But if you’re on a deadline or must get something done–for whatever reason–sometimes battling with that blank piece of paper or computer screen is absolutely necessary. Here’s some strategies I’ve used to help me when I’m stuck.
1. Set a timer. I like to use Strict Pomodoro, which is available in various browsers, to kick me off social media for 25-minute increments. It then allows for 5-minute breaks. Almost anything can be written in an hour or two, if you force yourself to write the entire time. Just make sure to take breaks when it’s time.
2. Minimize distractions. Going to a cafe can be helpful, depending on the vibe and how good you are with noise. A library is another option. I like to go to the quiet area of my coworking space, and point my keyboard so that everyone could see if I was wasting time. I convince myself that people are looking over my shoulder. This–along with an environment where everyone else is nose to grindstone–helps me get work done. I also turn off my phone and kick myself off social media. Using Incognito or a similar browser or Strict Pomodoro (as mentioned above), or apps like Freedom gets rid of social media, so the only thing you can do is write.
3. Self-bribery. When I trap myself in a cafe, I will occasionally bribe myself with a cupcake or a cup of hot chocolate. The only catch is that I can’t leave until the item is written.
4. Write the worst crap ever. Give yourself permission to just write the biggest drivel of all time. Once that’s out of your system, some of the good stuff will show up on the page.
5. Start in the middle. If you can’t think of a good lede, don’t. Go into an area that you feel strong in, and build the piece around that. Nobody will notice.
6. Switch formats. I have no idea why this works, but switching from Microsoft Word to GoogleDocs to Draftin to Scrivener sometimes helps. So does switching fonts, usually to Garamond.
7. Good tunes. If you’re in the brainstorming phase, listen to happy music. If you’re editing or refining, listen to depressing music. For some reason, this forces you to focus better.
8. Organize your thoughts. If your ideas are ALL over the place, write them all down on a piece of paper. Then, circle themes that are similar in the same color. When you’re done, you’ll have all sorts of circles in all colors on your page. Each color is a paragraph or a section.
9. Add the quotes first. This was a trick I used in college when writing research papers, and one I currently use when writing profiles or articles that are quotation-heavy (from interviews). Add the quotes and THEN figure out the structure.
10. Think of your article as a pearl necklace. Figure out what the string is that would tie the different pieces or pearls together. Sometimes having an overview and structure will help you on your way.
11. Do something unrelated. Stuck on brainstorming an idea? Go on a walk, paying attention to sights and sounds. Spend 15 minutes listening to Taiko music. Eat a piece of fruit, slowly. Get out of your head and in touch with your senses. Then start over.
12. Do something repetitive. Wash dishes. Take a shower. Rake some leaves. For some reason, repetitive motion can get the wheels spinning.
Still stuck after trying all twelve? Email me (yael AT yaelwrites.com) and we’ll talk.