Writer’s block doesn’t exist as long as you use prompts
On December 8th, 2016, I opened up my email, and staring back at me was a message from an editor at Fast Company, notifying me that an article I had submitted on a whim was live.
As someone who had written a total of three previous blog posts, I was over the moon. Later that day, after getting a taste, I decided to carve out an hour a day, no matter what I had going on, to write.
I was expecting good things to come from taking the time to do something consistently for once. However, I severely underestimated the extent to which making this decision would change my life.
Fast forward to today, and not only is writing a solid income stream, but it’s also a consistent lead generator for acquiring clients and getting on the radar of people I admire.
Like anything that provides gains, writing every day hasn’t been easy. Some days when I sit down, I know exactly what I want to say; other days, I don’t. However, not one day has passed since that Thursday afternoon, a little over two years ago, when I haven’t gotten down at least 1,000 words.
And this is thanks to the list below of tips and tricks I have collected along the way. Some of these you may connect with; others you may find cheesy. Your job, like anything in life, is to use what hits and disregard the rest.
“Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.”- Steve Martin
1. Write About What You Know
Little basic, I know, but much like a margarita pizza, this piece of advice is a classic for a reason: it works.
Pick a topic you love and pretend you have to give a speech about it or teach a class.
How did you learn about it and why do you love it?
What are the key takeaways from studying this field?
Who has inspired you on your journey?
What books do you recommend and why?
Personally, when starting out, I chose to write about my wife: what she means to me, how we met, the lessons she’s taught me about life. In the end, this exercise lasted for 31 days and left me with stories and life lessons that I have come back to time and time again when faced with questions that lacked clear answers. This also allowed me to get into a groove of writing every day without having to try and force it, which did wonders for finding my personal style.
“If it’s not easy to start, it will be hell to finish.” — Niklas Göke
2. Write About the Lessons Someone You Admire Has Taught You
What lesson did one of your teachers in high school teach you that has affected your life?
What have you learned from your parents and friends?
What about your favorite writers — why do they inspire you?
What about your enemies? More often than not, they have a funny way of turning into our greatest teachers.
The world is full of people. What have you learned from them?
“A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
3. Write About Your Past Failures and Shortcomings
Success is often found on the other side of failure. However, most people don’t experience success because they’re not honest with themselves as to why they failed in the first place. Open up to yourself about where you went wrong. Be honest about your shortcomings.
The coolest writers often tell the stories of when they were uncool — so put your guard down and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou
4. Write About Your Most Embarrassing Moments and Describe Them in Detail
I once covered myself in calamine lotion to cover up my “back-me” during a middle school pool party, so no one would notice. It didn’t work.
That didn’t hurt too much.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway
5. Make a Cheat Sheet of the Lessons You Have Learned in Life
On my 39th birthday, I made a list of 39 lessons that the world and the people in it have taught me. Though I didn’t know it then, this has turned into a fountain of motivation and saved me time and time again when lacking inspiration.
Whenever I am stuck, I cruise over that list, and one always pops out. Then I sit down to write.
Cheat. Cheat. Cheat. Then cheat some more.
“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge
6. Keep a Log of All Your Favorite Quotes
When you come across a passage that hits you, take out a notecard or open up a word document and write them down.
Much like writing out a list of life lessons, this will provide you with loads of inspiration for the days when there is none.
“No one ever gets talker’s block … Why then, is writer’s block endemic?” — Seth Godin
7. Google Standard Interview Questions and Get to Work
Where do you see yourself in five years?
How would your last boss describe you?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Tell me about yourself?
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
What recent challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
What is the last gift you bought someone and why?
This will not only give you loads to write about, it will also help you to ace your next interview, because no matter how much people say they prepare, most don’t.
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” — E.M. Forster
8. Write a Letter to Your Younger Self
Sir Richard Branson recently released a wonderful series where he wrote letters to his younger self advising him on how to navigate life. He also took it one step further and challenged his readers to do the same.
Take Sir Richard up on his offer and imagine you could reach back and have a conversation with your ten-year-old self.
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — C.G. Jung
9. Write About Your Last Argument From Your Perspective and Then From the Other Person’s
Most people only think about themselves. However, those who don’t, win.
