Episode 103 – 6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block for Nonfiction Authors

By Beth Brombosz, PhD

May 09

Writer’s block strikes fear into even the most seasoned writer. Nothing saps your confidence like sitting in front of a blank screen or piece of paper for what seems like eons, failing to come up with any words to fill it. And, unfortunately, writer’s block is incredibly common. Even professional writers have off days when they struggle to come up with the words they need.

In this episode, I’m sharing six strategies that you can use to overcome writer’s block. These are strategies that have worked for me personally, and I know they’ve worked for other writers, too. I know that writer’s block can feel like a deep pit of frustration. But, there are ways to work your way out of that pit. So, instead of getting all worked up about your writer’s block, let’s come up with some solutions to help you overcome it!

Struggling to write your book? Try these 6 ways to overcome writer's block for nonfiction authors. Apply these strategies to get back to writing in no time!

WRITE A SHORTER PIECE

Sometimes you get writer’s block because you’ve bitten off too big of a chunk from your overall project. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you think about writing an entire book, and that overwhelm can quickly lead to writer’s block. Instead of focusing on the work right in front of you, you’re focusing on the giant project as a whole. That’s enough to make anyone say, “I can’t do this.” The solution? Narrow your focus and concentrate on writing a smaller part of your overall project.

Instead of writing a book (or book chapter), write a blog post. Still feeling stuck with your blog post? Try writing a social media post or email. If you’re struggling to come up with the words or content for a larger project, break it down into smaller pieces. Even if you wind up writing a blog post instead of a book chapter, you could always use that blog post as part or all of your book chapter, adding to it when the words are flowing more easily.

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You could also back off on your goals a little bit. Backing off can work well if you’re trying to hit a certain word count in a short period of time. Sometimes the pressure to hit certain benchmarks stresses us out, and that stress totally stifles creativity. Give yourself permission to just write what’s on your mind and let go of any word count or length goals for that day or week.

ASK YOUR AUDIENCE WHAT THEY’RE STRUGGLING WITH

Chances are that your book topic is at least tangentially related to what you do and how you help your followers. So, if you’re having a hard time writing your book, go back to the people for whom you’re writing your book. Talk to them and find out an easy way to write a short piece that will be helpful to them.

The easiest way to try this strategy is to ask your followers if they have any questions about your area of expertise. For example, I could ask my audience if they have any questions about self-publishing or writing their books. Start writing an answer to one of their questions, even if it’s not related to what you plan to put in your book. Try to address the question as completely as possible, maybe even adding in some examples to help readers understand what you’re trying to say.

Chances are, answering that question is going to get you into the right headspace to write your book. You’re solving the real problems that your audience is having, which you’re also doing in your book. You’re getting into the headspace of your ideal reader, and you’re practicing thinking through what they need to know and how to explain it clearly. Those are all skills you’ll need to write a successful book. So, if you’re struggling to write content for your book, write something else for your audience!

FREE WRITE

Or, try journaling. Sometimes writing anything (doesn’t matter what) can help spark creativity in other places. Just like an appetizer helps stoke your appetite for a larger meal, a little bit of writing, any writing, can help you stoke your appetite for writing.

When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to try my hand at creative writing. (There’s a good reason why I made the switch to nonfiction in college.) One of my friends, who is actually now a professional award-winning poet, recommended that I check out the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. That book helped me a lot as a writer.

One of the strategies that Ms. Goldberg suggested (and that I still employ to this day) is simply writing whatever comes to mind. You get into the swing of taking your thoughts and expressing them through written words. That practice is incredibly helpful for writers. Sometimes it’s not about the quality of your writing and more about the fact that you are writing.

I strongly recommend using this strategy if you’ve been struggling to write for days or weeks on end. And by struggling, I mean that you have sat down to write multiple times but you can’t get out more than a few sentences or paragraphs. This is also a great strategy if you’re just feeling uninspired—often writing about what’s on your mind will help you get into the swing of writing about other topics, like what’s in your book.

DO SOME RESEARCH

I’m going to tell you a secret that most authors and writers don’t want you to know: there are very few truly original thoughts out there. Most authors synthesize ideas that others have already had, add their own spin, and write their books. So, don’t be afraid to look at what other authors and thought leaders are writing about your niche or topic and use that for inspiration.

