9 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block Using Generative AI
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I've been a professional writer for over fifteen years, and dealing with writer's block never went away.
Recently, I learned to use AI to deal with this feeling of being stuck in front of the blank page:
- By getting completions for the one sentence I managed to write.
- By brainstorming topics
- By getting AI to ask me questions
There are other methods I found helpful. In this post, I'll share 9 methods I use to deal with the writer's block monster.
Causes of writer's block
An in-depth review of past qualitative and quantitative studies and literature concluded that writer's block could be triggered by one or more of the following:
- Physiological causes which hinder cognitive processes, such as a lack of sleep, stress, or hunger
- Motivational causes such as a fear of criticism or not enjoying the writing process
- Cognitive causes that lead to poor planning or the need for perfection, which inhibits idea flow
- Behavioral causes like procrastination and irregular schedules
Do any of those sound familiar? Do you find yourself unable to write after a poor night's sleep? Are you paralyzed by the thought of being judged and receiving soul-crushing critiques? In turn, does that cause you to put off writing until the last minute?
Don't beat yourself up if you answer yes. You are not the first person to feel that way, and you certainly won't be the last.
Here are the 9 ways our team found most helpful in dealing with writers' block.
1. Use AI tools to help overcome writer's block
AI-based tools can help you overcome the stress of writer's block and find your flow and inspiration again.
Just write down the topic of your article, and ask Wordtune to continue writing.
Top tools include:
Wordtune feels like having a co-writer by your side, suggesting alternative phrasings and expressions in real-time as you type. It seamlessly integrates with your writing process, offering suggestions that can make your sentences more engaging and refined.
Combatting Writer's Block: When stuck on how to phrase a thought, Wordtune offers multiple suggestions. By having AI suggest alternatives and complete your sentences, you are much more likely to tackle writer's block without frustration.
ChatGPT is like conversing with a knowledgeable friend who's always available. You type in questions or prompts, and it responds with detailed answers, explanations, or creative content. The interaction feels fluid, making it easy to brainstorm or gather information.
Combatting Writer's Block: Whenever you're unsure about a topic or need inspiration, ChatGPT provides instant feedback and ideas, acting as a springboard for your writing.
Notion is a workspace that feels like a blend of a notebook, planner, and database. I like to use it as my go to place to find everything I wanted to keep in the past. These include thoughts, tasks, and research. Everything is structured in a hierarchical way, making it easier to find what you are looking for.
Combatting Writer's Block: By providing a space to visually map out ideas, create outlines, and store research, Notion helps writers see the bigger picture. Notion also has a built-in AI feature, that gets prompts and generates content.
Perplexity.ai uses advanced AI to research questions for you. Ask it anything, and it will come back not only with an answer, but the links and sources where it got the answer from.
Combatting Writer's Block: With Perplexity.ai, you can research before writing anything down. For people who suffer from writer's block that is due to lack of confidence with the validity of what you have to say, this tool is a huge help in finding sources that corroborate your ideas.
2. Brainstorm using AI
With a simple prompt, you can get AI to generate ideas on any given topic. It is vital that you have some knowledge on the topic you are brainstorming, so you can filter and pick the relevant topics it suggests.
3. Generate AI prompts
Today, everyone writing about prompts is referring to ways to deal with AI.
But in the past, prompts were used to train people, not bots.
Human prompts, writers prompts, were exercises that were used to generate ideas and overcome writer’s block.
The prompt could be as specific as you’d like. For example, here I asked AI to generate prompts to help me write about my emotions.
4. Work with AI-generated exercises
Writing prompts and writing exercises are quite similar, and the difference between them is nuanced.
In my view, writing prompts are single sentence instructions that can be followed by simply writing a paragraph or short passage. Writing exercises, on the other hand, are more diverse tasks.
Check out the wide range of exercises below.
5. Stop thinking and just start writing
There's nothing more intimidating than a blank page and a blinking cursor that seems to be doing nothing but mocking you. If the intro is tripping you up, start in the middle. There's no right and wrong here. Nine times out of ten, you'll get inspired as you enter the process, and suddenly your piece starts to take shape.
According to screenwriter John Rogers:
"You can't think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block."
Write the first draft, even if it's messy. Don't judge yourself (we're often our own worst enemy) as you write it. No one ever needs to see that draft. From there, edit and move content around. Decide what's worth keeping and what needs to be addressed in more depth.
Perfectionism is known to prevent people from writing. You force yourself to write, but the first sentence you write is a few levels below what you expected. Editing and perfecting it is yet another obstacle. The solution here is to take that initial sentence and run it through an AI-writing tool like Wordtune.
In addition to choosing the better sentence, you will divide the two parts of writing into ideation and phrasing. As a result, you will gain the overall writing confidence you need to overcome writer's block.
6. AI can help with research
Great writers don't just open their computers and magically draft something mind-blowing. They take the time to research their topics, whether they're writing a blog post about e-commerce consumer behaviors or a murder mystery.
David Burkas offers some cold comfort that may be just what you need to hear:
"You're not missing the words; you're missing the research. All ideas are a combination of preexisting ideas. So, if you're 'out' of new ideas, it's probably because you don't have enough old ideas to combine. Go back and read more. Or spend more time mapping out the book. Don't show up to the keyboard without a plan and then tell the world you have writer's block. You're lying to us, and to yourself."
