Hack Your Way Out Of Writer's Block

This piece, by Merlin Mann, originally appeared on his 43 Folders website on 11/18/04, and it’s just as useful today as it was then.

I recently had occasion to do some…errr…research on writer’s block. Yeah, research. That’s what I was doing. Like a scientist.

I found lots of great ideas to get unstuck and wrote the best ones on index cards to create an Oblique Strategies-like deck. Swipe, share, and add your own in comments.

  • Talk to a monkey – Explain what you’re really trying to say to a stuffed animal or cardboard cutout.
  • Do something important that’s very easy – Is there a small part of your project you could finish quickly that would move things forward?
  • Try freewriting – Sit down and write anything for an arbitrary period of time—say, 10 minutes to start. Don’t stop, no matter what. Cover the monitor with a manila folder if you have to. Keep writing, even if you know what you’re typing is gibberish, full of misspellings, and grammatically psychopathic. Get your hand moving and your brain will think it’s writing. Which it is. See?
  • Take a walk – Get out of your writing brain for 10 minutes. Think about bunnies. Breathe.
  • Take a shower; change clothes – Give yourself a truly clean start.
  • Write from a persona – Lend your voice to a writing personality who isn’t you. Doesn’t have to be a pirate or anything—just try seeing your topic from someone else’s perspective, style, and interest.
  • Get away from the computer; Write someplace new – If you’ve been staring at the screen and nothing is happening, walk away. Shut down the computer. Take one pen and one notebook, and go somewhere new.
  • Quit beating yourself up – You can’t create when you feel ass-whipped. Stop visualizing catastrophes, and focus on positive outcomes.
  • Add one ritual behavior – Get a glass of water exactly every 20 minutes. Do pushups. Eat a Tootsie Roll every paragraph. Add physical structure.

Read the rest of the article on the 43 Folders website, where you can also find many more informative and insightful articles on both the process and business of being creative.

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