Get Rid of Writer’s Block Once and for All

Imagine this scenario: You sit down at your desk, ready to write something, anything. You feel inspired. The coffee is steaming and the music blaring. It’s time to begin.

Blank page
Photo Credit: ImageAbstraction via Compfight cc

You take a deep breath, say a prayer, maybe even light a candle or two. And then you place your fingers on the keys and…. nothing happens.

No words, no ideas, no storylines. Nada.

You clear your throat, turn up the music, crack your knuckles, and try again.

And still — you’ve got nothing.

You scream, you cry, make a big scene for nobody to see or hear, but the problem persists.

You, friend, are officially BLOCKED. Stopped up. Held back. Resisted.

Sucks, don’t it?

For years, this plight of writer’s block has kept many a writer from creating the work their hearts so desired. And like sheep, we all have been led astray, diverted into fields of dormancy and inactivity.

That ends today.

It’s time to vanquish this foe, that villain who has stolen our creativity for far too long. It’s time to slay the dragon once and for all.

The secret solution to defeating writer’s block

The weapon we wield against our common enemy is a solution so simple and crazy I’m sure it has never crossed your mind. It sure didn’t cross mine, not for many years.

It’s the last thing you’d ever think of, but I promise you it works like a charm every time.

So what is this simple solution, this mysterious means of overcoming writer’s block? What is the answer to our greatest creative battles and struggles?

It’s the one thing you don’t want to do, the one thing you think you can’t do — but I promise you can. Here it is:


Anything at all. All bets are off. No rules or limitations. Just go for it. My favorite beginner sentence looks something like this:

asdfk jkle jmnnasdcjk lxlxcjv.

What’s that, you say? Those aren’t real words? So what! Once I start moving my fingers, I soon find the direction in which I want to go.

The hard part is getting started, not cleaning up the mess. You can always go back and edit the chaos, always refine a reckless combination of words.

It’s the blank page with which we are at battle, the empty canvas with which we wage war.

Before too long, after a few minutes of nonsensical typing, I find I’m no longer writing gobbledy-gook. Instead, I am crafting real, intelligible words and phrases, even actual sentences.

And it all began with a few ridiculous pecks at the keyboard.

Why you won’t do this

Too simple, you say? Too easy? Well, who says writing has to be hard?

Who says work has to be so serious? Maybe what you need is a silly strategy to get started, something strange to get you unstuck. Maybe that’s just the jarring you require.

For me, it works almost every time.

You aren’t blocked because you don’t have any ideas. You’re blocked because you’re a perfectionist. None of the ideas seem good enough; nothing feels quite brilliant enough to become reality. So you sit, stuck at your desk, waiting for something better to come.

But what if it never did? What if your next idea was the best one you will ever have? You would have to capture it… right? Exactly.

We aren’t asking you to paint the Mona Lisa here. You just need to write a first draft, a really bad one, one that will totally suck but will be something you can build upon later.

That’s what it means to be a writer. And that’s where great pieces of art come from: in the seemingly ordinary and mundane and not-quite-perfect.

So here’s your assignment:

  1. Start typing, trusting the words will come. Let the imaginary words flow; just get those fingers moving.
  2. Embrace the freedom you feel when you do this, that sense of lightness that liberates you from the tyranny of your own perfectionism.
  3. Write something terrible now, something so bad you will have to make it better. And do it before that more reasonable version of yourself reappears.

What’re you waiting for? This is the best opportunity you will ever have to be creative. Better get stared. And feel free to share your thoughts and even your work below.

Can you relate to this way of getting rid of writers’ block? Share in the comments.

91 thoughts on “Get Rid of Writer’s Block Once and for All

  1. I took something from an interview with Neil Strauss who’s written a few bestsellers. He said the first draft is always yours.

    I liked this because it took the pressure off of my writing actually being good and the focus more on just getting onto page what was going on in my head.

    That certainly helped

    The Confidence Lounge

  2. Yes, the cursed blank page. The mocking flashing cursor. I am far too acquainted with these things. Next time I sit I’ll try the “write something till words come out” now dubbed the Goins-Maneuver.

  3. Personally, I don’t believe in writer’s block. Yes, I have times when what I set down to write does not come at that moment. So I write something else. If a poem won’t come, I work on a blog post. If I’m struggling on the chapter of a book, I work on song lyrics. Heck, sometimes I turn to commenting on blogs. It’s all writing. If worse comes to worse, I read for 20 minutes and then go back to the page. But I’m never completely blocked. There’s no such a thing.

