’t write for weeks then will spend an entire day writing when I didn’t plan to do so. That can logistically be challenging at times, but for me when the words want to come out I do everything I can to let them then refine from there.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Geoff.

      “Giving yourself space” is a form of “trusting yourself.” We trust ourselves so often in other realms of life (for example, driving and cooking) that we don’t think twice about it. Why should writing be any different? Maybe thinking about how much we trust ourselves when *not* writing will help us trust ourselves when we *are* writing.

      I don’t think anyone should judge another’s writing process anymore than one should judge, say, another person’s preferred type of exercise. If I like CrossFit and you like yoga, neither of us has the right to say, “Mine is better.” Why? Because they both lead to the same result – healthy bodies. So if I write daily and you write when inspiration strikes, who cares? They both lead to the same result – good content.

      Find what works for you, and stick with it – critics be damned.

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