Writing isn’t just for writers. As you’ve probably already learned, running a business includes a lot of tasks you may not have had in mind when deciding to professionally follow your dreams.
Small business owners often spend hours every week on important tasks that are outside their main focus area, including accounts payable and receivable (AP and AR), marketing on social media, and various writing tasks.
Whether writing is your trade or you just need to write a business plan for your pet grooming shop, a marketing blog post for your plumbing business, or a detailed professional estimate for your next big design project, you might find that it doesn’t always come easy.
Anyone who has ever sat down to put more than two words together to convey a complex idea has probably experienced some level of writer’s block. In this article, I’ll share several techniques to prevent or fight off writer’s block which I’ve found useful over the years working as a professional writer, first as a journalist, then here on the Melio blog.
What are the common symptoms of writer’s block?
Surprisingly enough, writer’s block is not a diagnosable disorder. While it impacts many people, it manifests itself differently in each person, and might even vary in symptoms from project to project.
The only thing it seems to have in common is that it appears when faced with a writing task and creates delays and mental strain related to the inability to complete said task.
You may be suffering from writer’s block if you are experiencing (check all that apply):
✔️ Anxiety: Do you dread your writing task? Are you afraid the result won’t be as good as you want it to be?
✔️ Avoidance: Do you make endless excuses to put off your writing task? Do the dirty laundry or dishes in the sink suddenly call out to you as soon as your fingers touch the keyboard?
✔️ Irritability: Does the very mention of your writing task cause you to lose your cool?
✔️ Not having that text you really need: This is the most devastating symptom of all as knowing you are keeping your client waiting or potentially missing a deadline for a huge contract just makes your other symptoms worse.
If you’ve checked one or more items on the list, you probably have some level of writer’s block. Luckily, it’s curable and there are some simple steps you can take to alleviate your condition.
9 hacks to crack holes in your writer’s block
Below, I’ve outlined some of the strategies I’ve found helpful over the years to get myself to start (and finish) writing when I really have to.
1. Find a routine
Writing can be stressful, especially if you find yourself staring at a blank page (or screen) for hours, waiting for your muse to arrive. Creating a routine and sticking to it is a proven method to alleviate all kinds of stress.
Depending on your regular writing needs, set a weekly (or daily) time slot dedicated to writing. Consider when it’s easiest for you to focus. Are you most productive and creative in the morning or maybe after an afternoon coffee? Are there times of day when the noise in your work area is more likely to distract you, for example, when the kids get back from school or when construction work is being done outside?
Choose a time when you know you are as focused as you can be, and distractions are few. Simply having a routine will automatically make writing less intimidating.
2. Don’t (necessarily) start at the beginning
Beginnings are always hard. So, why not skip them and start from the middle? Start from the part you find easiest to write and work your way back through all other sections. Almost every text you encounter wasn’t written in the order it is read.
An intro will often allude to paragraphs that only appear on the second page which is much easier to do if you write it last. Writing the main sections of the article (which cover what you’re most passionate about) first will help you get the juices flowing and make all other sections easier.
If your article is about ways to avoid writer’s block, for example, write the tips first. Then come back to your intro and summary. I can assure you, from experience, that your reader will never know the difference and your text will be better for it.
3. Make your writing space more pleasant
Sometimes it’s hard to get in the zone and start writing when your space is less than welcoming. A more pleasant environment usually means better productivity. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable wherever you happen to write and that it’s somewhere you enjoy spending time.
Whether you have your own office or you share a kitchen table with children doing homework, you can still make it a pleasant area. Consider adding a potted plant or lighting a scented candle to stimulate your senses as you write. A picture of your loved ones or some artwork can also inspire you to do great work.
Most importantly, try to keep your space clean and clutter-free so you can focus on your work and not on a dirty cup of coffee or crumpled-up paper.
4. Take a break
I know, you don’t have time for a break. You’re busy and the deadline’s tonight. I get it. But, and this is a big BUT, a break is what you need nonetheless. Fresh eyes (or fresh typing fingers) can do wonders for your text. Even if you can only afford a 10-minute walk or a 15-minute coffee run, do it.
Breaking away from your seat will give you a moment to relax and reflect. You will come back more refreshed and your break will probably be shorter than the time you’d be wasting procrastinating if you don’t stop to take a breather.
5. Try a free writing exercise
If what’s keeping you from writing is that you have too many ideas and can’t decide on one, try this free writing exercise:
Dedicate five minutes to each subject and write whatever comes to mind. The idea you had the most to say about is likely the one that you’re most passionate about, so the choice is already made.
6. Talk it out
Sometimes, just saying your ideas out loud can help you wrap your head around them. That’s especially true if you have someone to listen to them and perhaps give you a few pointers to help you get unstuck.
Call up a colleague, a friend, or a family member and ask for 15 minutes of their time to walk through your subject with you. These minutes of dialogue with another human being just may end up saving you hours of self-deliberation.
7. Try the Pomodoro Technique
This is a general time management method, but it works very well for some writers struggling to stay focused.
Named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer originally used by its inventor, a student from Italy, the Pomodoro Technique has very simple principles:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and use this time to focus on the task at hand, without taking any breaks.
- When focus time is up, set another timer for a 5-minute break.
- Repeat four times, then take a longer 15-minute break before starting a new cycle.
If you don’t have a kitchen timer or are just not the analog type, you can try this free and simple website and mobile app to get you started.
8. Eliminate distractions
If we’re already on the subject of staying focused, let’s talk about distractions, specifically online distractions.
If you’re easily distracted by notifications popping up on your phone every five seconds (who isn’t?), consider setting up a writing-dedicated focus mode to eliminate notifications. This option is available for both iOS and Android users.
If you’re worried about missing something urgent, you can always set up exceptions—like only accepting calls from your kid’s school or from someone calling twice within a short time—while you’re writing.
If your internet browser tends to wander to specific time drains like Facebook, YouTube, or your favorite news site, consider installing a website-blocking extension.
9. Plagiarize (but not really)
This is a neat trick. Pick a short text or even a paragraph that you like on a similar subject and rewrite it in your own words to fit your topic.
I’m not suggesting you use the resulting text as is, but it’s a good way to get you in the right headspace to write your own original text.
Write better and get paid faster
At the end of the day, writer's block can happen to anyone, but identifying the symptoms and using some of the techniques discussed above can help you overcome it.
Another good incentive for writing (and many other tasks) is knowing you’ll be getting paid in the end. Check out Melio to simplify the way you receive payments and make it easier for customers to pay you.
*This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.