Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I don’t ever struggle to put words on the screen. I do. Often. But that’s not because I don’t know what to write about — coming up with ideas isn’t a problem for me.
Often my version of “writer’s block” has to do with something much more rudimental — lack of research/knowledge of the topic at hand, poor outlining or planning, my chronic depression which habitually makes me want to sleep all day every day, or some kind of existential crisis like dropping down a level or two in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for example.
In any case, these “blocks” are never about having nothing to write about. Just to give you an example, I’ve published 27 articles on Medium in the last 50 days. That’s about a story every other day, and my idea stock is still pretty full. Neat, huh!
Fiction writers may have legit writer’s block, but I honestly believe that nonfiction writers such as myself should not have a valid reason for not knowing what to write. If you’re a writer in the 21st century, there’s no excuse for not having something to write about. We’re literally swimming in an endless well of content.
So, if you’re struggling with writer’s block, here are some practical things to consider.
Are you reading?
If you’re a niche blogger like I am here on The Side Blogger, then the easiest way to come up with ideas is to read about topics on your niche. I often study popular blogging or writing-related articles, design trends, latest SEO techniques, etc., to get ideas for this blog.
But even if you’re not a niche blogger and write on other platforms such as Medium, Newsbreak, Vocal, etc., or even other popular online publications, then reading about topics that you want to write about can help trigger your brain’s idea muscles. Don’t quote me on that “idea muscle” thing though—I just made that up…
But yeah, my point is, reading typically leads to ideas. Knowing what’s happening in the world should fill up your writing idea journal, regardless of your niche. Practice one or more of these on a daily basis:
Read the news, even if it makes you want to cry. If news about global warming, fires, floods, and famishes gives you cluster headaches, turn the page (or click the appropriate tab) to a different section. Read about the latest buzz-worthy books, read about the upcoming events in your city, read about the new movie releases. You get the idea.
Read peer-reviewed papers in your niche. If you write about science or health-related topics, knowing your facts is a must. Regular reading of the latest and greatest in the field will keep you in the know.
Even if you’re a personal essayist writing about your day-to-day experiences, reading personal essays written by others can help you be a better observer in your own life.
In short, reading should be part of a [nonfiction] writer’s daily routine. It’s part of the job, so to speak. And I guarantee, there’s no way that if you read, you wouldn’t come up with an idea or two for future articles.
Are you getting out?
Being locked up inside a room with nothing but a laptop may provide some writers with the much-needed creative juice, but they’re exceptions. Exceptions are rare. The chances are that you need to experience the world to write a worthy story.
I’ve often come up with the best creative ideas while taking a walk. Turns out that I’m not the only one. Recently, Craig Spencer—an ER doctor from New York City who is also a weekly columnist on Medium—shared that he has written entire articles while on a run!
I don’t know, but something powerful happens when your feet make rhythmic contact with the ground. Give it a try, and maybe the same magic will happen for you too.
Switch up your method of transportation
Go for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Go for a drive. Go take the bus or train.
Did you know that each of these provides unique experiences even when you’re traveling the same route to get from point A to point B?
Walking (without earbuds) will make you aware of the sounds around you. Do you know the kinds of birds that live in your neighborhood? Do you have more squirrels or more bunnies? Is there a friendly cat that always runs to you? A stray somewhere? What’re the sidewalks like? Do a lot of worms come out after it rains? Can you find a story somewhere? How about the friendly cat? Does he remind you of another cat in your life from your past?
Riding a bike gives you yet another experience. It makes you aware of every little bump in the streets. Bumps you do not notice when you’re driving or walking. It allows you to experience the wind differently. The soft breeze as you walk feels like a gush of hot air when you’re riding your bike. Is that a steady uphill to your house? You don’t live in such a flat city after all, huh! And look at that?! The streets around the blocks are not all that straight either!
Much the same way, driving gives you a whole different perspective. While walking or riding a bike forces you to experience the little details, driving opens up your eyes to the wider scene. Zooming through a city allows you to take in the whole vibe of the place you live in or visiting. Want to get a feel for the entire neighborhood in under a couple of minutes? Drive through it, and you’ll know.
Public transportation has always grounded me in reality. Whether the subways in New York City or the local buses and light rails in Denver, it’s by far the best way to understand a city. Unless you’ve used public transportation, you haven’t really known or understood the city you live in.
New experiences are fodder for ideas, and switching up your preferred method of transportation is an easy way to add more nuance to your everyday life.
Are you meeting people?
