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EPISODE 66: How to Fight Writer’s Block on a Deadline

by Dec 28, 2021Brand Your Voice, Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • Managing the pressure to be creative on the clock
  • Tips for writing through a block {even when you reaaaally don’t want to}
  • How to prevent procrastination on future projects

Stress is a huge creativity killer. As writers, there’s nothing like a looming deadline to stop the flow of words. Creative careers are different from typical 9-5 jobs in many ways—especially when it comes to dealing with deadlines. 

Setting your own hours and schedule is both a blessing and a curse. You can capitalize on those late night bursts of creativity, but you can’t just sit around and wait for the muse. It’s important to strike a balance between working well under pressure, and giving yourself enough structure and space to avoid last minute stress.

 

Here’s a few tips to help overcome writer’s block on a deadline:

  • Just put some words on the page. It’s so much easier to edit than to write. Start with something {even if you hate it!} Once you get some words on the page, it’ll be easier to go forward from there.
  • Reward yourself along the way. After you make some progress, don’t be afraid to take a short break to make a cup of tea, go on a walk, or stretch your legs. 
  • Write something creative instead. If you’re having major writer’s block, try switching gears temporarily. Use a creative writing prompt. Read a chapter from something that inspires you. This can help you tap into creativity and apply that energy to finish your client work.
  • Change your environment. If weather permits, try taking your laptop outside to write. Light a candle. Work from a coffee shop. Or maybe just change rooms {or chairs}. This can sometimes help break up stagnant mental energy.
  • Make sure you get some sleep, exercise, food, and water. We know, duh. But when you’re on a tight deadline, these things can be the first to slip. And you actually need all these things to have the energy to write! 
  • Pomodoro Method {A.K.A. Tomato Time!} Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on one, singular task in that 25-minute stretch. Take a 5 minute break between timers.  {Check out Episode 58 on Time Management for way more time management methods and ideas!}
  • Assume writer’s block will come for you, and build in extra days to allow for it. You can try Marie’s trusty ‘ol College Novel Reading Trick. When you first get the project, divide out the number of deliverables by the time {e.g. days} you have before your deadline. Basically, try to break it down into bite-sized chunks, so you can write the same amount of content every day. That way, even if you miss a day, you know exactly how much you need to finish to stay on schedule. 
  • If all else fails, ask for help {but don’t wait too long!}There will be times when you just can’t make it happen by the deadline. Always remember to be respectful of your team and your client’s time. The sooner you ask for help or an extension, the better.

 

Homework:

Join the Polaris Writer Lounge for more tips, insights, and advice for writers.

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Marie:
All right, welcome to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. This is episode 66. The idea for this episode actually came from my lovely co-host today, Madeline.

Madeline:
Hello.

Marie:
Hello. So happy to have you back on the podcast and thank you, actually have a new last name since you were last on.

Madeline:
I do. Yes, I do. It's I think it's still technically going through like the social security office, but maybe by the time this gets published, it'll be official official in legal terms.

Marie:
Well, congrats on, on your new life changes and thank you and everything. And I think this episode is gonna be really helpful for everybody. How to fight writer's block when you're facing a deadline, because if you've been a writer in any capacity for any length of time, you know, what a creativity killer stress can be. So if there's like a deadline coming around the corner, like sometimes it can be really motivating and sometimes it can just make you wanna like cry.

Madeline:
Yep. Yep. My problem with that is all people I ask if I work well under pressure and like, I don't, I never know what to say because I don't think that's exactly right. I need like some kind of pressure or deadline or else I will just literally never do anything, but if it's-

Marie:
Relatable.

Madeline:
If it gets, if I let myself get too close to the wire, then it's just a complete disaster. And I would not say that I work well in those conditions. I mean, like I bust it out if I have to, but I don't think that that's when my best work necessarily happens.

Marie:
Yeah. Cause you like, you know, when you do that, it's like, yes, you feel good that you've gotten it done, but you also away like exhausted and drained. And like, I know for me when I have those like long work days, because I'm trying to like crank something out, the next day, I'm like useless.

Madeline:
Yeah. Yes, absolutely. It's like pulling an all nighter in college and like, it always seems like such a good idea. And then you get up to go to your, you don't get up because you're still awake. And then you go to class in the morning and you're like, I feel sick.

Marie:
It could be on the coffee, but...
But Yeah, for sure. Because I think like college, if you're like a freelance writer or working within like an agency like ours that does have like quite a bit of flexibility, like we don't have like come to the office from nine to five or whatever. Like you kinda work whenever, like it's kind of a double edged sword, right? Because like, yes, whatever. But that also means that procrastination is, is easier to do. Especially like when you have the best of intentions, but you just aren't feeling the creative flow.

