10 Ways to Get Rid of Writer’s Block RIGHT NOW

450

I haven’t written in 24 hours. I feel sick now. Like my brain is empty. Please, Mr. Blank Paper on my screen (or maybe you are female and refusing to talk to me) just sculpt out some words so that I can say the writer’s block is over and I can hit “Save Draft” and I can play like the five year old I was always meant to be. I can’t even feed my kids until I write. Are you really going to be so cruel to my kids as to prevent me from coming up with words to type on this blank screen?

But, the words have to be funny, meaningful, solve a world problem, and somewhat literary. I don’t need any fancy metaphors and my descriptive abilities are that of a deformed teenager, but, you know, help me out!

I’ve been writing on this blog for over a year straight every day including Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t post every day. So now I have over 70 drafts in my draft folder. I write every day. Usually somewhere between 1200-1500 words. So I’ve gotten ok, but not great, at avoiding writer’s block. Here’s what does it for me.

[See Also, 33 Unusual Ways for being a Better Writer]

A)     Coffee. I’m just being honest. Who knows if coffee is good for you or bad for you. But I start writing on my third cup of coffee for the day. Since it’s an addiction, at some point I will need four, or maybe five, cups to get me started.  Somehow coffee gets my brain over-stimulated and ideas start to happen and then I write them down.

B)      Reading. I always read before I write. This morning, for instance, I read some William Vollmann (an essay he wrote about writing), some Bukowski, some Miranda July (she has the breathless “love me” way about her), Michael Hemmingson (who was writing about William Vollmann), and a little of my all time favorite author – me.  When I’m reading I often get ideas about what to write. No idea is totally new. So if a writer experienced something I’ve experienced or makes me think of something I’ve experienced, I can repackage it and spread the love in my own, hopefully unique, way.

As an example, the other day I was reading Tim O’Brien’s short story, “What We Carried” about the physical items he and his fellow soldiers carried into the jungles of Vietnam and how they also carried emotional and mental baggage.

(Miranda July has often indirectly helped me thru writer’s block)

Well, for me, going into NYC, working to support my family, trying to struggle against the competitive fire of everyone else trying to take money with their grubby fat hands during the course of my day, reminds me of that. So I wrote about what I carry during my day. Did I copy him? Of course, but it’s also my truth and not his.

C)      Same Time Every Day. If I wake up at 4:30. Done reading and coffee by 6, I’m sitting in front of the computer trying to write. Your brain is your slave, not your master. So if I tell the brain every day that at six AM he has to jump through hoops and ride an elephant than he better do so. (or maybe he is a “she”. Can a man have a female brain? Sometimes I think I do.)

D)     Start in the middle. This is the best technique on the list and will always work IF you have a topic already. The other day I was writing one of those “7 Things I Learned from X” sort of posts. I was staring at a blank screen.  I couldn’t figure out the intro. So I said to myself,  “how about I just start with the list.” So I wrote how the word “1) Honesty” and then I couldn’t think of what to say underneath honesty so I went to #2 , then #3, etc. Now I had a list of seven things but no descriptions/reasons for each item and NO intro and NO  conclusion. But I also had NO PROBLEM. Because the content was done. So I just filled in the blanks like a game of Mad Libs.

E)      Start with the blood. This only applies if you have a topic. I wrote a few months ago “5 things I learned from Isaac Asimov.” Or maybe “10 things”. I forget. But when I think about Asimov and me the first line that stands out is, “The first time the police were ever called to get me was when I was 15.” From there I have a story and will lead into the 5 things, particularly when I follow “D” above.

F)      Don’t EVER Talk about what you’re going to write.  When a piece of writing is inside of you its like a baby that’s growing. The baby is feeding off of your vitality, your brain, your emotional strength, and over time it grows. If you talk about it, then you’ve given birth. I’ve given birth to more dead babies than I can count. Give birth on the written page first. Then you can talk about her as she matures.