Take the time to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
This will not only help you write from various perspectives, it will also help you to maintain your current relationships, as you will become more empathetic.
“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” — Stephen King
10. Describe the When, Where, Why, and With Whom From Your Last Trip
What stories did you tell around the dinner table after returning from a trip? What did these stories teach you about the world? What uncomfortable situations did you encounter? Who helped you solve a problem and what did you learn about yourself and the world around you in the process?
When my dad returned from a month’s walk on the “Camino de Santiago,” he told me this story. It changed my world.
“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” — Ernest Hemingway
11. Make a List of Your Positive and Negative Qualities and Your Best and Worst Habits
What habits are you most proud of and why?
Which could you do without and why?
What habits do you wish you had or admire in others?
What are the steps to implement them in one’s own life?
What about your character traits?
The article with Fast Company that I spoke about in the introduction was written by doing just this. I grew up stuttering, and my friends helped me grow my confidence.
We all have these stories, and the world wants to read about yours.
“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” — Ray Bradbury
12. Write About Your “Why” and What You’re Doing About It
Why do you want to help people?
What happened in your own life that ignited this passion?
Why do you want to be a writer and who has played a role in supporting you on your mission?
Take it one step further and explore your childhood and get back in touch with that kid whose curiosity took you on many adventures.
“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
13. Reread an Article You Connected With and Write It in Your Own Words
Don’t worry about writing something original. Most articles today are an extension of an existing conversation. In reality, that is all innovation is in 2019 anyway.
How can you add to it?
What did the author get right?
Where did they fall short?
“You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.” — Austin Kleon
14. Write out “Thank You” Cards (and Send Them)
You know those people who take the stairs to their second-story apartment after spending an hour in the gym grunting? Don’t be that person.
Writing is writing. Some days it will be hard. When it is, don’t make it any harder than it has to be.
Grab a pen and an old postcard and either thank someone for helping you recently or update an old friend as to what’s going on in your life and what they mean to you.
In short, write your gratitude.
“Some moments are nice, some are nicer, some are even worth writing about.” — Charles Bukowski
15. Make a Habit of Writing Down Ten Ideas Every Day
Everybody says they want to help people.
Few actually do.
So steal a line from James Altucher and think of ten ways in which you can improve the life of someone you know or wish you did, and send them the list.
Not only will you grow your creative muscle by doing this, you will also make some new friends.
One stone. Two dead birds.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” — John Steinbeck
16. Sometimes the Best Way to Write Your Own Story Is to Ask Others About Theirs
Most people have never received a message from someone saying that they admire them and would love to sit down to learn about how they got to where they are today. The person doesn’t have to be Tim Ferriss for you to learn something valuable.
Open up your Linkedin and look for someone whose career you admire and reach out.
In the last few years, I have done this more times than I can count, and today I consider quite a few of them close friends. Our conversations have sparked more than a few articles.
Same goes for that interesting face sitting next to you on your daily commute.
Say hello. The story will come.
“If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.” — Kingsley Amis
17. Put Your Fears Down on Paper
Fears in your head look a lot smaller when written in tiny words.
Pick a fear you currently have and write about how your life would be different if you faced it.
What is the best possible outcome?
What is the worst?
Read about the people who have faced the exact same adversity.
Are they really that different than you?
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin
18. Every Time You Sit Down to Write, Start With the Word “This”
This tip came from my friend, the owner of a tremendous Youtube channel on all things leadership and communication, Conor Neill.
According to Conor, starting with the word this will force you to think about the clear objective of the document you’re writing.
If you start with the objective, this will help the reader know exactly what they’re about to read and also help you answer why you’re taking the time to write in the first place. Having one true sentence will also serve as a signpost when you start to go off track.
This will teach people how to raise their confidence.
This will teach people that there is more to life than searching for happiness.
This will teach people what to do in the Bahamas.
BTW — keep track of when you get off track and copy those thoughts and log them somewhere else. They will find a home.