Madeline:
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yes. So, because you know, you can have, I can black out a time in my day when I say, okay, this is what I'm gonna work. This is when I'm gonna write this. And then you sit down and you're like, wow. I feel, I mean, every, I think every writer has this feeling. Like sometimes you sit down to write and you're like, I'm on fire. I've got all these ideas. Let's go. And then some days it's like your brain. Wow. Your brain is like made of cotton. Like-

Marie:
Yeah. You would rather do anything. Right? Like you just find yourself browsing the cutest puppy subreddits you can.

Madeline:
Yep.

Marie:
And that is a much better use of your time in the moment as your brain tells you, nothing wrong with cute puppies, by the way.

Madeline:
Yes. And you know, I think that this is, I mean, this is applicable in a lot of professions, right? Where you have a deadline for a project and you procrastinate on it. But I think, you know, when it is such a creative profession, it's you get this extra factor thrown in there of like, you know, your creativity is a gift and when it's there, it's amazing. But when it's not there, but the project is still due tomorrow. What do you do? Like what do you do when you're like, this has to get done and it's just, it's not happening.

Marie:
Yeah, for sure. So we're gonna dig into that. Beause one of the things you said before we got on, right. Was like, can't just sit around, waiting for the news to come to you.

Madeline:
Yeah. That is something that I have that I have kind of discovered over, you know, having this job is like, and I I've touched on this a little bit in a previous episode about, creative writing as well. One thing that's actually helped me in my creative writing from my professional writing life is this idea of like, okay, well, even if you're not like, quote unquote, feeling it today, or you're not feeling creative, like you still, you still gotta do it. Like you just gotta sit down and write And even if it doesn't feel good that day, you just, you have to.
The one thing, and I think I also touched on this in another episode, but the thing that I always come back to is just setting a timer. Usually it's for 25 minutes, but if I'm like really feeling like I can't do this, then I'll even do like 10 minutes or something. And just tell myself like, okay, for these 10 minutes you are going to commit to writing. And then after those 10 minutes are done, like, we'll go from there. Like if it's still not happening, then you know, we'll figure out what to do from there. But for these 10 minutes you are going to write if it's terrible.

Marie:
I love it. Oh, go ahead.

Madeline:
Oh, no. I was just gonna say like nine times outta 10. Once I do that, I'm like, okay, I'm good. I'm in it. But even if I'm not, then I'm like, okay, well I got 10 minutes of writing done. So, you know, then you can, then you can figure out where to go from there.

Marie:
Yeah. And for me, I find that like, probably everybody it's easier to edit something you already have on the page than oh yeah. To just stare at a blank page and create something out of nothing. Yes. So even if all you do is 10 minutes of writing or even five minutes of writing and then you step away from the computer for 15 minutes and then you come back and you're like, I'm just gonna at this. And then you probably find yourself writing at the end. So, yeah. I love it.
So, I love the timer or Pomodoro method to be able to just like crank out a little bit see how far that can get you. You were talking about creative writing and what like lessons learned from creative writing. So I have a few of those too.

Madeline:
Yeah. Definitely.

Marie:
So I was in October of 21, attending the virtual, Surrey international writers conference, which I highly recommend, especially for speculative fiction writers. But one of the things that kept coming up in that conference was about the nature of creativity. And I think it was author Eliza Palmer who talked about this, but don't quote me on that. I just really like her. And you should like for sure get on her newsletter, anybody who's listening to this cause she the best. But Liza I think with her, I'm just gonna give her credit was talking about like Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Madeline:
Yeah.

Marie:
Right. Like at the very bottom we have these like very basic needs around like food and shelter and at the top, that's where we have self-actualization and that's where creativity falls. And so if all these other needs in your life, like if you are struggling financially, which means that that may mean your food or your shelter or whatever is threatened. Right. And you're constantly living in a state of anxiety or if there's, I don't know a global pandemic or if there's like some other major stressor in your life, it makes it really hard for you to prioritize the top of the triangle, being your creativity. Because you kinda have to address those other things.
Like I even see this happen to me sometimes when I'm like, sometimes if I think I saw you post this on, on our Instagram recently, Madeline about like, what do you do? You know, you go clean, clean your desk. Right. And like, sometimes that's like a, a procrastination method, but sometimes that's actually what I need to have an orderly space.