(give full birth)

G)     Inspiration. Sometimes I get hard-core writer’s block. I did my reading , my coffee, my analysis of my big past failures, etc and I can’t figure out something to write today. I do several things then to look for inspiration:

  1. I look around my room: This inspired “The Tooth”, and also “The Ugliest Painting in the World”, and also “Is Burton Silverman Dead Yet”.
  2. I go to some websites that always have intriguing photos that might inspire me:
  3.                                                             .      Boingboing.net, Brainpickings.org., thebrowser.com, extragoodshit.phlat.net (explicit), etc.  For instance, “7 Things I Learned from Louis Armstrong” came from the first item on the list above.
  4. My own material. I look back to stories I’ve written and see if there’s a way I can slice it up further. For instance, I’ve written about starting a company in the 90s called Reset. But I never wrote about selling it so here I wrote about that.
  5. The most embarrassing things. I had hard-core writer’s block one weekend. So I picked the most embarrassing stuff you can possibly write about and just spewed it out in a post called, appropriately, “Writer’s Block”.

H)     Make yourself the bad guy. If I’m writing about the love of my life I can write “I broke up with her with a text message to her phone.” Or you are writing about how to make money you can start with, “The worst thing I ever did was steal money from my parents.” Then that leads to: why you stole, how much you stole, what you did with the money, how you found a more honest way to make money, and what those 7 ways of making money are. Whalaa! A post!

I)        Honesty Check. Make sure you’re not trying to protect yourself. Protecting others is important. Do No Harm. But if you’re going to tell a story, a blog post doesn’t have to make you the hero. For instance one of my more popular posts was “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat Out of $2 million.” Right off I said I needed $100 million. Nobody needs $100 million. Then I described what I would do with $100 million, everything I did to try and get that hundred million, and ultimately what Yasser Arafat had to do with it. The story told itself. But I was arrogant, foolish, a bad guy, and at least at that time, had no idea what I was doing. If I tried to protect myself in the writing then there would’ve been no story. So always do an honesty check. Are you saying something because it’s true or because you are trying to protect yourself.

J)       Solve a problem. If I have a problem like, “I’m angry” then I have at least two delicious courses that will make a full meal. 1) what am I angry about. 2) how I deal with the anger. This not only solves my problem but I think gives the world a little advice on how to deal with anger. So how do you do this? Look inside your stomach. What’s making you feel a little sick or inspired today? Your job? The prospect of being an entrepreneur? Jealousy of Larry Page? It can be good or bad. But it has to be inside of you so you can get it out, analyze it, kill it, destroy the beast, solve the problem.

The above ten techniques have basically produced every blog post I’ve done this year plus four books plus the about to be released “FAQ ME”.  Now my only problem is I promised Claudia I’d cook fried chicken for lunch and I have no idea what to do. I might fake it by going to a restaurant while she is napping and getting fried chicken from them and pretending afterwards that I cleaned the whole kitchen. Sometimes I get away with that.

Enjoyed This Post? Get Free Updates

  • Swathi S

    I wanted to post a comment on your previous blog post but then I saw a new post. I’m trying to write a psychological thriller set in India in 1950s.I do read a lot – Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, Wilkie Collins, Elena Santangelo sit on my coffee table right now. But words don’t always flow, I cheat myself telling I have not yet done my research. Your tips and Orwell’s ‘Why I write’ are what keeps me going. Thanks again.

    • http://twitter.com/bap Brian Paul

      Based on your 7 word description I already want to read this book. Please please let me know if you need beta-readers. No, I’m not professionally involved in writing or publishing whatsoever. ;)

  • Lori

    here is a really good & easy recipe for oven-fried chicken:

    heat oven to 425. 

    mix 1 c flour with 2 t salt, 1/4 t pepper, and 2 t paprika in either a big bowl or a large ziploc bag.

    Put 1/2 c vegetable oil and 1/2 c butter into a 9×13 glass pan and put in the oven to melt. Only takes a few minutes.

    Rinse your chicken pieces in water then coat them with the flour mixture. Don’t double-dredge.

    Set the chicken skin-side-down in the hot shortening. Leave space between the pieces — don’t overcrowd.

    Bake 30 minutes, turn pieces over and bake another 25-30 or until chicken is tender.

    Drain on paper towels.

    Easiest fried chicken in the world. Use a plastic bag and not a bowl and clean up is pretty easy, too.

  • http://Www.brookefarmer.com/ Brooke Farmer

    When I’m out of ideas, I come here.

    You have no idea how many times your 33 tips have saved my ass.