If you're drawing a blank because you still need to develop your point of view, stop trying to write. Start researching again or find a few experts to talk to. You don't want to steal their ideas but build on them with your insights and offer your audience a new take on the topic.
Otherwise, if you have enough ideas but need help figuring out how to organize your thoughts, try creating a mind map. Some people will use an online platform like Miro. I prefer to write each on a sticky note and move them around on a table like puzzle pieces until I understand how to connect each idea. Also, the physical act of writing creates more brain activity and helps the brain make deeper connections.
You can use Wordtune to summarize an article, so it can later help you form your own arguments and points. We can easily get stuck in our heads, and reading other people's work may often be the cure for our writing blockage.
7. Forget about perfection
Perfection doesn't exist. You can always do something better or edit something further, but you have a deadline and time constraint.
Ted Kooser once shared one of the best pieces of advice he ever received, and since he's a Poet Laureate, he must be doing something right:
"William Stafford, one of our great poets, said that the best thing to do about writer's block is to lower your standard, and it's the best advice to give someone who's stalled."
I'm not saying to turn in sloppy work. Instead, focus on producing excellent work that you're proud of, and don't let the elusive concept of perfection petrify you.
8. Set a schedule
There's no perfect time to write. Whether you choose to schedule your writing first thing in the morning or super late at night, it doesn't matter; the only thing that matters is that it's during a time when you feel productive. You need to find that sweet spot and block out that time to get to work.
Once you know your most productive hours, block those out for writing tasks. If you work in an office, mark your calendar as busy, so co-workers don't interrupt you. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. Close all those tempting Google tabs and get to it during that time, even if it feels difficult.
Need more structure? Many productivity experts tout the benefits of the Pomodoro technique; however, I've never found 25-minute concentration sessions beneficial for writing. If you're like author Tony Schwartz (or me), you might find more success with 90-minute sprints, which closely reflect our body's natural rhythms known as the ultradian rhythm.
9. Reward yourself
A recent study found that people who were frequently rewarded after completing small tasks enjoyed their work more than those who were rewarded when a long project was completed. Additionally, when people were rewarded early on in the process, they were more engaged and had a more positive attitude, causing them to be more motivated and produce better work.
So, reward yourself during each break if you choose to use one of the timed techniques. When you have to write 25 Google Ads, treat yourself each time you finish five.
Neuroscience: Your brain on writer's block
Your brain is a complex organ that is also somehow incredibly organized enough to control your thoughts, emotions, motor skills, breathing, and every other function by sending different chemical and electrical signals to your body.
Writing combines two tasks – using language and telling a story. When you write, two different areas of the brain are at work. On the left side of your brain, within the frontal lobe, is Broca's area, the part responsible for language. If this area is damaged, you would be diagnosed with aphasia and would have trouble actually understanding and forming words verbally. If you can write and express yourself under normal circumstances, this is not the cause of your writer's block, so say goodbye to the 'I just can't write right now' excuse.
What's plaguing you could stem from the inability to connect concepts and form a story – a key skill you need to have, regardless of whether you're writing non-fiction, how-to-guides, or crafting a brand story. In one study, scientists observed participants' brain activity during the two phases of the creative writing process: brainstorming and creative writing. During both stages, the language areas of the frontal lobe showed increased activity.
However, while brainstorming, participants showed additional activity in the parietal-frontal-temporal network, which is responsible for planning, problem-solving, manipulating information, and decision-making. When participants worked on the creative writing task, the motor and visual brain areas that control handwriting lit up, as did the temporal lobe, which controls automatic responses such as fear, other emotions, and fight or flight response.
Social and natural science agree that controlling your emotions and being in a good mental state can beat back the dreaded writer's block.
What the pros say about writer's block
When it comes to professional writers, there are two main camps: those who believe writer's block is a complete farce and those who understand how fear and perfectionism fuel the fire. Maybe some of their wise words will create an 'ah-ha' moment for you that will help you cure your own block.
One of my favorite quotes comes from author Philip Pullman:
"All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don't get plumber's block, and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working and then expects sympathy for it?"
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld isn't a believer either:
"Writer's block is a phony, made up BS excuse for not doing your work."
Honestly, it's hard to argue with Pullman and Seinfeld's thinking. Writing is a demanding job, but so are plenty of other professions, and none of them get a free pass. That said, as someone who has experienced writer's block, many times it feels like a real issue.
On the other side of the aisle is one of my favorite self-help authors, Mark Mason, who, in his typical tone, says:
"Writer's block is just another name for anxiety. People always have something else to say. It's not like you ever run out of ideas. There's just a filter in our brains where we decide what is "worthy" of being put down on paper, and when that filter gets too strong (due to high expectations or fear of being judged or whatever), few ideas will get through it. This happens to me at times, and I just have to remind myself to chill out, get over myself (or my ego) and trust the process to take care of everything."
And Erica Jong:
"All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you'll never write a line."
If you agree with these two writers (and the science), that might give you more insight into your writer's block.
The point is that, regardless of how they feel about writer's block, they all push through and get work done. That's what you need to do too. Now, let's see how you can bulldoze through because you've got a job to do!
Write more, stress less
Everyone has work challenges and has doubts about their output, writer or not. The more you stress, the harder it will be to move forward, so be kind to yourself. Having writer's block doesn't make you a bad writer - it's just another challenge to face. Learn which processes work for you and follow them. Embrace the creative chaos.
As Tony Robbins says, 'The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you're in control of your life. If you don't, life controls you.'