“Everybody needs to get clear in three areas: Clarity of visions, certainty of action and values.” — Conor Neill
19. Pick Two Items in Your Room and Write About What They Mean to You
I do this exercise with my public speaking clients and the results have been amazing. I learned that a ceiling light reminded one client of his childhood, as his father owned a lighting store, and this led to his love of design.
Another picked a rock, and I was transported to 1990 NYC when she sat on one in Central Park after leaving Spain to pursue her dreams.
“Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.” — Stephen King
20. Make Friends With Professional or Aspiring Writers
If you want to become an idea machine, surround yourself with those who already are. From my own experience, writers like to write, but writers also like to talk (at least some).
I never studied creative writing or journalism, and I did horribly in English at school. However, by spending time with people who have and asking them for their best tips, I was able to narrow down in a few hours something that took them years to learn.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso
21. Pay an Editor Early On
The smartest thing I ever did when I started to write was I paid an editor buddy of mine to sit with me and clean up a handful of my articles. For a couple of bucks and a few hours of his time, he taught me how to write crisper sentences and how to properly pull the introduction into the conclusion.
By doing this you will learn to ask yourself — Can I say this with fewer words? Are these thoughts properly linked? Is this necessary? Also, editors are big on titles and structure, and as a bonus, without even thinking about it, they will give you more ideas for future articles.
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” — Colette
22. Ask Yourself Which Activities Provide You Clarity
In one word, writing is frustrating. In the beginning, the words won’t come out how they sound in your head. One theme that comes up time and time again when speaking with my professional writer buddies, is they wish they had learned how to walk away and properly give their words room to breathe.
This can be a challenge, but looking back on the articles that I have written, the majority of highlighted or tweeted lines have come from waiting 24 hours to allow the already written words to find their place.
The most productive writers aren’t any smarter than you are. They just know when to write and what they need to do when they aren’t. Something that’s not written well after three hours usually doesn’t get cleaned up in the forth.
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” — Agatha Christie
23. Go for a Walk With Just a Pen
My mom taught me this trick. If you have something running around in your head and you want to get it out clearly, get up, grab only a pen (no paper and certainly not your phone), and go for a 30-minute walk.
This is a test in brevity (my mom’s favorite word when writing and least practiced word when speaking). You only have so many body parts you can write on in public without being arrested, and a notebook or phone is just replacing your computer.
“Any scientist who can’t explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan.” — Kurt Vonnegut
24. Throw a Dinner Party and Talk About the Ideas You’re Writing About With a Diverse Range of People
There’s no better way to get feedback or spark ideas than to sit down with a few trusted friends and talk.
“Every article should be a dinner conversation before it’s an article.” — Ryan Holiday
25. Use Social Media for Its Original Intent — Collaboration
If you’re stuck, throw out a question on Facebook or Linkedin. The whole idea of getting unstuck is to identify what you may be missing, and a hundred sets of eyes are always better than one when it comes to coming up with ideas.
This will also help confirm if the idea is any good in the first place. If people get involved, you’re onto something. If not, you may want to resort back to this list and find inspiration for something else.
BTW — a side effect of speaking with people about what you’re writing is that they’ll give you ideas for your next article.
“It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin
26. Talk It Out
Call up a trusted friend and explain what you’re working on. Explain not only what you need help with, but also where you think you got it right. I got lucky in that my wife sees things very differently from me and has a knack for quickly filling in holes that took me too long to dig.
“I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else.” — Shelby Foote
27. Erase the First Three Sentences You Write
Entrepreneur and author, James Altucher, has a habit of sitting down to write and then erasing his first three sentences. Most writers will agree that sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. So steal a paragraph you love and start writing. Then follow James’ advice and delete it.
“Most people, in my opinion, steal much of what they are. If they didn’t what poor items they would be.” — Julian Barnes
Last, but certainly not least …
28. Write About Writing
Last year I was in a bit of a rut. When speaking to my wife about how I thought I was running out of ideas, she smacked me in the face with these words: “I am sure you have thought about it before, but it seems to me that most people on Medium enjoy not only reading but also writing. Why don’t you write about what writing means to you?”
So if you still feel stuck, steal a page from my wife, and sit down and write about what writing means to you.
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary.” — Paulo Coehlo