I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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You’ve been there. You sit down, ready to write the next killer blog post, only to have your mind go totally blank. Then, your brain clutters up with fluffy thoughts of melted chocolate, lust-inducing iPhones, and unicorns. (Or is that just me?)

Even if you don’t blog, you know the agony and frustration of losing the words you want to write.

Here are my favorite tips for eliminating writer’s block:

1. Lower your standards

Blogs aren’t novels, so don’t start a post by worrying about being perfect, insightful, original, or even grammatically correct. Take Anne Lamont’s advice: begin with a “shitty first draft.” Let yourself write a big stinking pile of poo. Good writing, like good design, is a process of iteration and editing.

2. Start with a headline

Do you feel pressure to write a full-length piece? Don’t. Instead, brainstorm headlines for articles you would like to read yourself. It could be as crazy as “How to Get Great Hair Like Sanjaya” or as controversial as “Why Design Education Sucks Today.” Even if you don’t end up writing the article, you’ll create an arsenal of ideas to inspire you when you’re stuck. To get started, check out Brian Clark’s excellent series on writing magnetic headlines.

3. End with a deadline

Never start a post without a deadline. I really believe in Parkinson’s rule: work expands to fill the amount of time available. If you don’t have a deadline, you’ll never finish.

4. Eliminate distractions

Use clever writing tools such as Writeroom (Mac) and Dark Room (Windows) to eliminate all distractions on your computer. You’ll see nothing but words on a screen, not even an oppressive clock. Outside the computer, find a quiet room, silence your mobile phone, lock out the pets, and turn off your TV.

5. Write at dawn, not at dusk

Even if it’s just a hobby, don’t blog before bed and after a long day’s work. Take a cue from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and 15-year old blogging phenom Glenn Wolsey. Both schedule a time to write in the wee mornings. It’s quieter, your mind is fresher, and you avoid making excuses like “I’ve had a long day, I’m just too tired to write.”

6. Take a break

Who says you have to blog non-stop or even every day? Hit the gym, go to the movies, take a vacation, and spend time with your loved ones. After all, doing real meaningful things is what inspired you to blog in the first place. If you don’t blog today, the world doesn’t end.

7. Automatically spawn ideas with HitTail

HitTail analyzes the words on your blog and makes suggestions for related topics you can write about. It’s free and a great source for getting relevant inspiration based on your past writing. If used wisely, it’ll even help boost your site’s traffic.

8. Get a little help from your friends

Blogging doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. Run headlines or ideas by your friends, and ask what they think. Chances are, they’ll point out new ideas and angles you’ve missed.

9. Capture ideas before you lose them

Ideas for articles come when you least expect them. It happens as you’re walking to get a donut, commuting to work, or even on the toilet. To stop your thoughts from vanishing, always carry an easy-to-use device to jot down ideas as you get them. You can go as high-tech as a T-Mobile Sidekick (my personal favorite) or as low-tech as a little Moleskine notebook.

10. Breathe

After recently taking my first Yoga class, I’ve turned into a true San Franciscan. My biggest realization? My habitual shallow breathing contributes to a lot of tension, blocking the flow of ideas and thoughts. I know its cliché, but take a moment to breathe deeply. It’s easier to unstuck yourself when both your mind and body are relaxed.

Still stuck?

Check out these additional resources:

Did I miss anything?

What do you do when you get stuck? Go ahead, share your tips in the comments.

14 Comments

  • Steve Olson

    gravatarJun 20, 2007
    4:53 pm

    That it a very good list… I’m working on overcoming block right now. I needed this.

  • pmc27

    gravatarJun 22, 2007
    10:40 am

    I try not to desesperate. I blog when I have something I think is good or interesting. I write down ideas for posts on my notepad and when I´m stuck I read that ideas.

  • Rise

    gravatarJun 22, 2007
    2:55 pm

    I can’t tell you how timely this post is. I recently wrote about what’s stopping me from writing. Two best tips are: Lower your standards and Write at dusk. Thanks for the list.

  • Principle Of Marketing

    gravatarJun 23, 2007
    2:08 am

    In a way I like getting blogger block sometimes because it enables me to step back and take a break because if you never step back and breath you’ll never get anything done in the long run, blogging is hard consistant work which can make your brain come to a halt sometimes.

  • glenn abel

    gravatarJun 23, 2007
    2:49 pm

    Well done.

    I just did a similar list of ways to beat “writer’s block.” Here are two of them:

    1. Tell a friend about the material. I do this all the time before writing DVD reviews. I hear myself revising the material as I talk with different people. Everyone does this kind of honing while telling a story over and over; the trick is to pay attention and exploit the synergy. Wish I’d learned this one a lot sooner.

    2. Start writing in the middle. Type in the quotes and the background info, anything to get words flowing. At some point, it’ll feel right to move to the top and do the glamour work.

  • A. Marques

    gravatarJun 24, 2007
    12:04 pm

    For me, iPhones are actually not much lust inducing, but ok… :)

    For me, what works best is number 6. A little walk does wonders to break the block.

  • Mike Levin

    gravatarJun 24, 2007
    4:48 pm

    Of course, we at HitTail wholeheartedly agree with your list. Thanks for the mention!

  • SpiKe

    gravatarJun 25, 2007
    2:18 am

    I get a lot of ideas from books. The library is my best friend when I’m stuck for topics. Organize IT

  • Arif

    gravatarJun 28, 2007
    10:40 am

    Beautiful. Simply beautiful!
    I’ve received a bit of motivation to get myself from listening to the podcast interviews of Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield at the Accidental Creative. Definately worth a hear.

  • Gaston

    gravatarJul 5, 2007
    5:55 am

    To get rid of writer’s block I recommend purchasing a couple books, and keeping them forever:

    1. On Writing Well by Willim Zinsser (a must-have book)

    2. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (this book is procrastination’s end)

    They are both funny and witty. And both motivate you to do small tasks, and do your job.

  • Gary Barber

    gravatarJul 15, 2007
    6:30 am

    I constantly consider when commenting on a blog (like this) if the comment goer over a few paragraphs and is involved then maybe I should be blogging on this topic. Also for me the ideals book works well, that and constant link dropping onto a tumblr, which often allows me to expand on the topic later. This way I always find I have at least three to four timeless topics at hand.

  • Sara

    gravatarFeb 23, 2009
    7:35 am

    Shitty first draft is working for me. Sometimes I publish blog post and after one day I add new text, edit and delete.

    Before writing I take notes from my brain and then write short sentences on piece of paper. That is helpful for me.

  • lynda

    gravatarMar 6, 2009
    1:43 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! Already used some. Great links, too.

  • irtiza104

    gravatarJun 4, 2009
    1:55 pm

    I didnt know about the hittail thing. i’ll definitely check it out. thanks for this… :)