  • http://Www.brookefarmer.com/ Brooke Farmer

    Oh, and for the best (and worst for you) fried chicken in the world “bread it” with Lays potato chips than you’ve ground up in a food processor. Mix in a little flour and some Italian herbs and completely submerge it in hot olive oil.

  • Anon

    I love your blog a and read every new post with enthusiasm. It causes me great anxiety that you letter your lists instead of numbering them. Not sure why I felt the need to share that. It’s my problem not yours.

  • Rob Hunsicker

    All good. I especially like “Reading” and “Make yourself the bad guy.” I find lately that the strategy I’ve relied on most is “Don’t be afraid to write shit.” When I think I have nothing to say, it usually means I think I have nothing GOOD to say. But it helps to remember that it’s nearly impossible to judge your own writing as you write. That frees me up to say to myself, “Ok, whatever bullshit pops into my head next, I’m going to write it down as succinctly as possible.” Then, after I type out an ugly sentence or two, I at least have something to work with.

  • kevin faul

    have you ever considered creating a wiki-style blog for any of your ‘draft’ ideas. if you have 70 sitting there, you could post and people could sign in and edit for you.

    voila – you don’t even have to ever write again, just start the story and have people add to it. 

    then again, this is a terrible idea. these comments serve the same purpose I suppose.

    any ideas for ideas blocks? or what do do after getting an idea and outlining the next steps? there’s a lot of blockage there. I could really use an execution laxative.

  • http://jacxu.com/ Jac Xu

    I admire you one post everyday, I barely catch up reading your blog, but I can’t miss any, so far your blog is my favorite.  I hadn’t had any inspiration to write anything for a week since my last blog http://goo.gl/jMTTx, But my inspiration came, I can’t help writing twice a day sometimes, just sometimes.  I was wondering whether I should wake up to write down my thought even in the middle of the sleep? the next morning I will probably forget. 

  • http://twitter.com/EntreprenKorner EntrepreneursKorner

    I also get this a lot and find that coffee and reading help tremendously.

    James do you believe that Entrepreneurs are lucky or just plain determined: Check out this when you can and give me a view. 

    http://bit.ly/wgGiZQ

    Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/fzeng96 Feng

    Dude, maybe you should skip writing for a day and use that energy to learn to cook a meal for your wife. Then you can come back with an article “How I killed a chicken and made a meal out of it”. Or “How to fry a chicken in 30 minutes”. Just saying.

  • http://twitter.com/ThibautDavoult Thibaut Davoult

     Excellent! This will be useful as I’m writing a thesis right now because almost everything applies to non-fiction too.

  • Anonymous

    James, how do you get rid of entrepreneur’s block?  Trying to write down fresh business idea but stuck and staring at blank paper …

  • cowboylogic

    Salt and pepper the chicken, cover dish, and chill over night. Next day roll in flour, fry at medium heat in a covered skillet.

  • http://twitter.com/JSnyd05 Josh Snyder

    I’m not sure how every post you create is always relevant to what I have going on in my life.  On that same day.  

    I hadn’t written a post on my blog in almost a month.  I blame it on being busy which is simply an excuse as to why I haven’t allocated my time better.  

    Today you wrote a post on writer’s block.  Not 2 minutes after finishing my first post in almost a month, I make my daily trip to your blog and here’s your post about writer’s block.   

    Coffee and reading are absolutely essential.  I do not think I have written anything worthwhile without it being preceded by copious amounts of coffee and a solid hour of reading.  

    Thanks as always

    AWAKEN THE ERUDITE
    jsnyd.com

  • The Stockdoc

    I write at least one article every business day and find deciding on the topic is the hardest part.

    Once I’ve got a topic the rest is easy. It’s the inspiration that we get paid for. Coming up with 250 inspirations a year is what separates the pros from the ho’s.

  • http://tigcig.com/ electronic cigarettes

    I like your blog,and also like the article,and thank you for provide me so much information 

  • http://444express.blogspot.com/ the444

    I tried and tried to think of a good comment to post here, but I just couldn’t come up with anything!

  • http://www.unmappedcountry.blogspot.com/ Hope

    Balzac drank 44 cups of coffee a day. 