Madeline:
No, totally, totally. Because if, if my office is like cluttered, I mean, yeah. It was so hard for me to be productive the entire month of October because I was, I got married at the beginning of November. And so the entire month of October for me was just like, Ah like wedding stuff and idea. I wide a lot of like my wedding projects, which was awesome. But my a like, it literally looked like Joanne's craft had exploded inside of my office. And like, I couldn't really put it away because I would work on it. Like after I had done my work, like I would be making like these like escort cards or table numbers or whatever. And I was just like, it was driving me insane that it was so cluttered. And I didn't even really realize it until like the week of the wedding when I had people staying at my house and I cleaned my office and I'm like, oh my God, this feels so much better.

Marie:
Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, I think that's like a, you know, a probably relatable example for a lot of people, like whatever those needs are for you. Like if you have a fulfilled those like basic needs for you and then sort of the intermediate needs for you, like give yourself a little bit of a breather because that is why creativity is hard for you in the moment, or that could be a significant reason.

Madeline:
Definitely, definitely. Yeah. I, I always like, I'm feeling really stressed for any reason, but you know, with work specifically in this situation, if I'm like, and I, and I notice myself getting into these like thought patterns of like, I'm not good at this, my writing is terrible. This client is going to hate this blah, blah, blah. I just have to like take a step back and be like, okay, when was the last time I ate something?

Marie:
Right?!

Madeline:
And when was the last time I had a glass of water and I like step, step away, get a snack, drink a glass of water. And then I'm like, usually I'm like, okay, all is not lost now.

Marie:
Yeah, exactly. I do that too. I, I also even like recently, oh, one moment. Why don't you chat about something? I'm gonna put my dog in the other room.

Madeline:
Okay. Sounds good. My dog also just raised her head at that. So we have our North Star pups on the podcast with us today. One thing that has helped me as well is like, again, this, this concept of like, you know, we can write or we can work whenever we want, since we don't really have like a set nine to five office schedule or whatever. And so for me is like, if I get a burst of creativity at like, I don't know, 11 o'clock at night, then just ride that wave and be okay with it. Even if it's not, when you're quote unquote supposed to be working, there have been several times when my husband comes and he is like, I'm going to bed. And I'm like, great. I'm in the middle of a draft, have fun. Like and just like letting that be okay. And even if it's not part of your normal routine or, or whatever, just letting that be okay. And then, you know, adjusting course if need be.

Marie:
I love that. Absolutely. Another thing that's helped me. So I refer to this as my old college novel reading trick. I developed this strategy during my second semester of my junior year, when I foolishly signed up to take three English classes that-

Madeline:
Oh, man.

Marie:
That all, all were dealing with full length novels. These weren't like three classes. One was like Victorian novels. And one was like, anyway, it's like a whole thing. So I was reading like three novels a week and it was like a lot. So, and also, that is definitely the one class where I did read the cliff notes for a few.

Madeline:
I was gonna say I took a, my senior year of college and I wasn't even an English major. So this was just like an elective. I took a Victorian novel class. I took the 200 level in the fall and the 300 level in the spring. And I love like British Victorian lit it's like one of my favorites, but I'm pretty sure there was the one, I think it was North and South that I did not finish. So my professor's listening. Sorry.

Marie:
Yeah, it was Bleak House for me.

Madeline:
Oh yeah. That's a long one.

Marie:
Yeah, it was long. And, and I was like, I'm just not getting into this. In any case, so other than my Bleak House failure, what I would do is I would look at basically this is a project management tip and it doesn't really help you when you're like one inch from the deadline, but it helps when you first get the project so that you can prevent yourself from being in the situation. So what I would do is like I would get the syllabus and then I would see like, okay, you know, Pride and Prejudice is due on August 30th. It's currently August 15th. This book has 300 pages. Therefore if I read 300 divided by 14 days, that gives me X number of pages per day. And then I would like write that on like a little sticky note that would become my bookmark for the day.
So it's like on Monday you read through from page one to 50 or what, I don't know what the page, whatever 27, like, whatever it is, you know? And, and then I would like check that off so that every day I would just be reading the same amount. So even if I missed a day, like, you know, then instead of just reading, having to read like 30 pages a day, then I would just have to read like 35 pages a day to, to get caught up and I could just edit it with my pencil. So it's the same thing with this. So if you see, like, okay, I've gotta write this like giant launch sequence. So as long as I just like write an email a day, you know, I can get there in time. Or maybe you're the kind of person who has a business model where you're like, I'm working for this client for the day and that's it. That's all they get. Okay, well then I just need to write like one email every 45 minutes and then I will have it done. So, you know, in that way, if you take a little extra time for lunch or a little less time or whatever, you can like adjust from there, but basically just kind of dividing it up into like bite size chunks as you go really helpful.

