No one is exactly sure what causes writer’s block, and it likely has multiple causes in different people at different times. Physical brain damage can result in it; lesions on the brain can cause agraphia, an extreme form of writer’s block where the brain becomes unable to translate thoughts into writing. In other cases, high stress may depress the cerebral cortex’s ability to think creatively and produce writing output. In most cases, though, writer’s block is simply a temporary experience for which we’ll likely never know the exact cause.
Just because it’s passing doesn’t mean it’s not intensely frustrating, however, especially if a deadline is looming.
If you’re looking to get past a bout of writer’s block, here are some tips.
- Read documents similar to what you want to write. Researchers refer to this as “collaborative ideation.” Obviously, you don’t want to duplicate or plagiarize someone else’s work, but reviewing how others have created similar documents can get the creative juices flowing for generating your own ideas.
- Do something else for a while. Sometimes your brain just needs a break. You might choose to do something monotonous, like housework or taking a shower (already a famous place for having creative epiphanies). Getting outside – taking a walk or working in the garden – can also be helpful. Sunshine and oxygen can be reinvigorating for the mind as well as the body.
- Strengthen your writing muscles. While writer’s block affects all writers, it doesn’t affect them all equally. Those who write more often and have sharpened their writing skills may be less affected by it or affected less frequently. Getting some training in writing skills and turning writing into a daily (or near daily) routine can help. This can be especially helpful if the writer’s block is recurrent.
- Back up and pre-write instead. Instead of diving into the full-on act of writing, take a step back and do a precursor activity. We call this “pre-writing.” It can involve mind-mapping, freewriting, brainstorming, and more. It puts your mind into a different mode from turning thoughts into words. Then, once you’ve got a few sharp ideas to work with, it might be easier to return to the page.
- Reschedule. Maybe you’re trying to write off your personal peak. Instead, reschedule the task for a time when you know you’ll have more energy – maybe first thing in the morning (or second thing, after you’ve had a cup of coffee). In other cases, just waiting a little while can help. In most cases, writer’s block is a short-lived phenomenon and will pass on its own.
- Clear your plate. For many business professionals, writing tasks are just one more thing on the to-do list. Overwhelm and sheer busyness can definitely contribute to writer’s block. It may help to slim down your obligations to the best of your ability, at least for a little while, to be able to devote time to the writing project without distractions.