10 Principles that Have Helped Me Overcome Writer's Block
Writing was always hard for me. Until it wasn't. None of these ideas originated with me. But they work for me. And they might work for you.

It’s been four years since I've had writer's block.

No, that’s not right. I still get writer’s block.

It’s been four years since writer’s block has stopped me from writing.

Yes, that’s more like it.

Writer’s block has always been The Enemy That Wouldn’t Die for me. Late nights, hair-tearing and Shakespearean pronouncements of doom have accompanied every word I wrote. Whether it was for sermons, blog posts, term papers, whatever.

Writing was always hard for me. Until it wasn’t.

Four years ago when I started writing what would eventually become The Grasshopper Myth, I realized I’d never survive writing an entire book if I didn’t find a better process for putting my thoughts into words.

So I experimented until I discovered several ideas that work for me. Now I use them for everything I write, including sermons and blog posts. Some were quirks that work only for me. Writing is like that. We all have our own system.

But these 10 aren’t quirks, they’re universal principles. So universal that even the ones I thought I came up with I’ve found in other places since then. Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

1. Never Stare at a Blank Screen (or Page)

This is, by far, the best way I know to overcome writer’s block.

Nothing will kill the creative spirit faster than a blank screen or page. It’s too intimidating, too impossible, too empty.

Nothing will kill the creative spirit faster than a blank screen or page.

So where to start, if not with a blank screen?

You know that idea that popped into your head the other day? Maybe from a conversation, a book or your prayer time? Keep a notebook or cell phone app handy and write those thoughts down as they happen.

Then, when you sit down to write, pull out those notes, ideas, questions and half-formed thoughts, and expand on them.

If you’re working on a sermon, don’t start with a blank screen, either. Start with a scripture passage. I’m convinced that most bad sermons happen because the preacher started with a blank page instead of starting with the text.

2. Don’t Try to Write a First Draft

When you pick an idea to expand on, don’t start writing yet. Do a data dump.

Pour as many thoughts, questions and information on the page as you can. Good ideas and bad ones. Things that might even be untrue or offensive.

Forget how it looks or sounds. No one but you is reading it at this stage.

Don’t worry about how it will start or end, either. That awesome first sentence will come later. Usually, you’ll write it by accident in the middle of the piece. You can transfer it to the beginning later. That’s what editing is for.

This isn’t editing. It’s not even writing yet. There’s no pressure. It’s just a data dump. Turn spellcheck off. You can research whether to use principle or principal later.

After you’ve dumped, start organizing it, adding flesh and bone as you do so. Before you know it, you’ll have something that can be called a first draft without having done anything as serious or intimidating as writing yet.

3. Play with New Tools, Write with Old Ones

I’m writing this post on Microsoft Word.

I’m fully aware of Evernote, Scrivener, Google Docs and other newer word processing programs. And I’ve used each of them to a limited degree.

But my writing time is not program-learning time.

When you’re producing content, use the tools you’re most comfortable with right now.

When you’re producing content, use the tools you’re most comfortable with right now.

Set aside some non-writing time to learn a new program or app. Play with them until you understand them. But don’t use them to generate content until their functionality is invisible to you

Don’t let new tools become an excuse to procrastinate from actually writing.

4. Don't Get Inspired to Write, Write to Get Inspired

Only amateurs wait for inspiration before writing.

Just write. Inspiration comes through the work.

5. Kill the Cute

If it feels clever, it's probably bad writing. And it will act like an anchor keeping good ideas down. Trying to write around the clever line or title will limit your creativity.

Write that clever line down so you don't worry about forgetting it. Then forget it. If it fits later, fine. But you’re probably going to be better off without it.

Write for content, not cleverness.

6. Pause In the Middle

Never stop writing at the end of a sentence. Or a blog post. Or a chapter.

When you do that, it’s like giving yourself a blank screen at the start of your next writing session.

It’s easier to pick up and continue a thought when you come back to a work in progress.

7. Write When You're Fresh, Edit When You're Not

When I feel fresh, brave and creative, I do a data dump. (See Point #2).

When I don’t feel fresh, brave or creative I edit. Sometimes the editing sparks my creativity, sometimes I just edit.

Either way, some important writing work gets done.

8. Give Yourself Plenty of Lead Time

If you're speaking, preaching, blogging or writing regularly, always think at least one step ahead.

If you're speaking, preaching, blogging or writing regularly, always think at least one step ahead.

Currently, I have several blog posts written or almost written, plus dozens of other ideas in various stages of preparation. (More on that in Point #10). That way, if I hit a creative wall, there’s no panic to put out something I’m not happy with.

It takes some serious discipline to create inventory like that. It’s only been in the last year of blogging that I feel like I have a handle on it. But putting in the extra effort now will greatly reduce your stress while increasing your quality over the long run.

9. Let Fringe Ideas Simmer

Sometimes I write something and find myself asking Is that profound? Or stupid? When I don’t know the answer, I sit on it for a few days (or weeks, or months). Then, when I run across it again, I’m in a better frame of mind to answer that question.

So far, I’m 50/50. Half of those ideas become something good – usually really good. The other half get tossed.

I’m as grateful for the stupid ideas I tossed as I am for the good ones I used.

10. Save Your Scraps

Writing is like friendship bread. There should always be a piece of dough left over to start the next loaf.

After writing The Grasshopper Myth, I had about a dozen ideas that didn’t fit the format of the book. So I used them as the basis of my first blog posts.

The more I wrote and talked with others, the more ideas came my way. I wrote every one down.

Today I have over 200 unwritten blog post ideas. 60 pages worth. More than 25,000 words. That’s half a book!

Some are partially written. Some are one sentence thoughts or questions. But all of them are seeds I can use.

With 200 ideas in the pipeline, even if I dried up creatively, I can still write three posts a week for the next 15 months. That’s a great stress-reducer and writer’s-block killer.

What Makes a Writer?

Writer’s write.

When we’re not writing, we’re thinking about writing.

Writers are readers, too. But we also need to get out, live life and have conversations. Otherwise, what is there to write about?

Then we take the seeds of those conversations, books, ideas, and real-life experiences and pour all of it onto the written page.

If we do it enough, we might just get good at it.

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