  4. Perhaps I’m odd, but I’d love to see the unfiltered trash that other writers sometimes have to spew to get where they’re going. kind of a “peek behind the curtain,” if you will. The same way art fans get a lot of pleasure looking at the studies and sketches that artists complete for their paintings. But,…maybe that’s just me.

  5. What do you do with that number, that’s still stuck in your head from days of old. When you still think of every word as part of a budget, that’s your job to trim? That’s the short of my short words … CUT!

  6. Jeff – I can absolutely relate to this! And the many times I have experienced it, it’s because I simply edit in my head before the words are typed. Which means I am frozen, until something that sounds awesome is created.

    And now? I simply start writing. Whether it’s a list of business ideas, describing what I see before me, or stating how and why I don’t know what to write. And it works a treat !

  7. Jeff, love it. Thanks.

    Alas, I wish I permanently learned this lesson. Instead I learn it over and over and over again. Maybe I’m just reminded over and over again.

    I haven’t quite learned it.

    The first time I “learned” it (which I still haven’t) was reading Brenda Euland’s book, “If You Want To Write.” When teaching to a bunch of stuck, perfectionist, wannabee-writers, she suggested they try to write something really bad.

    Instead of trying to write something good, she said, write something trashy. And they all wrote something great.

    If only I could permanently learn to remove my perfectionism and be willing to write something crappy. Who knows, maybe someone might like it.

  8. This is so effective! I have dozens of posts that will never see the light of day because I’ve done exactly this. Many times, those posts eventually turn into something worth sharing. Most of the time they don’t. But they always lead to a new thought or idea that does make it onto paper or screen.

  9. Jeff, my father used to claim he’d taken hundreds of great photographs – too bad there wasn’t any film in the camera. I’ve said I’ve written hundreds of brilliant pieces, in my head, too bad I didn’t have a piece of paper at hand. Maybe it’s time to stop using that excuse and just write. Oh, and keep paper and pen with me.

  10. Sometimes it’s asdfjklk;, sometimes it’s “I can’t think of anything to write for this prompt”, and then I’m off. It may not pertain to that prompt at all, but it still prompts me to write and that’s the important thing.

  11. Jeff, you talked about just writing and “starting” in Tribewriters. Just want you to know that it helped me so much. I can’t wait to get up in the mornings and start writing, even if it is terrible. I can always go back and polish it up, which usually gives me a fresh perspective anyway. So thanks. You are making a huge impact.

  12. This is the end of the block. The final moment of the summer
    of “I can’t”, “ I used to”, “I got nothin’”. This is the moment where I make
    the conscious choice to put away the pain of rejection and betrayal, and get
    back to my real life , looking forward rather than backwards. There is so much
    to do, and so much to say, that sitting here in silence holding pressure on a
    wound no longer makes sense. I will just have to heal in motion. Thanks, Jeff…
    gotta get on that story. Be Blessed.

    1. I love what you said- “I will just have to heal in motion.” That is beautiful. And man what good fodder for a title right there- “Healing in Motion” – for a blog post, a blog itself, or a book. Get writing!
      Another tidbit – you said about looking forward rather than backwards- my son worked the rock wall this summer at the camp where he was a counselor. I visited him one day and saw these little kids shimmying up that rock wall so fast and so confidently – and it was HIGH and scary. I noticed something about each child that was going up. Unlike what I would have done to measure my progress and welcome panic, they never looked back and they never looked down. They only looked up at the top of the wall, or at least at the part of the wall where they were presently, and kept pressing on. Made a huge difference in their journey to the top – faster than if they’d kept looking down and seeing how dangerously far they’d come…(and yes, that’s my next blog post!)

      1. I agree, Beth. That was an excellent nugget. Sometimes, we can’t slow down enough to process every experience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still heal and grow along the way.

  13. LOL I absolutely LOVED this! The candles, the music, the screaming and crying and the hysterical first sentence. And I love that you used the term gobbledy-gook. Reading something like this brings me so much comfort and joy; to realize I am not alone in my fears and struggles. We often make fear a much bigger enemy than it actually is….if we’ll just start typing, fear will slink off to the corner of the room and stay put. I read yesterday in Stasi Eldredge’s new book something to the effect of (and I’m greatly paraphrasing here, believe me) – “The more you get close to doing what God has called you to do, the more fear will be present.” Fear can be a wonderful confirmation that we’re on the right path!