If you’re feeling stuck because you don’t know what to include in your book, do some research. See what other people are saying about your topic. That might mean a Google search, a trip to your local library, or buying a couple of books on Amazon. Once you’ve gathered your materials, it’s time to analyze.

If you’re doing a web search, see what’s coming up. What are people saying about your topic? What big points are they making? What headings are they including in their writing? How are they presenting their information? Are they using citations to back up their work?

If you’re looking at books, you’ll look for answers to similar questions. Who does the author say their book is for? What topics are covered in the book? What are the themes of the chapters? Is the writer using any devices to help explain the material better, like telling stories or using specific examples? Have they cited any other work?

Once you’ve done your research, take what you’ve learned and put your own spin on it. For example, if your book helps your readers learn how to meal prep, do you need to include detailed instructions for how to do basic things like boil eggs and roast veggies? If so, how can you put your own unique spin on those meal prep basics? Can you explain it in a different way, like making the process more humorous? Or, can you make the process easier for your readers?

The key here is to see what’s out there, make a note of the topics your readers will expect to see in your book, and then make that content your own. If you’re really struggling with it, start by writing a review of the information you’ve learned through your research (be sure to cite your sources!) and worry about putting your own spin on things during the editing process.

GET MOVING

Sometimes, all you need to overcome your writer’s block is to get up and move. Go for a short walk, do a little yoga, or whatever you like to do to get moving. The key here is to get your heart pumping and more oxygen being delivered throughout your body, including to your brain.

When you elevate your heart rate, more blood flows through your brain. That extra blood delivers extra oxygen and nutrients, which help you think better and more creatively. As a runner, I’ve gotten some of my best ideas for my books and blog posts on my runs. That’s one of the big reasons why I started running with my phone—so I could stop, jot down a note, and then keep going.

Also, sitting for long periods of time often makes us feel sluggish, which can make our brains feel sluggish, too. Even going on a short walk can help you refresh your mind and help you get new perspective. Back when I was writing my dissertation, I used to take short walking breaks all the time. I’d save my work, then head out for a short stroll around my building. I was usually only gone for five minutes or so, but even a few minutes helped me come back to my work refreshed.

GIVE YOURSELF MORE SPACE

Writer’s block can also develop because you’re cramming your brain full of work and life stuff. If you’re totally wrapped up in your to-do list and what’s for dinner that night, you often don’t have the mental space to write. Instead, when you do sit down to write, your brain is going a million miles a minute, thinking about everything you have to do, not about what you need to write.

Give yourself more space in other areas of your life. If your life is jam-packed and your brain is always going, it’s hard to give yourself (and your brain) the space you need to be creative. Take a little time off and take a pause. Maybe practice a little self-care. (You can even go for a short walk and hit two of these strategies for overcoming writer’s block at once!) Meditation is another great way to build mental space. You focus on clearing your mind of all of the chatter, which opens it up to other possibilities, like the words that will go in your book.

If you’re feeling totally overwhelmed by everything you have to do and you’re struggling to write, this is the first place that I would start. I saved this suggestion for last because it’s one of the harder strategies to apply, but it can be one of the most effective ways to combat writer’s block. When you get bogged down in the nitty-gritty details of your to-do list, it’s hard to do the higher-level thinking you need to write your book. So, ask yourself, “Do I need to hit pause? Do I need to create more space in my life so I can be more creative?”

If your answer is yes, schedule in some time off this week. Schedule it in today if you can. Instead of trying to hit every last one of your to-dos, let the non-urgent ones mellow for a bit. Focus on doing something to clear your mental clutter, whether it’s meditating, getting outside, or just relaxing. When you do give yourself that mental space, you’ll be amazed by what you can write.

YOUR HOMEWORK

So, there you have them: six ways to overcome writer’s block. I strongly encourage you to save this podcast episode or bookmark the show notes, especially if your memory is like mine and you’re not going to remember these strategies off the top of your head. Then, the next time you’re struggling with writer’s block, pull up these tips and choose one to try. I hope that it helps you get writing!

I’d also encourage you to keep a list of the strategies that have helped you successfully overcome writer’s block. Keep a note somewhere (physically or digitally) and every time you come up with a good way to start writing when you’re stuck, add it to your list. Then, when you’re really struggling, you can pull out that note and apply one of your strategies to get writing again.

Struggling to write your book? Try these 6 ways to overcome writer's block for nonfiction authors. Apply these strategies to get back to writing in no time!

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