10 Steps to Getting Through a Writer’s Block Emergency

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Originally published February 6, 2020


Let’s not mess around: we’ve all had writer’s block and sometimes need help. It doesn’t mean that we’re special or broken or misunderstood geniuses or fools. Our muses are not at the bottom of a Netflix binge or pot of coffee or a box of crackers. Working with our writer’s block is a learnable skill that takes practice and repetition over time. We’ll get to all that, but if you need to write on a deadline right now, try this course of action:


1. Close all browser windows. Shut off any device you’re not working on, and turn off noises or put on music that is very familiar or has no vocals.

2. Set a timer for 5 minutes and put it out of sight. 

3. Re-type the prompt, topic, date, and any other headings info that’s required. 

4. Write a single thing that you know about the topic. One single thing.

5. When the timer is up:

  • If you’re writing process is in gear, reset the timer for 10 or 15 minutes. 
  • If you’re still blocked, 
    • Get up and move. 
    • Get a glass of water. Or do 10 jumping jacks. Or play a scale on an instrument. 
    • Then set a timer for 5 more minutes. 
  • When the timer is up:
    • If you’re writing process is in gear, reset the timer for 10 or 15 minutes. 
    • If you’re still blocked, 
      • Get up and move. 
      • Get a glass of water. Or do 10 jumping jacks. Or play a scale on an instrument. 
      • Then set a timer for 5 more minutes. 

6. If you’re able, write down an outline

  • Include any organizing guidance that your teacher has given you about topics and supporting evidence (say, hamburger essays or tree essays)

7. Copy any required quotations or research into your working document.

  • Put it within your outline or hit enter a few times between each quote or fact.
  • If you get something down, you can connect it to other ideas.
  • If the timer goes off, return to step 5. 
  • Copy any required quotations or research into your working document.
    • Put it within your outline or hit enter a few times between each quote or fact.
    • If you get something down, you can connect it to other ideas.
    • If the timer goes off, return to step 5. 

8. Type a single relevant question (who, what, where, when, why, how) and type an answer that question.

  • Put it within your outline or hit enter a few times between each question and statement.
  • If it’s hard to keep your ideas in order, say them out loud using voice-to-text. Keep what you like; delete the rest. 
  • If the timer goes off, return to step 5. 
  • Type a single relevant question (who, what, where, when, why, how) and type an answer that question.
    • Put it within your outline or hit enter a few times between each question and statement.
    • If it’s hard to keep your ideas in order, say them out loud using voice-to-text. Keep what you like; delete the rest. 
    • If the timer goes off, return to step 5. 

9. Read what you’ve written or copied into the document. How are the pieces related? 

  • If you know, connect the ideas together with more words. 
  • If you don’t know, maybe you’re curious to find out and need to do more research. Do your thinking on the page.  
  • If you don’t care, return to step 7. 
  • If the timer goes off, return to step 5. 
  • Read what you’ve written or copied into the document. How are the pieces related? 
    • If you know, connect the ideas together with more words. 
    • If you don’t know, maybe you’re curious to find out and need to do more research. Do your thinking on the page.  
    • If you don’t care, return to step 7. 
    • If the timer goes off, return to step 5. 

10. If you’re still stuck, keep the timer system going, but cycle in one of the following when it’s time to break:

  • Chat with someone about the topic. 
  • Check out some creativity exercises.
  • Watch a 5-minute YouTube clip about the topic (but stick to the timers and don’t wormhole). 
  • Write an idea web, perhaps on a white board or with paper and pen that you don’t typically use. 
  • If you’re still stuck, keep the timer system going, but cycle in one of the following when it’s time to break:
    • Chat with someone about the topic. 
    • Check out some creativity exercises.
    • Watch a 5-minute YouTube clip about the topic (but stick to the timers and don’t wormhole).
    • Write an idea web, perhaps on a white board or with paper and pen that you don’t typically use. 


If you need to start another time, be easy on yourself. It isn’t conceding defeat, it’s a strategic retreat. Make a plan for when to pick up again, especially if you struggle with time management. If it’s late at night, here are a few tips to get to sleep efficiently, and you can try again in the morning.