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t meet people often. I’m an introvert, an extremely private person, and asocial to boot. A lot of writers tend to be introverted, but they still have a social circle.
And it’s not good for the writer in me.
Don’t be like me.
Meet other people because, even the few interactions I do have, often give me ideas for stories. Something someone had said once might come back to me at a later time and I’d write about it. These interactions needn’t always be with friends or family members; they can be with complete strangers too! Or with someone whom you do not get along with.
For example, I have a “friend” who has very different ideas about life than I do. We almost never agree on anything, but boy is he an endless source of inspiration?! Every little stupid thing or irritating thing he says to me can be turned into a story. Of course, I always change his name to protect his identity and all, but as annoying as this guy can be, he is also one of my greatest treasures… as far as real-life references go for patriarchy and toxic masculinity… go figure.
Do you lack the required knowledge?
One of the ways I get stuck sometimes is when I fail to write something good enough — emphasis on “good enough.” I’m no perfectionist, but if a piece of writing feels flat, I know it lacks something vital. Typically, that’s depth, and depth comes from knowledge.
Let’s say that you’re writing a personal essay. Sure, personal essays can be all about you and your feelings, but why not make it stronger by grounding those feelings to something more concrete? Like, researched data, for example? Writing about feeling lost or suffering from depression? Can you give your readers something more? Something that will connect your feelings to their own? Are you a woman in her thirties, married, childless? Any one of those or all of those? Could you find a link between who you are and what you’re feeling?
The more connections you find, the stronger your stories will be. It’s one thing to write about you being depressed, but when you write about why people in your shoes feel depressed based on research, data, professional opinions, then you have something more than just personal anecdotes. You have something that your readers can relate to, make sense of, and learn from.
This is harder than just writing about your feelings and personal experiences, but remember, knowledge is power. The more you know about something, the richer your writing will be. Also, knowing a lot about something will not only help with the piece you’re writing right now, but the knowledge will open ways to future articles.
Do you know your “why”?
This is not an existential question. I’m not talking about knowing the purpose of your life or anything like that.
But do you know why you’re writing the piece you’re writing right now? Why did you start writing this particular story? What message does this piece convey to your readers? What is the takeaway?
I once had an idea. It was a great idea for an introduction to a story about the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. I’ve never liked how people who wrote about him always focused on his politics, his language, his knack for giving the middle finger to decorum. But nobody ever talked about the possibility that he, aside from being brilliant, was probably also just a pervert, and I say “pervert” with the utmost respect here.
Anyhow, when I started writing the piece, I knew I wanted to write about him and his perversion, but I didn’t know what the end goal was. I had to sit on that piece for almost two entire months before I figured out my “angle.” And then it was easy. Once I had that figured out, I wrote and submitted the story in just a couple of days.
If you have an idea for a story but you’re still staring at a blank screen, the chances are that you’re having trouble navigating the “why” of your story. Make sure you have that figured out, and the rest will come naturally.
Finally, do not stop writing
Every writer has their own rituals. That said, most professional writers will tell you that writing every single day is crucial. Now, maybe you can only afford to write three days a week, and that’s fine. But one thing I can tell you is that ideas, like most things in life, become abundant the more you immerse yourself in it.
This means regular practice.
I shared with you above that I’ve written and published 27 articles in the last 50 days on Medium. Do you know what the funny thing is? The more I write, the more ideas I get! It’s kinda crazy that way.
In short, want more ideas? Write every single day. If you cannot do that, write as often as possible.
But if you think that you can write one day and then not even think about writing for a whole month, then rest assured, you’ll struggle with writer’s block your entire life.
The trick is to not stop. When you cannot think of anything to write about, look for writing prompts. Google “writing prompts” and you should find plenty! For example, here’s a fun list of writing prompts from Reedsy. Medium has also started a weekly writing prompt. Whether or not you write on Medium, these prompts can still give you ideas for your next stories! And if you’re a niche blogger? Then you can create a list of writing prompts yourself by reading what other bloggers in your niche are posting on their blogs (make sure you don’t copy their entire blog posts though—just use their content to generate ideas which you can then give your own spin to.)
As I said, I don’t really understand what most people refer to as “writer’s block.” But on occasions where I find writing difficult, I know exactly what I need to do to keep going. Sometimes I need to go out of the house and take a walk. Sometimes I need to learn more about what I’m writing. Sometimes I need to figure out the point of the story I’m writing. Sometimes, just changing the scenario is all it takes. If you have trouble writing, give these a try.
Do you know of ways to generate ideas for your blog posts that I haven’t covered here? Share with me in the comments below!
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