Beat writer’s block: 3 do’s and don’ts

I wanted my college major to be English long before I left high school. I’d always gravitated toward reading and writing classes, interested in the creativity, deep thinking and potential for more than one right answer in those spaces than I personally found in science and math. Like many others, my affinity for English led me into marketing — as it turns out, few things prepare you to build an integrated campaign like years of forming, communicating and analyzing opinions.

That experience does lead to a common problem, however: writer’s block. If you’ve found yourself staring at a blank document, aware of its eventual goal but unsure of how to get started, get ready to join the club. There’s a reason for the much-repeated (and misattributed) quote: “Writers don’t like writing — they like having written.”

Next time you’re feeling stuck, remember these habits that might help — or harm — your progress:

Do: Listen to some background noise.

Don’t: Listen to something you’re going to think about.

Silence can actually hinder your productivity. As a remote worker, I have a good supply, but I go back and forth between needing it to concentrate and realizing it’s trapped me in my own head. One way to avoid getting distracted is to listen to music without lyrics, or a playlist, podcast or even TV show that doesn’t require active attention. One of my go-to options while I’m working is the soundtrack from “Master of None.”

Do: Take a break.

Don’t: Forget the task at hand.

Whether you’re taking a minute to stretch, going for a walk, having a snack, completing a mindless chore or anything else, breaking your concentration on your keyboard can help build the space and clarity needed to dismantle writer’s block. However, if your walk to catch Pokemon turns into an extended hunt, or your Twitter scan of the daily news sends you on a tangent, it won’t be easy to fall back into the writing rhythm. Try a productivity app, such as Pomodoro, to keep your breaks in check.

Do: Plan your approach before you start writing.

Don’t: Overthink it.

The first time I read Ann Handley’s description of an ugly first draft, I was jealous — she’d put a name to the writing technique I’d relied on since middle school. The higher the stakes for a given piece, the harder it is to start writing. If I start with an outline I’d never want others to read and an intro that I plan to throw out, it inevitably helps me pick up the momentum to create awesome content. When I get stuck during the writing process, I can go back to the beginning and edit my way through.

To me, writing and marketing are both like solving puzzles. For every project, piece of content, social post and even sentence, there are unlimited right and wrong answers for the most valuable result. When that concept feels overwhelming, as it inevitably does from time to time, take a step back. Lower the stakes, revisit your ultimate goals, and seek inspiration from unexpected places. Chances are, you’ll end up refreshed and ready to tackle that blank Word document.

This story was originally published on the Metis Communications blog.