How to Get Over Writer’s Block or Any Block

Hey everyone, I’m having a major major writer’s block. This can happen to any blogger, writer, or pretty much any creative. You feel out of sync and the work becomes much more difficult than usual. The flow just disappears. Poof!

My problem began when I went to visit my parents in Thailand earlier this year. I had such a great time in Chiang Mai. My dad took care of almost everything and I had very few responsibilities. I just had to help my mom exercise every day and help her eat occasionally. My mom’s health was a concern, but she was better than I thought. Hence, I felt good. Also, Covid was under control there so I could try new restaurants and cafés every day. Ahhh, that’s the life.

It was such a stark difference from the US experience where we have been stuck inside since March 2020. I felt disconnected from every US problem since then. Even the storming of the US capitol didn’t really raise my eyebrows. It just felt so far away. Shrug… At the same time, personal finance issues in the US also faded into the background. It was hard to care when I was having a fantastic time in a different time zone (+15 hours). The stock market was going gangbusters anyway so I felt rich.

Back to the grind

Unfortunately, every party must end. I’ve been back for a month now and my list of blogging topics has dwindled down to a big fat ZERO, zip, nada, zilch! Heh heh, this is why you’re reading about getting over writer’s block rather than a personal finance topic. Fortunately, I know how to do it. I mean I’ve been blogging about personal finance for over 10 years and have written 1,400 posts on Retire by 40. (Coincidently, what a nice round number!) I’ve covered all 7 personal finance topics pretty thoroughly and ummm repeatedly. This isn’t new. I’ve had writer block before and I overcame them. Today, I’ll tell you how to get over a blockage and become productive again.

Get over writer’s block

The #1 thing to do when you’re stuck is to take action. To get over writer’s block, you have to start writing. That’s most of it. That’s the secret.

It was Sunday afternoon and I had less than 10 hours before this post is supposed to go live. Unfortunately, I procrastinated the whole weekend because RB40Jr’s best friends came over on Saturday. It was spring break and the kids wanted to play. It’s all good. They all need the exercise after a long rainy Portland winter. After lunch, I sat down and focused on writing. I knew from experience that once I start writing, the words will come.  

At first, it was slow going, but the rhythm returned pretty quickly. Before I knew it, I had 500 words! Here is my process.

  1. Put on a nice set of headphones and start my blogging music playlist on shuffle.
  2. Pick a topic. This one was tough because I had nothing. I went with my gut and wrote this post about writer’s block. Otherwise, I’d spent precious hours browsing the internet for a “better” topic.
  3. Just start typing. This is a stream of consciousness kind of thing. I just type, mistakes and all. I fix some stuff as I go along, but I leave most problems to edit later.
  4. Edit several times. This is where I clean up mistakes, rephrase sentences, remove irrelevant stuff, and fill out details.
  5. Voila! A 1,000+ word blog post.

This is the classic move – Fake it till you make it. When you’re stuck, you just have to take action and pretend you know what you’re doing. Eventually, it will come. The work might not be perfect, but you will have something to present. If you do it often enough, you’ll improve. The work might turn out to be quite good. This point is important.

Muscle memory

The main reason why I can get away with blogging like this occasionally is because I’ve been blogging for so long. I built muscle memory over the last 10+ years. Now, when I sit down and start writing, the words just flow. And the result isn’t too bad. Of course, it’s better when the topic is on point (personal finance) and I prepare more. However, I’m just stuck sometimes and I have to wing it. I’m a huge believer in sticking to a schedule. It served me very well so far. I post every Monday, come rain or shine. Even if the blog topic isn’t personal finance, it’s okay. Nobody is perfect all the time.

Anyway, this is muscle memory. Once you master something, you can do it once you get going. This is the same process with drawing, working out, biking, and almost everything. Sometimes, you don’t want to exercise, but you make yourself go to the gym. Once you’re there and start the routine, you feel better and finish the workout. You just need a little momentum and your brain/body will know what to do.

