This is a guest post from Ellie Grabski of Classy.org
“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath
Communicating your story effectively is essential to the success of your organization. It’s how you connect with donors on a human level and motivate others to support your quest for change and social good. Though you may not have considered yourself a writer when you committed to your cause, effective writing is a skill needed in every role at a nonprofit organization. Whether you’re creating a nurture email series, writing impact stories, sending memos to your team, or drafting your annual report, nonprofit professionals write nearly every day in some fashion.
And as a writer, you deal with writer’s block.
It happens to everyone and at various stages. Rest assured, there’s no secret muse that sits on the shoulder of the greats. Writing is hard work that requires discipline and the right tools.
Your writer’s block is one of those tools. It serves as a helpful cue to every writer. Listen to it. “I’m stuck. I don’t know what to write next.” Well, why not? Have you completed enough research? Has what you’re writing about lost its interest? Are you hung up over making grammatical mistakes? Do you lack confidence in what you’re writing about? Writer’s block can communicate a larger problem to the writer that needs solving.
There are three great strategies for combating writer’s block:
- Work through the problem and forge ahead with the writing process.
- Take the opportunity to pause and recheck, assess, research, or rewrite.
- Move on to the next topic and leave yourself a note to circle back later.
To help address this universal challenge, I’ve compiled a list inspired by a recent class I attended at San Diego Writer’s Ink on the brainstorming process. Here are 25 ways to supercharge your writing process whenever you’re feeling like the right words escape you.
- Switch gears. Work on another task for a few minutes to give yourself fresh eyes when you come back. Switching to a physical task like washing the dishes, or walking the dog can be a great way to give your brain a quick rest.
- Related, or unrelated to what you’re writing about, reading is a great way to spark new thoughts. When you need a leaping off point, a quote on your topic is a great way to jog your brain and get started, such as the quote I began with above.
- Write about the problem. Fiction writers often use this tool when writing a scene. Instructor Kim Keeline at San Diego Writer’s Ink recommends writing about your writing in a note to yourself when you feel stuck, in order to better assess the problem and still continue writing. When you’re feeling stuck, write out in simple language what you’re trying to say in that particular section and why you’re feeling blocked. This will take the pressure off crafting the perfect sentence and help you get at the core of what you’re trying to say.
- Go for a walk. A recent Stanford study found that participants who went for walks saw an 81 percent increase in their divergent thinking, the thought process that generates many ideas to creatively find a solution. Participants also saw a decrease in their convergent thinking, the process that is more commonly associated with using logic to answer a standard question. As such, a walk might be great for a brainstorm when you’re having a hard time getting started and less effective when you’re trying to solve a specific problem in your writing.
- Go for a run. Many studies have confirmed that aerobic activity releases endorphins and helps memory and cognition. According to Runner’s World, running in nature is especially effective as a recent study found it to produce brain activity similar to the brain activity that occurs during meditation.
- Rid yourself of distractions. We’re surround by distractions in our day to day lives. Writer’s Digest guest columnist Brian Moreland suggests turning off your phone and Internet and taking the time to clean your workspace. He also recommends you let everyone around you know that you need some time to focus, to help prevent interruptions.
- Free write. Elsa knows best. Sometimes you have to “let it go.” Don’t worry about grammar, complete sentences, or spelling. A free write is a safe place and an opportunity to write a stream of consciousness about your topic to get the creative juices flowing. Consider writing for a set time such as 3 to 5 minutes.
- Write a letter to your audience. Keeline at San Diego Writer’s Ink suggests writing a letter when you’re having a hard time getting started. Address the letter to your reader and let them know what you’d like to say. You can use this tool to unearth the driving force behind your message.
- Expand on an idea produced in your letter. After your letter or a free write, Keeline suggests identifying one line that strikes gold. Dedicate a chunk of time to expand upon that idea to dig a little deeper.
- Listen to music. Studies have shown that music has the power to improve your mood and productivity. Discover what type of music helps you work best and turn on your favorite playlists when you face a block. If music is too distracting, Help Scout writer Gregory Ciotti recommends using an ambient noise tool like Rainy Mood to improve your focus.
- Identify what the subject wants. Keeline recommends putting yourself in the shoes of your subject. What do they want? What are they trying to avoid? You can then use the answers to these questions as driving forces in your writing.
