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Summary:

Writer’s block. Creative constipation. Mental block. These phrases are just fancy ways of saying something simple: you’re stuck. There’s nothing wrong with being stuck, since it happens to the best of us. But there are several reasons to get yourself moving again, especially if it’s unreasonable […]

Writer’s block. Creative constipation. Mental block. These phrases are just fancy ways of saying something simple: you’re stuck.

There’s nothing wrong with being stuck, since it happens to the best of us. But there are several reasons to get yourself moving again, especially if it’s unreasonable to do the usual routine of going for a long walk or bringing your laptop to the coffee shop. There are deadlines, paychecks, impatient clients, and, more importantly, the simple internal drive to do the work.

But how can you do it if you can’t get started?

Get inspired

Inspiration isn’t always something you wait for. Most of the time, it’s something you have to get. Just because the final product looks effortless, it doesn’t mean that’s what the process should be. If you take a look at your previous projects, you’ll find that most of them were accomplished through perseverance and discipline. It’s rare to find a project that was fueled by inspiration alone. Get inspiration from your environment, the creative process itself, or pre-work rituals.

In my experience, it also helps to look at the work of people I admire and respect. Among all of the web workers who have cleared the path before you, there must be someone whose work symbolizes what you’re striving for. Find these people and look at their work. Better yet, look at their process if they talk about it on their blogs. I often look for interviews of my favorite writers on YouTube when I’m having a hard time with my own work.

Take on other projects

One way I try to get out of a rut is by working on personal projects.  It could be a short story I’m working on, a non-profit blog, or simply my private journal.  You could also work on a passion project for a few minutes, just to stimulate your creativity for a bit.

The project you use to start your workday doesn’t have to be directly relevant to your work.  For example, I work on some carpentry projects when I can’t seem to finish an article.  This allows my mind to think in a completely different way, often leading to an epiphany relevant to my work.

Find your rhythm

Since you’re all rather smart, you’ve probably guessed that this very post came from my own recent experience of being stuck. To get myself to write this, one of the things I did was to simply start typing. Sometimes all it takes for me to begin is to grab the nearest book, copy a few paragraphs from it, and be lulled into the rhythm of my typing.

Can’t get started on that app you’re developing? Then make a slightly more advanced version of a “Hello World” program or retype your work from 3 months ago. Stuck with a design project? It might get your creativity flowing if you start by idly drawing your cat or a coffee mug. Breaking down your creative work into simpler forms can help you get into the rhythm of starting something more complex.

In summary, the best way to get started on your work is to get started on anything and work on it for 15 minutes or so.  This simple nudge is often enough to get your work moving again.

Do you often find yourself feeling blocked with your work?  In these cases, what do you do to get started?

By Celine Roque

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  1. Set an external deadline. Call the client and tell him/her you’ll have a draft in a few hours. Tell a buddy you’re going to send something for them to review that afternoon.

    It’s a lot of pressure, but most of us function better and more efficiently in that situation. I know I sure do :)

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  2. I like to escape for a few minutes with a coffee table book on a topic I find interesting. Over the years, I’ve developed a collection of books on roller coasters, movie special effects, and Disney theme parks. Looking through the big pictures in those and thinking about what processes and techniques it took to create those experiences helps free my mind a bit too.

    —Pete

    Pete Johnson
    Hewlett-Packard Company
    Marketing and Internet Platform Services IT
    Portals and Applications Chief Architect
    Personal Blog: http://nerdguru.net

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  3. I juggle several projects and work on them a little bit at a time. That way I don’t get burnt out on just one.

    Burnout and deadlines is what kills people. Get stuff done early without the burnout.

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  4. [...] Hemingway’s advice and always end a writing session mid-sentence. This means that I can avoid being stuck during the following [...]

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  5. [...] I follow Hemingway’s advice and always end a writing session mid-sentence. This means that I can avoid being stuck during the following [...]

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  6. Taking on projects is a good idea. Sometimes pressure can jump start your creativity or at least get your brain moving in the the right direction.

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  7. I’m a writer, and when I’m stuck, I turn to my heroes for inspiration. Here’s a list of the greatest first book lines, from Herman Melville to Harry Potter to help inspire you: http://bit.ly/9bfxzn

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