How to Write When You Just Can’t Think What to Write

Welcome back. I’m really glad to see you here for Day 3 of your peek into the exclusive Circle of Success Blog I write every week.

I’ve chosen the blog entries I’m sharing because I feel they offer you some of the most crucial secrets to writing success.

If you had the opportunity to read yesterday’s article, you remember we talked about the importance of weaving your promise and benefits throughout your entire writing – the Golden Thread.

But, what if you’re having trouble getting started in the first place. What if you’re stuck?

This bane of all writers can strike at any time. It can hit when you first start writing. Or, it can raise its monstrous head as you’ve been sailing along doing just fine.

Here’s what I offered to my COS Blog readers …

Sometimes you just need a break

Let’s say you have a good idea to start with. Maybe you’ve started fine. Or, maybe you just can’t get started. So, what do you do then?

Neil Gaiman is an author of many best-selling books including Coraline, an animated feature film that grossed over $120 million worldwide. Here’s what he, many successful writers, and I all do when we hit this snag …

Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it.

I call this strategy “letting ideas blossom.”

Even though Gaiman recommends putting the writing away for a few days, you might not have to wait that long. Often you can get over the hump by getting away from the keyboard. Go for a walk, exercise, take a shower, or dance.

But do something that takes your mind far enough away from your work, so you can harness your greatest ally in your search for the right words.

That ally is your subconscious. Research shows ideas develop in the subconscious. When you’re trying too hard to grab at those ideas with your conscious mind, you hinder your subconscious ability to develop them.

So, when the words just won’t come, sometimes the best thing to do is something else.

And, sometimes, you just need to write

Often when you’re first starting on a project, the first step is the hardest. “How do I start? What am I going to say?”

It’s almost as if the writing part of your brain were a pump gone dry. So, what do you do when a pump goes dry? You prime it, of course.

“What I try to do is write … and it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try … and then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

Maya Angelou

“I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing.”

– Anne Lamott

But I disagree (a little) with Anne Lamott. Don’t write just anything. Instead, write a friendly letter to a good friend. Start out without saying anything about what you started out to write. Tell your friend about your recent trip to the Amazon. Ask how her son is doing in Clown College.

Then, when your conscious mind is relaxed and your subconscious has had a chance to activate, write about what you wanted to in the first place. Keep the same breezy, informal chitchat going you used in the beginning.

You’ve primed the pump, and pretty soon you’re well on your way to leaping over the barrier that was blocking you.

These strategies for smashing through writer’s block all work. I know. I’ve used them all … many times.

I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow when we’ll look at the mindset of successful freelancers.

But before you leave, please let me know what you think so far. Leave your comments and questions in the comment section.

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Published: May 6, 2015

12 Responses to “How to Write When You Just Can’t Think What to Write”

  1. Will, I do agree with Anne. I find that for works in progress, the technique of going back and retyping the last thirty words or so brings me back in the groove. However, when I hit writer's block at the onset of a new work, merely starting typing anything, even gibberish that has to be tossed later, opens the gate and lets the story out.

    Guest (Sonova Beach)

  2. As someone who has been writing for 40 years--and has had her share of writer's block, I couldn't agree more with your suggestions. I just started a new, travel blog and invite you to visit it--and leave comments: tommiesuetravelseen dot BlogSpot dot ca


    Guest (Tommie Sue Montgomery)

  3. Very well done and so much toi the point, as usual.

    If I may, I would suggest add a laugh session; either listen or watch a humorous speech or short comedy to untie your creative neurons!

    IBM used to have a policy to 'force' employees to indulge in another activity than the one they were working on.

    I agree these and the one mentionned are all good to change the focus or the elevation of the writer.

    Andre NORTH

  4. There have been many times that I have been stuck. These examples that you have shared really opened my eyes to how to get past that block. Thank you.

    Guest (pherbear2)

  5. Sorry I wrote in as a guest but I think the thoughts and feelings really mean what I have to say. I thank you for sharing this important information. There have been many times when the well felt like it was dry or the words just wouldn't come or wouldn't flow. These examples will be helpful.


  6. Hello, Will- Effective solution to common problem!

    Do you schedule a specific block of time (bad pun) for your copy writing work projects? Do you find certain times of the day are more productive/ creative than others? Is there a routine that you follow that makes efficient use of these surges in creativity?
    I realize everyone has different body clocks & schedules. I'm planning my study time & wondering how a Master copywriter's day flows.
    Thanks, again, for your valuable time & input!
    Best wishes, Sean


  7. Writers' block is focused on a lot in Writer's Digest and literature available from the Blue Ash, Ohio group. One method is to first come up with a set of words (30 or 40 are good) then randomly pick a starting word and an ending word (allowing for infinitives,etc., of course and using the words as guideline parameters for the embedded content. You might start with "form and end with "benefit" for example


  8. I will try these techniques thank you

    Guest (Jacqueline Durham)

  9. Questions wake up the creative brain.
    So make up some questions about your topic and start to answer them. The creative juices should flow.
    Another technique that I have found helpful is to write a sentence about the topic. Use the last word to begin the next sentence. Use the last word of that sentence to begin the next. Happy Writing

    Guest (Frances Leiby)

  10. Hi Will, Sounds like your cat feeding AND writing schedule are well entrenched;those family member felines do not tolerate delay laying down! Thank you for sharing, as well as letting us in on the strategy of 'letting ideas blossom,' a nifty catch phrase. Of particular interest was the needful BEST ALLY: your subconscious, and how to grease the wheels of that happy union. It is a joy reading you ... fruits of a wordsmith! Your little feline friends will be tapping their claws until you return.

    Guest (Jackie S of NH)

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