How To Get Over Your Writer’s Block

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We’ve all been there. Sometimes it is embarrassingly hard to get your creative juices flowing. We often stop ourselves before any ideas can even come to the surface, writing them off as stupid or unoriginal.

As I’m sure many people are guilty of, sometimes my ideas seem to come to a screeching halt right before they fully come to life. I will spend hours dreaming up brilliant concepts, or enticing story lines, or compelling article topics, and then… I hit a wall. I convince myself that someone else that has already thought of it. Or maybe someone else would do a better job at executing the idea than I would. Or maybe the idea is actually altogether horrible. And now, within a matter of seconds, I find myself without any ideas at all. Back to the drawing board.

These thoughts are normal, and I’m not too proud to admit that I struggle with them all the time. However, I simply don’t have time for them. My job requires me to create new things and execute them on the daily. Thankfully, I’ve nailed down 4 ways to avoid writer’s block.

Exercise Your Idea Muscle

This is a tip I learned from author James Altucher via Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss (side note: I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone). The next three paragraphs are inspired by one of Altucher’s blog posts and page 248 of Ferriss’s book.

The ‘idea muscle’ is exactly what it sounds like: the part of your brain that comes up with ideas. The reason Altucher refers to it as a muscle, though, is to illustrate the point that if you do not exercise it often enough, it will become stiff, as any other muscle in your body would. Have you ever taken a hiatus from working out, and when you finally decide to jump back into it, your legs are killing you? The same thing happens to your idea muscle.

The ‘idea muscle’ is exactly what it sounds like: the part of your brain that comes up with ideas. The reason Altucher refers to it as a muscle, though, is to illustrate the point that if you do not exercise it often enough, it will become stiff, as any other muscle in your body would. Have you ever taken a hiatus from working out, and when you finally decide to jump back into it, your legs are killing you? Same happens to your idea muscle.

The method in which you exercise this muscle is key. And also very simple. Grab a notebook, and write down 10 ideas. If you can’t think of 10, write down 20. You may be thinking, how am I supposed to think of 20 ideas when I can’t even think of 10…? That’s exactly the point. Altucher explains that if you’re having trouble coming up with 10 ideas, your fear of rejection and your tendency towards perfectionism come together to halt your creativity. Your writer’s block is actually your brain trying to protect you from coming up with stupid ideas. The best way to combat this automatic defense mechanism is to push right past it and do exactly what its telling you not to do: write whatever comes to your mind. Completely ignore the hesitation. Who cares if the idea is stupid? Simply because you’re writing it down doesn’t mean you have to act on it, or even revisit it ever again. It could be the most ridiculous sentence you’ve ever written on paper, but its bringing you one step closer to accessing the entirety of your creativity without stopping out of fear or nerves.

Limit The Element Of Choice

I practiced writing down 10 ideas everyday for the entire month of June, to see if this approach truly worked. I began doing so with the prompts listed in Altucher’s chapter of Tools of Titans. These sample prompts included things like: businesses I would create, products I would invent that don’t exist yet, ways to save time, things I was interested in as a kid that I’d like to get better at, and so on. Some prompts provided more value for me than others, but I chose to answer them all anyway – after all, the entire point was to create more ideas and stop limiting myself, so I wasn’t going to be selective in what I wrote about.

A few days in, I already felt more motivated to create than I ever had.

When I finished all of Altucher’s prompts, I began to create my own. I found that on the days I chose to write about something broad, i.e. “10 Fictional Story Ideas,” I was often stuck and much less successful in brainstorming something to write down than on the days I chose to write about more specific topics, i.e. “10 Fictional Story Ideas About A Toaster.” Limiting the amount of choice you have is extremely important. If I allow myself to think about 10 fictional storylines, I will be endlessly staring at a blank page knocking my pen against my cheek, trying to rack my brain for a place to start. However, if I create distinct limitations for myself, and I sit down with a 15-minute timer and a narrowed-down topic, I can bang out ideas like nobody’s business. I currently have 4 very solid (and 6 really stupid) fictional storylines involving toasters, and am seriously considering actually developing at least 2 of them into novels. The old me would have thought writing about inanimate kitchen objects was a weird waste of time, but the new me has worked past my brain’s defense against potential rejection. Toaster story it is.

