How I beat writer’s block

In today’s episode of the WP Unicorn Project, Suzette and I were lucky enough to speak with Jennifer Bourn about content strategy. We spoke a little bit about techniques for overcoming writer’s block, and I wanted to share mine. It’s call free writing.

I learned this technique in a writing class in college. You get three pieces of paper, a pencil or a pen, and a timer. Set the timer for 15 minutes, then scribble furiously as you try to fill all three pages full from top to bottom in 15 minutes with your writing. No stopping to think, no pausing, no editing.

You might be thinking, “But if I have writer’s block, what am I going to write?” Well, if nothing comes to mind, then just start writing “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write.”

If all you do is just write that over and over again for the entire 15 minutes – mission accomplished! The goal isn’t to write anything usable or useful or even anything that makes sense. The only goal you have is putting words on a page. Any words. Any words at all. The goal is to write fast and fill as much of the three pages as you can. At the end of the 15 minutes, you crumple up the pages and throw them away.

Within 15 minutes, a funny thing happens. Your brain quiets down, you focus, new ideas form. It’s a form of meditation. And no, you can’t type. There’s something about the physicality of the pencil moving across the paper that makes it work so well. It’s just not the same when it’s a keyboard.

How it works

I usually kick off a free writing session by complaining about all the things that are clogging up my brain and making it impossible for me to write: the electric bill I have to remember to pay, the client who wants something by tomorrow, phone calls I need to make, emails I have to write, the fact that my oven desperately needs to be cleaned. Somewhere around the 7 minute mark, things shift. My brain clams down, I feel focused, and my thoughts actually become coherent. By the end of 15 minutes, my writer’s block is cured and I’ve got at least one idea for something I can write about.

I use free writing for other things as well. If I get an upset email from a client and I’m not sure how to respond, a free writing session helps me to move past my own emotions and see the situation from my client’s point of view. If I’m stressed out by the length of my to do list and unable to focus on anything, a free writing session helps to clear my brain and clarify what my priorities should be. If I make a mistake or let somebody down, a free writing session helps me put my gaffe in perspective, focus on how I can fix it, and not get too worked up about it.

Try it!

Next time you’re stuck for an idea for a blog post, try a free writing session. Have to write your own bio? Ugh, that’s the worst. Free writing session! Unsure what sorts of content to include on your website’s homepage? Free writing session!

It always works for me without fail, so why don’t you see if it works for you too? All you need is paper, a pen or pencil, and 15 minutes.

Image credit: Fredric Guillory

4 thoughts on “How I beat writer’s block

  1. Guess that I a bit late to this party, but still great advice, Natalie.

    Funny thing is that ONE of my jobs at work is to be the grantwriter, so in essence, I write for a living and have pulled in over $2 million in four years. But I ALWAYS struggle with the start. I will try your technique and get back to you,

  2. This is was perfect and extremely helpful, just in time.

    I love your site. I’ve added it to my favorites. I’m aspiring at the moment so if you don’t mind checking out my site.


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