Madeline:
Absolutely. Yeah. And you know, that's something that I've learned in this job is to give myself extra time, like ideally, when I get a new project for a client, I, you know, I try to map out like, okay, this day I am going to do my research and my outlining. And then this day I am going to, I'm going to write half of the draft, and then this, the next day I'm gonna finish the half of the draft. And then the next day, you know, I have a date for like reviewing it before I send it off to the editor and bringing it down, like that makes it so that, you know, maybe the first day that I'm supposed to be drafting is just such a bad, low creativity day will where I'm like, I can't do anything much less, like write half of a blog post. And so then it's not the end of the world because I still have like two whole days to work on it.

Marie:
Totally.

Madeline:
Because the nice thing about, you know, writers block, right. Is that it, it never very well, very rarely lasts for like more than a day. I would say, usually if I'm having a really low creativity day, then you know, I just go to bed early and then get up and I'm like, okay, I feel better now. Yeah. Like the human version of like unplugging it and then plugging it back in.

Marie:
I love that. I love that. Yeah. And I-

Madeline:
But you have to give yourself of the time for that.

Marie:
Yeah. Yeah. It's like build in the time, assume writer's block may come for you. And then, like the other thing that really helps me is like little rewards along the way.

Madeline:
Yes.

Marie:
Right. So it could be something as small as like, when I finish this, I'm gonna go heat at my lasagna. Yay.

Madeline:
Yes, yes.

Marie:
You know, or it could be something really fun. Like when I finish this project, because you know, I get paid for it, then I'm gonna go buy this thing that I've been wanting to get or whatever it is. Like, I'm gonna go walk down the street with my dog and treat myself to ice cream. Like, it could be anything like.

Madeline:
My husband, he's not a writer, but he bought himself like a whole pack of like 50 gold star stickers on Amazon. And like, he, whenever he like finishes a task, he like puts a sticker next to it in his notebook, like, he's like that really works for me, but like that's adorable, but also it's, good's like, you get a sticker if you finished your draft well, finishing a draft probably calls from more than a sticker, but.

Marie:
Yeah. Like five stickers. I love that. Yeah. So whatever works for you.

Madeline:
Yeah, for sure. And you know, for me, it's like, and again, it's because I don't have that set schedule. Sometimes I fall into the trap of like telling myself like, okay, well, when you finish this draft, then you get to sit and have a glass of wine and read your book. Yeah. And then like, you know, the evil version of me is, but you could also just do that now. And I'm like, no. So luckily I've built up some self control to, you know, be able to say, okay, no, we're not doing that yet, but we can do that once we write this draft, because the other thing is like, I don't know if this is how your brain works, but it definitely is for mine if I'm like, even if I chose like, okay, I'm just gonna like, sit on the couch and read my book instead of writing my draft, I still wouldn't be able to enjoy it because I would still have this thing in the back of my mind about like, Hey, you have a deadline, you should be working on this.

Marie:
Yeah. Anxiety kicks in [inaudible] is real for me.

Madeline:
Yes, yes, absolutely. So what I find is, even if I am feeling like I have absolutely no creative energy for this, just sit down, set a timer for 10 minutes and see what happens.

Marie:
Yeah. And it's not to say you can't insert some, some pleasure or happiness into the process. In fact, that can be helpful. Right. So like maybe, you know, you can't go read the book right now, but maybe if it's a nice day outside, maybe you could like take your laptop out into the backyard, or go into a coffee shop. Or like, whatever it is, like place some music or light a candle, or like whatever that can just make the work environment a little bit more pleasant to be in.

Madeline:
Absolutely.

Marie:
So you don't feel like you're in jail.

Madeline:
Yes. When I used to write papers in college and I would become nocturnal during finals week, by my last two years of college, I'd really only had papers instead of exams. So I would just become nocturnal and just like make up pot of coffee at like nine o'clock at night and just write through the whole night.

Marie:
Oh gosh.

Madeline:
But I would intersperse it with like Beyonce dance breaks. Like I would have specific Beyonce song, dance breaks, built into my paper writing schedule.

Marie:
For real.

Madeline:
And I still do that sometimes.

Marie:
Yeah. So it like helps pump you up. It's a good reward. Gets your body moving. Like sometimes I think it's really easy to forget when you're writing, that you are more than just like two eyeballs and a set of 10 fingers on a keyboard. Like yeah. There actually is a body attached to you.

