Sometimes it comes on like a brick wall. You’re doing your thing, creating content, and then suddenly it all just stops moving forward.
There are a lot of reasons. It can be emotional, with some aspect of your personal life overwhelming your enthusiasm and your creativity. It can be physical, with high stress levels and an overly demanding workload taking their toll. And sometimes it can be entirely random.
Maybe you’ve got all the pieces in place, but it just isn’t working.
In moments like this, you need some help. You need some way to get the idea generation machine running again. As writers, we’ve all had to figure out the right tricks to get past that brick wall.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but there is no such thing as a perfect idea. Every good idea has downsides too. It’s inevitable.
We live in an imperfect world. So don’t try for perfection! After all, if you try to do something that is actually impossible, then how do you ever expect to actually get it done?
Perfection is the enemy of good, simply because it is equal to inflated expectations you are going to get from your workflow. This inevitably leads to disappointment with the result of the work, no matter whether it is good. Moreover, perfection is not agile, and this means the inability to fit your work to the changes of exogenous factors. And that, it turns out, makes perfection incredibly unhealthy.
Besides, if you want a perfect idea right from the get-go, you’re not giving your ideas the chance to grow as you work on them. Often, my best work comes from alright ideas which expand in interesting new directions as I work on them. Of course, that would have been impossible if I would have initially rejected the idea because it wasn’t good enough.
The best practices to prepare the idea and avoid a perfectionist’s approach are to check out your competitors, learn from the canonical and classical sources, and check out the mistakes of niche professionals (and give yourself the list of pitfalls to avoid).
Have you ever heard of the broaden and-build theory? It comes out of positive psychology. The researchers in the field realized that negative emotions are almost always about solving particular problems. If you’re afraid, you’re afraid of something. If you’re angry, you’re angry at somebody.
Positive emotions don’t really work that way. They’re far broader. They’re your mind saying, “Everything is okay!” And so, they broaden your perceptions and allow you to experiment and boost your creativity.
Now, which one sounds better for generating ideas? Being in a stressed, negative state of mind and wearing the eye blinkers that come with it? Or being in a positive, open-minded frame of mind that allows you to take in the wide world?
For that reason, if you’re struggling to generate ideas, then perhaps it’s time to relax and take the stress off. Take a break, watch a cat video, go for a walk, have a cup of coffee in the sun, think of something not related to work.
Taking a break is a great chance to look at the outer world and get some inspiration. It’s similar to a physical workout: after intense muscle activity, you feel pain, which is a subtle signal to stop. Same rules apply for brain activities.
Now that you’ve relaxed, look at the outer world once again—this time to review the criticism and advice you get in the comments.
They can point out what people misunderstand and where you can elaborate. Make a review of the best points, and use them as a starting point for your thinking process.
When reading the comments, try to perceive the criticism objectively, and not take it as an insult. It is a great opportunity to catch the mood of the reader and understand the following:
Respond to the comments, start a discussion, and provide healthy conversation that will lead to the solution for both readers and you.
As an added bonus, by reacting to the people who comment on your content, you’re making it clear to your readers that you take their comments seriously, think about them, and let them influence your work. This gives them a feeling of agency, and will make people more likely to comment in the future.
Reading through whatever your competitors are saying—and responding to things you don’t agree with or you think are extra relevant—can be a great way to find further inspiration. If you can’t find anything particularly interesting there, however, consider digging through their archives.
Normally, topics go through waves. So, something that’s interesting will become less interesting, until most people will have forgotten about it. At which point, it once again becomes interesting to bring it back up again—particularly as new knowledge in other fields and areas might give you a new angle that you can explore.
So, go a year back or more and check out what they discussed. Then re-explore those themes in your own way.
This comes from the world of marketing, and is called a skyscraper technique. It has a simple sequence of actions that actually work for your writing’s sake: you find one of best posts on the website or blog of the competitor and make a post that improves on the original and adds value that was not provided before. It is quite easy to identify a quality post, since the best articles usually gather lots of social shares and comments, and rank in the top 10 in a Google search.
I normally have a bunch of projects going at the same time. When one isn’t really moving forward and the deadline is still a ways off, I’ll simply switch to another, where I generally have more luck.
Then, when I’ve made progress on that project, I’ll come back to the original project that was giving me trouble. This gives me psychological distance.
By focusing my attention on something else, the original project has been driven from my mind, which means I’m coming back to it with a fresh look. Often, that’s enough to give me a fresh start.
It is not related to multitasking. The exact point is to shift attention completely and avoid doing different jobs at the same time. This is an example of interrupting your routine, and it is well known that routine is the worst enemy of creativity.
Another advantage is that actually moving forward and writing things gives you a can-do attitude, which in turn makes it far easier to start on the next project. In particular, this means you’d better be writing anything, no matter if it contains errors or does not meet your expectations. It’s much easier to rework an existing paragraph than write something that will meet all your needs on the first try.
Of course, this only works if you’re disciplined enough not to leave a project by the wayside until the last minute. But if you can manage to do that, then it’s a great way to keep yourself moving forward.
Finally, sometimes the best way to get past writer’s block is just to write your way through it. Yes, that does sound a bit ridiculous initially, but hear me out.
I’m not saying that you write perfect copy. I say that you should just write text. It can be absurd, full of grammar mistakes, and filled with garbled nonsense.
Keep your practice flow steady and regular, write as much as possible, and make sure you write for pleasure or at moments of sudden inspiration. You’ll sometimes hit upon a gem, or an insight, or an idea that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. Then you can take that and work it into your next post.
The tip with sudden writing and moments of inspiration also works with a post that you’re not making progress on, by the way. Sometimes it happens that you don’t know how to transition from one idea to the next. You try and you try, but it just won’t work.
Then just write your way through and keep going; it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t work yet. You can deal with those problems when you edit. For now, just keep moving forward.
An interesting tool to force yourself to keep writing is The Most Dangerous Writing App, which deletes what you’re writing if you stop too long. It’s a great way to force yourself to keep the words flowing and get past the nonsense to the actual meat of your ideas.
Often, that’s enough—even if the app does end up deleting what you’ve written.
Writer’s block is painful, but impossible is nothing, and there are always ways to fight it and get back to productivity. As you can see, it is essential to interact with the world and not lock yourself all alone with the struggle.
Talk to your fans, learn from achievements and mistakes of your competitors, and change your environment if needed. And never, never strive for perfection: this is your worst enemy if you want to be the best.
Jessica Fender is the creative brain and head of content at OnlineWritersRating.com (check my blog posts over there!). She is passionate about creating evergreen content that simply brings value, not wastes the time.