Anyone who writes words will experience writer's block at one point or another. You’ll sit there, staring at a blank screen with a blinking cursor and you just don’t know what to write. The words won’t come out and sometimes you don’t even know what topic to tackle. The blank page is right in front of you. The cursor seems to be blinking evermore furiously telling you to type something, anything. Welcome to writer's block.
There are a few ways to get past writer's block, from focusing on a process, to outlining, to going for a long walk. What works for some writers might not work for others because it partly depends on why you are blocked in the first place, your personality and your style. But it is still helpful to have a set of tools to call on when you experience writer's block, because one of them might work for you. And then you’ll eventually be able to adapt it to become your go-to strategy.
In this article, I want to share a strategy that works very well for me.
Focus on the questions
I deal with writer's block by focusing on the questions or problems people have and answer those, rather than thinking about what I have to say to the world. There are endless questions/problems, so it solves most writer's block because I’ll never run out of questions to answer, or problems to help with.
Answering questions helps prevent writer's block because you are no longer reaching for something to say. It isn’t about you and your voice, it’s about helping the people you serve. All you need to do is answer the specific questions they have. Exactly how you answer the question will depend on your style, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just imagine you are sitting down over a coffee with the person who has the question, and you are casually answering it. That can be the basis of your first draft.
Maintain a list of questions
Just like searching for a new topic when it’s time to write can lead to writer's block, so can searching for questions. It is better to have a list of questions already prepared. Then, before you start your next writing session, look at your list of questions and choose one to answer next.
How do you find the questions in the first place?
The best way to find questions is to be observant. Pay attention to what people are asking on social media, in person, around the office, at events, in online communities. Pay particular attention to those in your audience (the group of people you are serving with your writing) . Whenever you see an interesting question, that you feel you can answer, add it to the list. It’s helpful to include a link to the original question just in case you need it to refresh your memory of the context of the question later.
You can also proactively search for questions. You can find questions that people in your audience have by observing them when they communicate with each other in online communities. To do this proactively, set aside some time to observe and note down the questions and problems you see, adding to your list.
You can even add your own questions. As you go about your work, no doubt you have your own questions that you have to find answers to. If you have a question, no doubt others in your industry or peer group have the same question. When you find or figure out the answer, it is helpful to your future self if you make a note of the answer (assuming you were able to answer it while going about your work). This can be the basis of a new article that you write for your audience.
This post was written to answer a question
Someone I follow on Twitter asked the following question:
Reminding myself that I use process to get through writer's block. Productivity block must be solvable the same way. Starting with a copypaste task that needs doing ... How do you deal with your blocks, hivemind friends?— Jeffrey A. McGuire (@HornCologne) August 22, 2019
This article is actually a response to that question! I added it to my list of questions and when it came time come up with a new post to write, I didn’t have to think of a new topic. Instead, I looked at the list of questions and this one grabbed my attention the most so I started answering it in the form of this blog post.
Focusing on people’s questions and problems is just one part of the solution of getting past writer's block. There are plenty of others, including having a solid process that separates the stages of gathering questions, ideas and writing. I’m going to cover them in future articles, so if you’d like to be the first to get them, jump on the email list.