*Here is my tutorial on blogging – How to start a blog and why you should.

Rekindle interest

Whew, I almost made it through this blog post. I got away with it this time with my winging-it proficiency, but I need to do one more thing to really get over this writer’s block. I need to rekindle my interest in personal finance. Next week, I’ll follow more financial news, blogs, and podcasts. Hopefully, that will rekindle my FIRE mojo. Ha, a pun! Seriously, I need to rebuild my topic list.

Summary

Alright, here is the summary on how to get over a writer’s block or any kind of block.

  1. Take action and just do it.
  2. Keep doing it to build muscle memory.
  3. Rekindle interest in the topic or you might need to find something else to do.
  4. Optional – make a good music playlist that can play in the background.

Keep doing this and you’ll get your mojo back.

Have you ever had writer’s block or got stuck in a rut with your work? How did you get over it?

Image credit – Emma Simpson

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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24 thoughts on “How to Get Over Writer’s Block or Any Block”

  1. Great advice and really the only advice. Anthony Bourdain used to say a little wine loosened up the fingers. Forced writing is really a good practice. So is routine. Great writing article. I wouldn’t mind a few more articles like this from someone who’s posted 1,400 posts!!

    Reply
  2. Great advice! I agree it’s a matter of sitting and writing and moving that writing muscle. Way to keep at it!

    Glad your mom is doing better than expected! And glad you disconnected while in Thailand. I think it’s healthy to disregard the bad parts of life now and then.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the great post Joe. It is tough to write and write and write.

    I do appreciate all the hard work you have put in here though!

    I LOVE the blog.

    Reply
  4. I remember a former English teacher’s commentary about her recent writer’s block: “I’ve cleaned my whole house twice!”

    As such, I’d advise to harness the procrastination a bit. Also there is something to be said in listening to your wellbeing – sometimes you actually do need a break to recharge.

    You’re absolutely right though – in order to get over writer’s block, you must simply…write. I also like reading as it helps the language stream flowing through the neurons in my brain. I enjoy the lyricism of Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Lord Byron, and Didion.

    Reply
  5. Wow, 1400 posts is quite a milestone Joe! Congrats! While I have no where near that number, the secret indeed is to just write. I’ve thrown away whole blog posts, and have dozens half written.

    Sometimes they flow and sometimes they don’t.

    Reply
  6. I think you nailed it on saying that you just have to start writing. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that been exactly what’s been going on with me. I sometimes don’t have a topic even after thinking about it for a day or so. Suddenly, I sit down and -boom- I end up with a good, solid post.

    I also noticed that not writing on the same topic tends to help (just like you did here). Sometimes, it’s good to just get out of the zone and do something a little different.

    PS That’s incredible that you’ve written 1,400 posts! Awesome job!!

    Reply
  7. Your timing on this topic is perfect. My son has writer’s block at school when he writes his journal and it’s not a good situation. We had watched R.L. Stine’s (Goosebumps fame) Masterclass (I had gotten it on a huge discount) on writer’s block earlier in the day. My takeaway? Writing monster fiction for kids is easy compared to personal finance.

    I often come up with my best ideas when I’m away from computer and writing – walking the dog for instance. I also try to write stubs of posts whenever I get an idea. This gives me a list that I can go back to at a later time.

    Reply
    • My son has the same problem. I keep telling to just keep writing. IMO, this doesn’t work as well for kids because they’re not used to the process yet.
      I get most of my topics that way too. But it still need a seed from somewhere.

      Reply
  8. I love Stephen Pressfield’s advice which is basically the same as your #1 – just sit down and do the work. If it sucks then throw it away or fix it the next time, and keep repeating. But even putting horrible stuff down is better than not doing anything, you have to move the needle.

    Reply
  9. As for me, my writer’s block has the same foundation as that of this famous writer:

    “I can’t do no literary work for the rest of this year because I’m meditating another lawsuit and looking around for a defendant.”
    — Mark Twain

    Reply

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