Madeline:
For sure.

Marie:
But that is something that helps me, right. Like kind of switching gears a little bit. Right. So like yeah. Taking a Beyonce dance break or, you know, like you said too, like making sure you've like had food or water or sleep or exercise or something like that, turning it off and on again as in yourself.
But also, right, like maybe, maybe something just to like, get the creative juices flowing, like try like a creative writing prompt. Maybe you're writing a very, you know, a blog post for what feels like a very dry industry. Like, I don't know, accounting or something like that, not to dis on accountants. Cause I actually kind of kind of fascinating, but you know, you're just like not, not doing it for you right then. So like maybe try, try a little, like, you know, writing prompt about, I don't know, dragons or something and like just then, you know, like, okay, well I am producing now, so let's see if I can take some of that producing energy.
Or maybe go read something that inspires you. Right. Like maybe like sometimes I'll just look up like great blog posts of 2021 and I'll just like, go read some stuff and I'll get some ideas that help me get, you know, some excitement about what I'm about to do for my client.

Madeline:
Absolutely. Yes, for sure. I think I posted on our Instagram today, but I have like, specific client playlists on Spotify as well to like help me get in the head space for writing for them as well. So even just like listening to a song on that client's playlist can help like spark some creativity.

Marie:
I wonder if their clients know that you do that for them. Cause they would probably love it.

Madeline:
I'll love to tell them, I'll share my Spotify playlist for you.

Marie:
But yeah, I love your last tip here. Can you share this?

Madeline:
Yes. Yes. So-

Marie:
It made be laugh cause I was like, oh duh.

Madeline:
Yes. My, what I wrote was if all those fails ask for help and then in parentheses, I added, but don't wait too long. Cause what I have had to learn the hard way is like they're going to be when you run into your deadline and you're like, this is, and it's, I think every writer has had this moment where you just realize this is not going to happen by the deadline. And so that, what do you do? You have to swallow your pride and ask for some help, whether that's grabbing your editor and saying, Hey, would you be able to step in and you know, write this for me or reaching out to your project coordinator and saying, Hey, I'm gonna need an extra day with this or whatever the case may be. But you know, it's, it's a thing of, you want to make sure that you are doing that in a way that respects everybody's time. And so if you are constantly reaching out to your project coordinator at the 11th hour saying, Hey, I need more time on this then they're going to lose patience with you fast.

Marie:
Yes. Or your client.

Madeline:
Right, right. Yeah. And you know, some, and sometimes you do even need to reach out to the client directly. And I've done that before. I've said, Hey, I am working on this. And I really, really want to make sure that I get this right. And I just need a little bit more time with it. And I think that every time I have done that the client has been like, of course take the time you need. Like I would rather have you take more time and produce something that is good and just cobble something together at the last second. But yes. Ask for help and ask for help sooner rather than later, if you're feeling stuck.

Marie:
Yeah.

Madeline:
That's one of the things that has been hardest for me to learn, but has most important.

Marie:
Yeah. I love that. And yeah, cuz I, I mean, we kind of baked that into our business model because our company was founded by two people. And so even now when we have 11 people on the team, we still tackle client projects in groups of two writers plus a project coordinator. But I know that a lot of people listening to this, they're probably like the only writer at their company because the company is them. And so it may seem like there's no help out there, but there are, there are communities out there where you can reach out to other writers for help. You can always establish, like partnerships with other writers who you kind of jive with, or you are able to write similarly to, or you have like aligned values where, you know, you can reach out to each other in times of need. Right.
There's also the Polaris writer lounge, which is our free slack community for, for writers where you can meet some of those people and maybe cultivate some of those relationships or ask the questions like, yeah, this I, this project is coming due and I don't know what to do. And you're like just looking for some help or some brainstorming or anything like that community is available for that.
And in fact, that's your home homework to join the Polaris writer lounge, which you can find at northstarmessaging.com/Polaris-writers-lounge, it's also gonna be in the show notes. So you don't have to like, remember all that.

Madeline:
Yeah. It's a lot of fun.

Marie:
Cool. Well, hopefully this episode's been helpful for everybody. And hopefully not timely, hopefully like you're totally in flow at all times and you didn't need this at all, but if you did, or if you think you might in the future and like, you know, kind of book mark, some of this stuff, yeah. Just know you're not alone. And we all go through this and hopefully, you know, some of our, our tips will be helpful for you as you face those deadlines and conquer your writer's block.

Madeline:
Yes, absolutely.

Marie:
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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