- Use the cube method. Further recommended by Keeline is the writer’s cube. When you find yourself stuck, use the cube to write about one topic in six different ways. Time yourself for each side.
- Side 1: Describe. What is the main idea you’re writing about?
- Side 2: Compare and Contrast. What does your subject have in common with other subjects? What differences can you identify?
- Side 3: Associate. What does this subject make you think of? Use your senses.
- Side 4: Analyze it. What is your subject made up of? How does it work/operate? What does it look like?
- Side 5: Apply it. How is what you’re writing about used? How does it help or hurt others?
- Side 6: Argue for/against it. Defend why this subject is worth writing about. Now flip it and write about why it isn’t worth writing about.
- Find your prime time. Many famous writers often speak to a routine they have developed and identify a certain time of day that works best for them. Do you work best in the morning like Hemmingway? Pro Blogger recommends scheduling your most creative and important work during your “golden hours” when possible.
- Read aloud. Reading your work out loud is a great editing tool, but it can also be beneficial when you’re stuck. If reading out loud to yourself isn’t helping you identify where to go next, ask a friend to lend an ear. Read an excerpt to them and ask, “what are your expectations as a reader for what’s next?” Or, “what questions do you have at this point?”
- Write your struggle into the content. When Buffer blogger Bell Beth Cooper has a hard time getting started, she addresses it in her writing. For example, in a recent post she wrote about Google Analytics, she confessed how little she knew about the subject before conducting research. She went on to express how she knew it was a tool that she couldn’t afford to ignore. Sometimes honesty is the best policy for grounding your writing and resonating with readers.
- Switch up your writing method. Boost Blog Traffic recommends changing your writing tool when you’re stuck. If you normally write in Microsoft Word, try a white board or good old fashioned pen and paper and see if a new format helps you move forward. Read more about this here.
- Get on Pinterest. If a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe it will let you borrow a few. Look at visuals that surround your topic. What emotions do they evoke? Perusing images can be a great way to spark your creativity and reinvigorate a sense of purpose behind your writing.
- Change your location. A change of scenery can be a nice way to tackle writer’s block. Go to a coffee shop, library, park, or try working at home for a change.
- Set the timer. Write in sprints to boost your productivity in short stints. Many of these tips can be used while setting a time limit for yourself. This limit will give you a sense of urgency as you work through or past your block. When time’s up with that tool, reassess your block and see if you’ve made any progress. Using timed stints in combination with the next tip below can be especially effective.
- Reward yourself. Motivate yourself to reach a certain mile marker with a reward. Tell yourself that after X amount of words you can take a short breather. Have a piece of chocolate, read a chapter of something for pleasure, or browse the Internet.
- Ask for help. Talk to your coworkers and community at large for inspiration on the topic you’re stuck on. Conduct research and ask your network questions using forums or social media platforms. In this day and age, it’s never been easier to find the answer to your question.
- Skip to the middle. You don’t always have to work from the top down. Write the core of your piece first and then strategize from there the best way to introduce your topic. Read more about this here.
- Look to the news. Can what’s going on in the world around us tie into what you’re writing about? Comb recent headlines for inspiration and consider how they relate or apply to your story. Read more about this here.
- Try mind mapping. This method uses a visual approach to literally map your writing out on a sheet of paper, marker board, or in software. Keeline suggests placing your main topic in a bubble at the center of your map. Next, connect subtopics to the main topic with lines. In some maps, the larger the bubble, the more important the topic and the closer the subtopic bubble to the main topic bubble, the more related it is.
- Fuel up. Give yourself an energy boost: caffeinate, eat something, take a nap. You need energy to write like you need energy for anything else. Take care of yourself.
It’s easy to get discouraged as challenges arise in your writing. In these moments it’s important to take a step back and rediscover that initial spark that inspired you to begin. Writing, ultimately, is more about rewriting than anything else. When you can rid yourself of the need to write every sentence flawlessly, it’s easier to use these tools to move forward in creative ways, knowing you can always come back and craft them into perfect sentences later.
This guest post was contributed by Ellie Grabski of Classy.org.Ellie is a Content Marketing Associate and writes about fundraising strategies for the Classy blog. In her free time she also writes young adult science fiction and fantasy