  14. Jeff, that’s funny: “asdfk jkle jmnnasdcjk lxlxcjv.” is one of the main characters in my novel now. Thanks for the boost. Starting is always the most difficult for me, both in writing fiction and nonfiction. I am considering a trick I’ve read on other writing-advice posts, which is to copy, in longhand, a piece of writing from an author you admire.

    The implication is that the very physical act of penning the words produces some unconscious writerly absorption of quality phrasing into your perception—and one that carries over into your writing. Just don’t try it with War and Peace.

    1. I heard of this too. A friend of mine had a really old book sitting on his shelf about the craft of writing, published in the early 1900s. It said this very thing. If reading is a way of learning and speaking is a way of learning, then writing it is another way of learning the info. I think it also helps your writing instincts and helps you actively analyze the text you are reading and notice the strategies in a more impactful way. I haven’t done it yet, but I am going to start with some Borges for fiction and then some Leo Babauta and Chris Guillebeua for blogging.

  15. This is exactly what I do…and it always works. The biggest ‘inspiration’ for writing is the letters and words that writing is made of…

  16. I teach kids to write and I am constantly reminding them that they can write, “I got nothing!” over and over again until something comes. It works great and the kids love the idea of having permission to be rebellious!

  17. Love the insight Jeff! I am sometimes held back by my writer’s block and I give in to it. After reading this, I now know what to do. Thanks for sharing these tips! 🙂

  18. I like it. Reminds me of the quote from Ray Bradbury that Michael Hyatg put up about how you don’t have quality without quantity.
    Now, is there any way we get a few people to acquire talker’s block?

  19. Thanks Jeff – great post. I struggle with this every day. A few years ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month ( where you commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. When I committed to it I knew I would need to write a minimum of 1667 words per day and if I missed a day I had a lot to make up. The first couple weeks felt like torture – it took everything I had just to stay in my chair and write anything to reach that word count. I checked the word count every few minutes which didn’t help. But I found that it got easier as the month went on and I learned how to write every day from that exercise. I also find that Julia Cameron’s exercise (from The Artist’s Way) of writing morning pages can sometimes help. Scribbling about how I am feeling, especially if feeling blocked, can help to communicate those feelings outside myself and it also gets me writing before writing what I actually want to work on. It still feels like a struggle all the time but continuing to push through is the best way as you said. Thanks for the support 🙂

  20. many years ago, I read a book called “Writing Down the Bones.’ I cannot remember the author but in the first part of the book she said basically the same thing. Her thing was to write everyday and if you started off stuck or became stuck to not quit or never start but to write “I cannot think, I cannot think, I cannot think” until you could.
    For me, this often preceded pages of journaling or found its way into the middle of stuff.
    I still do this today.

  21. I love this. Writing is, for me, exactly the same as so many other things I pursue – perfectionism leaves me paralyzed! Heard a podcast with you today and explored your blog a bit, can’t wait to read more… and hopefully meet you at Start Conference!

  22. Definitely works. Just discovered new site.. Focus@will. Love it. Play background music while you write. The trick is to forget everything around you and just concentrate on what you are trying to say. This is going to sound stupid but sometimes when I write, I forget that I actually have something to say.

  23. Can totally relate and definitely attest to the fact that this strategy works. Also, Natalie Goldberg has a great trick she talks about in Writing Down the Bones in the chapter titled “Syntax,” where she says to choose 3-4 consecutive lines or sentences from your most boring piece of writing and scramble them up as though you were moving wooden blocks around. Don’t make sense of what you write down. So this: I can’t write because I have nothing to say….. becomes this: because say to write I have can’t nothing. It frees you up and breaks the boundaries of syntax to get the flow going. Try it out!

  24. Love this post, Jeff! This is EXACTLY what I do 🙂 Just write. Anything. Anything at all. I think if your fingers start moving with pen or on keyboard you can trick your brain into thinking you have a plan 🙂

  25. You’re the best, Jeff :). Love the simplicity with which you throw off the shackles of writerly inactivity! You make it sound so easy! And, by gum, I suspect you’re onto something. I’ve got to go now. Time to write…. Thank you.

  26. I can’t even explain how glad I am to see the truth of this matter in writing! Before I learned this, I fought writer’s block the hard way which was of course by frustration and inactivity until I could ‘think’ again. For me, I think that my problem came from feelings of inadequacy, but when all caution is thrown to the wind and you simply go for it, freedom returns – great post!

  27. I use this method when I need to put a presentation together for work (which I suppose is also writing) – sometimes I need to get SOMETHING on paper just to have something to clean up. Great way to think about this!