  • James Brian Peterson

    As a certified law enforcement firearms instructor and trial expert, a large part of my work involves technical writing. (I would much rather be shooting) Whenever I am plagued with writer’s block,I think of how it would suck to go back to being a street cop at 60 years old. Assuming of course I could find a police department that would me,a fat half crippled old has-been. Simply put, to defeat ”writer’s block” consider the potentially dire consequences of surrendering to a self-created obstacle,bearing in mind the fact that if you were truly incompetent:you would not be to write about anything.

  • http://jacxu.com/ Jac Xu

    I have some new thoughts about inspiration after read your blog, http://www.jacxu.com/thoughts-35768228102481927861.html

  • LEONARDO PAVESE

    I do translations (mostly from English to Italian, but sometimes vice versa) and, believe it or not, you get blocked even when you’ re “just” translating other people’s stuff: because you might not feel like talking about whatever the text you’re translating is dealing with, or you can’t find the right tone. (In any case, even translating affords one a bit of creative space, because the translator contribution is important); but, you’re right: reading other writers helps a lot.
    As far as the chicken is concerned, it’s pretty easy. Lots of good recipes all over the place. You don’t even have to coat the chicken in flour, (sorry cow boy, nothing personal), because that’s done only to avoid splattering, when you add wet raw meat to the oil, (and it sucks up a lot of it). Pat the chicken dry and don’t dunk the cold meat in oil, right out of the refrigerator. Just make sure the oil is hot enough, (350 F, which is very hot). It’s good to have a thermometer.
    Enjoy. (Sprinkle finely minced parsley and garlic on top. Mmm).
    L.    

  • http://planetoplano.blogspot.com/ Leo

    Hi,
    I do translations, (Mostly from English to Italian, but sometimes vice versa) and, believe it or not,  one gets blocked even working on other people’s writing: because one might not feel like talking about whatever the text one’s working on is dealing with, or one can’t find the proper tone; but you’re right, reading helps a lot.
    Thanks,
    L.

  • http://planetoplano.blogspot.com/ Leo

    Sorry, I put two comments in. I didn’t think the first one had been registered.
    L.

  • Jonas

    James Altucher your Blog is legendary. Every single post is giving me new insights.
    Please continue giving us these fabulous posts.

  • http://tigcig.com/e-cigarettes-kits.html e cigarette

    This is my first time comment at your blog.Good recommended website.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QAQZQ63L26FNAGYSOUBIL6XXIQ kjp712

    Follow someone in NYC for a day,then write an article about it.I would read that every time.

  • http://kpwriting.com/ writers job

    Great post, I enjoyed ready
    reading it

  • http://twitter.com/ktpoy Katherine Poythress

    I keep referring my writerly friends to this post because it’s so good, but every time I re-read it I’m bothered by this one little thing: Tim O’Brien’s book is actually called “The Things They Carried.” I couldn’t hold it in anymore!

  • http://www.expertsmarketingcoach.com Trish Jones

    This is a great post and I love the idea of starting in the middle. For me, I feel I have to be linear and yet I know without a doubt, my brain doesn’t think this way. In fact, when I use a mindmap, I always do much better. I will also try getting up and writing at the same time each day.  Great advise. Thanks!

  • JaneTheEvilGenius

    Thanks for the tips! I’m still stuck though! Have you got any more?

  • reader

    The name of the Tim O’Brien book is “The Things They Carried.”

  • StarbucksGirl

    I Have Writers Block And I Have A Skit Due Tommorow And It’s Worth 5 Grades… help….

  • gallifreyandragon

    I usually just take a long shower, that’s where I get most of my ideas

  • Josh

    I wrote a similar post and even linked back to this post. check it out here http://www.freetoberich.biz/3-easy-ways-to-get-rid-of-writers-block-a-bloggers-perspective

    • mojojo

      hey, we in a drought beiich!

  • writergurl

    I found this very helpful. I myself am working on a novel, and have recently had a serious case of writer’s block! Thank you so much! I guess coffee does help for more than energizing! :)

  • RichieNewRich

    These aren’t that good – THIS is the video on writer’s block that you must see — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVqJOyJvTCI&list=UUOhUAAmBwbRT5U6lbdyJn3w

  • Elizabeth Peters

    Why does everyone say tell me to read? I hate that my first comment on here is angry and I’m sorry, but reading is what got me into this situation in the first place!