Writer's block is a perennial problem for writers of every age, experience and ability level. It just happens, so you gotta learn to deal with it.

I learned to beat writer's block the old-fashioned way. I was in high school working at the late, great Chapel Hill News as a school page contributor. My editor there, Jim Shumaker, helped me discover an unbeatable tonic for clearing the block: the deadline. "You're a writer. Just start writing," he'd growl good-naturedly. When you know it’s gotta get filed, no excuses or extensions, you learn pretty quick that the best way to beat the block is to just start – anywhere.

This was back in the day when the IBM correcting Selectric™ typewriter seemed like the greatest thing since canned beer. If I started at what actually needed to be the middle of the story, I’d whip out the scissors and literally cut and paste (where do you young whippersnappers think that term came from, anyhow?) the copy into the right order. Then I’d retype the whole dang thing and take it over to the copy desk. Oh, yeah. We didn’t have faxes back then either.

(This feels like my equivalent of walking to school barefoot in the snow.)

If just starting isn't your jam, here are two other ideas for you.

How to beat writer's block

1. Write something that isn't what you're supposed to write.

Writer's block is less about the writing and more about the thinking, so change your mind. I've written here before about the power of haiku to break the logjam. Poetry not your style? Lists are fun. For instance, instead of just staring out the window waiting for inspiration to strike, describe the different colors you see. Here's an example I did the other day on all the greens in my field of vision. (I came up with 25!) Or make a grocery list. Anything that gets you out of your head and free writing begins to erode the blockage.

Margot Lester's hand-written list describing 25 shades of green in a spiral notebook

2. Give it a rest.

You may be trying to do too much. Slow down! If you have a reputationally and physically safe place to lie down, do it! But even sitting down somewhere quiet where you can close your eyes or put your head on the table is a win. Set a timer for some amount of time between 7 and 19 minutes. (There's all kinds of science around the length of time. Google Daniel Pink nappuccino essay for more info.) Bonus points if you have an eye pillow. If you fall asleep, fine. But the goal is just to ease your nervous system and your mind so you can think and write more clearly. Don't feel OK about this kind of rest? Step outside or find a window and soak in the sky or trees or something else natural. This is proven to reduce stress and anxiety! (Learn more about that in Your Brain on Nature by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan.)

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