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Jack London once said, “you can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.” In some ways, I agree with him. After all, professional freelance writers don’t have the http://blog.ebyline.com/2013/03/the-smart-advice-on-how-to-be-a-travel-writer-think-close-to-home/luxury of waiting out writer’s block; … "/>

Overcoming Writer’s Block


Jack London once said, “you can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.” In some ways, I agree with him. After all, professional freelance writers don’t have the luxury of waiting out writer’s block; they often have to work through it to meet deadlines. But at the same time, sometimes the harder you work at something, the more frustrated you get.

Here are five tips for overcoming writer’s block.

1.      Email a friend.
If you can’t find the words to describe that restaurant you’re reviewing or that scientist you interviewed, start composing an email to a friend and give your inner editor a break. Explain it to your friend in laymen’s terms. Don’t worry about searching for the exact right word or finding a smarty-pants way to explain a scientific concept. Just start writing simply and honestly and let the words flow out of you. That can help you get started, and you can refine later as needed.

2.      Skip ahead.
Beginnings and endings are tricky because you want to capture your readers’ attention and leave them with a memorable conclusion. It’s easy to get stuck working and reworking and wracking your brain for the introductory paragraph, so write a quick placeholder, then move onto the meat of your article or essay and return to the introduction later. Sometimes working on later paragraphs will help you think up a killer beginning, too.

3.      Shift gears.
The beauty of freelance writing is that you often have several projects running at once. I can’t afford to stall for too long, so if I find that my article or essay just isn’t gelling, I’ll move onto a different assignment and return back to the original assignment later. Sitting at your computer staring at a blank screen and beating yourself up over your inability to write is not productive, so if switching projects doesn’t work, consider spending a few hours on mindless administrative tasks instead. Those tasks have to get done anyway, so might as well do them when you’re feeling uncreative and use your bursts of creativity for real creative work.

4.      Try out a tech tool.
Maybe the problem isn’t that you’re blocked but you’re too distracted by Facebook or Twitter. Several computer tools are designed to help writers block out distractions and break through writer’s block. Try WriteorDie.com, which offers online and desktop versions with various modes encouraging you to get writing instead of censoring yourself (in Kamikaze mode it will actually start deleting words if you don’t type fast enough!). For a simple, distraction-free space, consider Dark Room for PCs or WriteRoom for Macs.

5.      Take a hike.
Sometimes stepping away from your computer is the best way to deal with writer’s block. I usually find that a nice power walk helps me clear my head and think through things. When I was struggling to find a poignant ending for a personal essay I was writing, I took a walk along the Charles River and the perfect little button of an ending popped into my head while I was out.

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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