Limiting choice is common practice among highly successful individuals because it allows you to use your time more efficiently. Don’t have to stand in the kitchen hemming and hawing about what you should have for breakfast? Great! You just gained 5 minutes to use your time for something more meaningful. The same goes for creative expression.

Every Conversation Has Potential

I created my business name in the middle of a conversation with my friends while we were sitting on the beach gossiping about our college days. My husband was watching our one-year-old son while I spent an hour with my two best friends. We sat our beach chairs at the edge of the water and all tried our hardest to ignore the fact that I would be moving to a different country the next day. As always, we launched into our main source of distraction: gossiping. Not the mean kind, of course, just the ‘good-old-days’ reminiscing type of gossip. We talked about the bagel place we used to frequent, and the way we used to get into our roommates’ business, and how much we missed overpriced sandwiches at the campus grocery store. We somehow reached the topic of our college majors, and I joked that my Philosophy degree was actually ‘a degree in reading between the lines,’ because the only way to study the work of ancient philosophers is to do exactly that. We all stopped our conversation and looked at each other, and agreed that hey, that would be a great name for your copywriting business.

This conversation is proof that inspiration can spark from anywhere, at any time. For me, the best inspiration always comes when I’m not looking for it. I didn’t set up my beach chair in the sand that afternoon hoping to brainstorm a title for my new business. My only intention was to sit and chat with my friends. I would be willing to say that at least 70% of my ideas for articles to write, podcast topics to talk about, captions to post, projects to start, and plans to execute have come completely by accident in the spur of the moment. You simply have to be open to them.

Reminding yourself that every opportunity can be a learning opportunity is vital. Keeping an open mind and an open ear will lead you straight to success.

I always make sure to carry a notebook and pen with me if ever an idea strikes while I’m away from my desk. For some odd psychological reason, putting pen to paper always makes me feel more accomplished, more official. Yes, I am aware that I live in the year 2020 and my phone has several note-taking apps, but I still prefer physically writing thoughts down. Additionally, (fun fact I learned from a college tutor training session) our brain is much more likely to retain something that we’ve written down on paper than something we’ve typed.

Ask For Help (Even When You Don’t Want To)

This is what I struggle with most. I’m a copywriter; its my job to help other people when they’re stuck. I’m supposed to be the one doing the brainstorming and the dreaming and the note-taking and the executing. My purpose in my work is to bring creative visions to life. I’m the one getting paid for these things. Surely I shouldn’t have to resort to asking other people for help, right? WRONG. So wrong.

The benefit of a second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes is extremely advantageous. Often times when I’ve hit a wall, its because I’ve been staring at my project and overanalyzing it for much too long. Other people who aren’t as familiar with what I’m working on are able to offer me completely unbiased suggestions,- and lots of them, too – because they’re not committed to the project like I am. They know they’re only giving an opinion, so it allows them to speak more freely. They don’t have to worry about consequence.

I’ve even found that by simply reading the sentence or thought I’m stuck on out loud to my mom, or my husband, or my best friend, I solve my own problem before they even get the chance.

I’ve even found that by simply reading the sentence or thought I’m stuck on out loud to my mom, or my husband, or my best friend, I solve my own problem before they even get the chance.

I’m naturally a pretty hard-headed person. I want to do things my way. I like being in control. I like being right. Who doesn’t? Again, I’m not too proud to admit these things. Because I know this type of attitude is the one I usually gravitate towards, I work my hardest to flip the script. I force myself to ask for help even when it hurts my pride a little bit.

Writer’s block is the worst feeling in the world. My advice to you: grab a notebook and pen. Commit to spending a few minutes each day to write down ideas, whether you plan to use them or not. As long as you’re exercising your idea muscle, and breaking down those barriers your brain automatically sets in place, you’re making progress. If you’re having trouble thinking of what to write about, look around the room. No subject is off limits.

If the first object you see is a squirrel on the window sill, write about him. 10 Ways A Squirrel Could Do My Job For Me. There’s definitely at least three ideas waiting to be utilized somewhere in that prompt. Keep an open mind, ignore the doubt, and get started. If you get stuck, keep going. If you get really stuck, phone a friend. You’ve got this.

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