  28. I did something similar just the other day. The first 10 lines of my blog post were terrible flecks of awful sentences wrapped up in old stinky newspaper sitting in a used dog waste bag. But after that was over, the post got pretty good.
    Thanks Jeff for the reminder on how to be awesome.

  29. I have a book about Paul McCartney’s paintings:

    In it, he talks about a technique he picked up from abstract expressionist artist Willem DeKooning. It’s called “Killing the Canvas.” What you do is you put paint on the canvas. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how much, or what color. You’re killing the blank canvas, making it yours, and not a scary void anymore.

  30. Somerset Maugham said there are three rules for writing novels. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. Though, he did have his own way of filling the void which was to open a book by some other writer and start typing. Soon enough he would be onto his own voice and prose. My own take is to follow Ken Kesey’s advice and to “junk it through”and write any old thing, free write, whatever, just get black on white.

  31. True again – perfectionism KILLS creativity. I tried something new this morning when I was having… ahem… “issues” getting started. I closed my eyes and typed several paragraphs. You can’t edit what you can’t see. Now, the idea that kept me awake all night is documented. (It’s ugly, but it’s documented.) Ta da! Thanks for another great post!

  32. Dear heavens, it is so true. I battle daily with perfectionism. I have to tell myself all the time “just get started” it doesn’t matter if you finish it (this is what I tell myself), it doesn’t matter if it’s lame or ugly, just get started. When I do that, I naturally finish it (laundry, dishes, or other assignment) and it isn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. I have been struggling with buying into the phrase with my writing though. I think the desire for it to come out as a finished draft, even though I know that wish is utterly ridiculous, I can’t let go of it. Heck, I stopped learning to play the cello as a teenager because I was mad at myself for not being perfect at it after the first lesson. That’s a therapist’s gold mine. I love the idea of doing something jarring, writing nonsensical words, or anything similar to just get the fear of imperfection or the overwhelm of the great white void staring back at me out of the way. Perhaps get in a good giggle and loosen up. I like it. I’m going to use this tonight. Thanks again, Jeff!

  33. I am learning to trust this process. I am learning to love the delete key. I’m figuring out that my best writing doesnt start fully formed in my head. It usually starts peaking it’s head out on the fourth rewrite. Hence, the love affair with delete. Amy

  34. You are absolutely right Jeff.
    Whenever I write a piece of prose, poetry, script or event an article for my online writing blog I simply get my words down on paper and then edit and proofread them later.
    I guess writing blog comes from the fear of failure, not being perfect, or not able to impressive others with your work.
    Your writing blog is amazing and I cannot wait to read more.

  35. Boom! Love this. So often it’s just that our fingers need the momentum of typing nonsense to pick up speed and fly across the keyboard.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

  36. I read this post, found it incredibly practical yet inspiring so I decided to leave a comment. Yet isn’t it interesting how I sat here for 5 minutes waging war against writer’s block just so I could leave a comment about overcoming the very thing I was fighting?

    It made me realize that 1) I just needed to follow the advice (so here I am doing just that) and 2) we love blog posts that are great and awesome, but we sometimes we forget to really, really, REALLY let it sink it.

  37. I do this all the time. THJNEKNVKdnfjwnjnkwm! Which, of course, is writerly for “I wish I could write something more coherent, but three children are bickering and I need to go intervene before something implodes.” Egad.

    P.S. Great post.

  38. OHMYGOSH this is me. I just had this problem last night, in fact. My solution was sorta on target – I started writing something, got about 3 paragraphs in, decided it was crap and started something else, but at least it got me moving. I will start trying your idea next time – abilajlejkal looks like it takes less time than 3 paragraphs! 🙂

  39. You know, I preach simplicity and doing the obvious “next thing” to my employees and my clients all the time. And yet, when it comes to practicing what I preach, sometimes I fall short.

    A smart, clear, reminder. Just write. Excellent, Jeff.

  40. I love your style, Jeff – simple and uncluttered; conversational yet authoritative.

    Lately, my writing has flowed – I entered a themed writing contest, surprising myself and readers. My entry was pretty good and fun to write. Next theme was announced – and I sat and wrote a piece from whole clothe (pun intended).

    I like to look at news headlines or blurbs on ad boards in the subway, and write into them. But I agree, the key is to “just do it” (quote: Nike).

  41. Amazing post Jeff!!!

    Most of the time just starting to write will spark a persons ideas, creativity, and thoughts. I’ve seldom have a difficult time getting started. Primary because I make it a point to always be growing/learning, writing down topic ideas and outlines, and thinking about the topic before hand. This allows me to start from some where when I sit down to write.

