If you’ve ever had to put your thoughts into written words, you’ve probably suffered from writer’s block at some point. Even the best writers face an occasional lull in inspiration, but this can be especially tricky when you write for a living.
Although I’m no longer working as a full-time journalist, I still do a lot of writing every week for my freelance clients, and sometimes I feel like I’ve hit a wall. It’s like not being able to fall asleep when you know you have to wake up early the next day: You watch the time tick by, knowing that each minute you’re not sleeping (or, in this case, writing) is a minute wasted, and there’s going to be hell to pay in the morning.
As I’ve grown as a writer and as a professional, I’ve found a few helpful tricks to overcome the dread of a blank white screen. Here are four things you can do to power through your writer’s block:
1. Create an outline.
If you have a mess of notes and research links that you can’t figure out how to turn into an article or post, create a rough outline with bullet points and sentence fragments. If you can at least organize the notes you have, you may be able to start envisioning it as a fully-formed piece.
One of my clients has me create an outline like this for every article I pitch, and I found it so helpful that I now do it for all my writing assignments. Having the “bones” of the article in place saves me a lot of time and energy when I revisit it later to begin writing.
2. Write out of order.
A lot of writers tend to get stuck on their opening line or paragraph. Instead of wasting time thinking about how to start your piece, begin with something from the middle. Use a placeholder (like ‘X’ or ‘…’) for your intro and move onto the next paragraph. Sometimes having the core of your article in place can get the ball rolling and help you figure out what to say in the beginning. I’ll usually highlight my placeholder in the document so I don’t forget to come back to it before submitting the piece.
3. Work on other productive tasks.
If you’re still struggling, put your writing aside and do something else on your to-do list. Tackle another short but productive task that you’ve been meaning to get to. Checking other things off your to-do list will take some of the pressure off when you revisit your writing. Be sure to set a time limit for these other tasks, too, if deadlines are a concern.
4. Write anything.
If all else fails and you just need to get your piece written, get something – anything –down on the page. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, or grammatically incorrect, or full of typos. Spit out a sentence and work backwards. I sometimes find that it’s easier to edit and rework a bad paragraph than craft a really good one on the first try.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
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