5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

Say you’re on deadline with a proposal, report or other written piece and you’re truly stuck.


What to say next? How to say it? And where can you turn to get words and ideas flowing again?

Try taking a break from putting words on paper or a screen. That’s right…

Put down the pen. Stop typing. But, don’t give up on the assignment. Do something besides write — like these five:

1. Research

Maybe you’re stuck because you really don’t have enough material to keep fueling your writing. Going blank can be a sign that you haven’t done all of the legwork and need to do more fact finding before you can make your points articulately.

One giveaway? You lack solid examples or specifics that really tell the story you’re trying to get across. The cure is the do some more research or think through more clearly the points you want to make.

2. Talk

Tell a friend or colleague what you want to say. Voicing your points — in plain language, out loud — sometimes frees up the brain. Explaining, verbally, what you want to say, can flush out the clog that sometimes prevents people from explaining, in writing, what they ought to say. Then you can make the case better when conveying your thoughts on paper.

3. Walk

Take your thoughts and writer’s block, strap on some comfortable shoes and move. Here’s the trick to this one: Allow yourself to think about the writing and the project as you walk. Picture what you want to accomplish with the piece. Imagine getting the breakthrough you need. Try a 30-60 minute stroll while you think. Then head back and get into it.

4. Plan

If you don’t already have an outline or a framework for the written project, make one now, while you’re stuck. What’s the most important thing you want to achieve with the report? Why are you writing the proposal? What points should the reader take away? Remind yourself about the main reasons you’re undertaking the effort and then map the work accordingly.

You can use a mind map. They are powerful. They boost creativity and prevent brain seize. My favorite is iMindMap — the video embedded in this post demonstrates the latest version.

Another useful site, Biggerplate, features a library of mind maps that its community of users has already created. See if any of those offer inspiration.

5. Breathe

Just be. Try to relax and think of something else entirely. Listen to music or brew a cup of tea. Close your eyes. Do something that lets you empty any anxiety that might have crept into your being about the writing and about finishing the task.

And remember, writing doesn’t flow perfectly on the first pass. That’s why those takes are called rough drafts…it’s okay to be clunky or wordy. You can fix it later when you’re revising and editing.

Good luck! Let me know what you think of these ideas, and what gets you writing again when you’re stuck. Here are some other ideas to fix writer’s block, too. And here’s a post with the 12 most infallible ways to improve your writing.

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  1. 5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

    I like all those suggestions, but I am also a big fan of just putting pen to paper. Sometimes we over think the project.

    • 5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

      @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Yes, Joshua, I agree that sometimes people over think projects. No question about that.
      But — and I suspect by your handle that you are one of these — writers who love writing and are totally comfortable with writing (and probably make a living from their writing) are in a different category than the rest of humanity. I am, actually, more in your camp than not. I write for a living. And I have for about two decades. However, I totally get those who feel nothing but anxiety about writing. Because I have felt the discomfort and angst of not knowing what to say or how to say it, sometimes. It doesn’t make me shut down. Or give up. Still, I get it. (There’s that great phrase — and I wish I knew who first said it — “I don’t like writing; I like having written…”)
      So this post is directed more to the folks who need some suggestions or ways to break through when it happens. When they seize up, but sill have to produce a product.
      And bless you if it never happens to you. Still, some others might find the coaching from the post helpful. That was the intention, anyway. 
      Thanks for joining in. 

      • 5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

        @BeckyGaylord  I think all of your suggestions are great and I use them. I have been writing professionally for years so I have experienced many if not most of the issues that others do.
        I probably wasn’t as eloquent in my initial response as I could have been and didn’t mean to sound like I am dismissing your counsel.

        • 5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

          @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes No offense taken, whatsoever, Joshua. Glad to have your feedback and know you read the post. Cheers, Becky

  2. 5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

    I like the list. No. 1 and No. 3 stand out to me.
    No. 1: Researching is important when you feel “stuck.” I agree that sometimes you’re stuck because you just don’t know enough. However, I also have a habit of researching or reading too much as another form of procrastination. I have to be careful not to do that. 
    No. 3: When I worked full-time in the Newsroom, we used to say that the best thing to do when you’re waiting for a source to call back is go to the bathroom. They always call as soon as you step away from the desk. The same is true with getting unstuck with writing or editing. Stepping away from your writing, even for just a quick trip to the restroom or to get a glass of water, makes a big impact on your ability to focus.
    I love your advice. I do, however, have to admit that I generally see “writer’s block” as an excuse for procrastination. Sometimes you’ve just got to get it done. Not every piece of writing will be your best. Sometimes it’s not as bad as you think. Just finish it, right?

    • 5 secrets to fluid writing that don’t involve writing

      @profkrg Yes, Kenna, I totally agree with you about just getting on with the writing. And I can also relate to your comment about the, let’s call it, “research rut.” When I worked as a journalist, I fell into the sometimes-bottomless pit of researching/reporting more a few times.
      But for reporters, deadlines are always looming, and meeting them makes people good at just muscling through — it imposes practice in the art of “un-sticking” oneself. I think successful un-sticking tactics become almost instinctive for those who must write often and on tight deadlines.
      For others (most folks) the tactics that become ingrained in writers through practice and necessity can be learned. And these 5 ideas were essentially skill-building exercises to practice.
      Thanks for weighing in, Kenna!

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