  42. Thanks for this tip Jeff, I have never tried this before. Next time writers block hits I will give it a try.

    I recently heard the idea to write memories from your childhood to help with writers block and creativity. I started doing that and even though I don’t publicly write about my childhood it has helped keep the juices flowing!

  43. I have used this trick for a while, but not in this way. Usually I start button mashing when the sentence or an idea isn’t flowing right. I can tell the words are almost there but not quite yet, and that’s the frustrating part.

    Writing can be so sweet when the words are flowing and so frustrating when they aren’t.

  44. Good stuff! When I find I’m in that “perfectionist” mentality.. where
    I’m so annoyed with myself for not thinking of a great analogy or that
    word that I KNOW and can’t think of is driving me nuts… so I won’t get
    stuck, I put a TON of ??????????? in a row (like that) so I can keep
    the flow going and come back and “fix” things later 😀

  45. lkadhjfp09384nvel afkaeondf ;ahw eoi….hahaha. I’ve actually done this! Glad to know I’m “normal”!

  46. lkasdlkjf a;i;f jklg 😉 My favorite way to start is…Aaaaaaaahhhhhh, I don’t know what to write right now, what am I writing about? what am i going to write about? What do I want to write about? Then I start writing about yoga or jucing or the turmoil in my life that led me to move across the country or a book i just read. And whether I post it anywhere or not or continue working on it later. The page is no longer blank. And that is always cause for a smile.

  47. “Once I start moving my fingers, I soon find the direction in which I want to go.” Way to go! That’s simple. Thanks for all your encouragements to the budding the blogger, Jeff.

  48. Yes! Type “All words and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or a poem or Scripture verse or song or anything. Just start the fingers moving. At least half of what I write has to have bits of this and that removed from it when I’m done. I type Jabberwocky often. But when I get my fingers moving, a switch will usually flip and the words begin to come.

  49. I think because we want the first sentence of anything we read to be perfect–to set just the right tone and to lead us further in–we want the first sentence we write to be perfect, too. We forget that the first sentence of someone else’s work probably isn’t the first sentence they wrote for that book/article/blog post. We want so much to be taken seriously by our readers, so we take ourselves too seriously and that paralyzes us.
    I’ll be doing exactly what you suggest the next time I sit down to write. Thank you for writing this. 🙂

  50. I get this, and I understand about perfectionism. This year I’m taking another pop at becoming either a full-time writer or (at least) getting paid for some articles, for the first time in a few years. What I’m finding challenging is not block, as I have all kinds of ideas for novels, stories, nonfiction, and so on, but the harder part is choosing a project and seeing it through. This is a form of block, too. If it’s not too many stories, it is too many other things in life competing for my attention. You mention this elsewhere when you talk about a Portfolio Life… I wonder if ‘true’ writing block is really having too many ideas and not being able to settle down. Surely a professional writer, with everything that entails, would never actually be totally empty of any ideas, ever? That sounds barely believable! Like a runner who cannot run a single step. I figure the opposite problem is more common, i.e. sore feet. For the blockee, perhaps the topic is wrong, or the story is wrong, or there is something else going wrong. I think it is likely a symptom of some other issue.

  51. Amazing tips Jeff!

    An actionable tip that I’d like to share on how to get rid of the writer’s block (which I know works) is to ask TONS OF QUESTIONS.

    This has worked for me and as far as I can remember, haven’t experienced the writer’s block from the time I’ve been using this strategy.

    The gist of it is to outline your write-up by asking A LOT of open ended questions (I usually do 10 – 15). When asking the questions, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your readers so as to make sure that whatever you write about isn’t just fluff but are actually problem solving ideas.

    Once you start answering these questions, you’ll find that you’ve already written quite a lot.

    The next step is to trim and organize your ideas to make sure that they are flowing smoothly and of course – proof read and polish.

    To everyone who reads my comment, I hope this helps.

  52. Thank you sooooooooooooooooo much Jeff. To be honest i didn’t think it would work, but I got my essay done!

  53. I feel like I am the only one who this hasn’t worked for. I have done this for about twenty minutes and nothing is coming to me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  54. I have tried all of these, as well as most of the ones in the comments, and I STILL have no idea what to do. I have my entire plot constructed in my head, I know what my characters are going to say, I’ve even created HUGE things of additional facts for my characters that will never make it into the book, but the moment I sit down, my mind goes completely blank. Anyone know something that will help?

    1. honestly same with me to the point that i start to feel like “is this honestly for me? should i really be doing this? am i not actually talented?”

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