The two words that (nearly) always cure writer’s block

You’re sitting staring and the page. You don’t know what to type. And the deadline is looming.

Two words will break your trance:

“Look, stupid.”

Allow me to explain.

What causes writer’s block

This advice is for nonfiction writers only. (If you write fiction, you need advice from somebody else.)

There are plenty of rational reasons for writer’s block.

You may have nothing to say. You may have not done the research. You may have no plan on how to get started.

But sometimes you’re just “stuck.” The two words can help you get unstuck.

“Look, stupid.”

Sit at your keyboard. Open a new document. Visualize somebody in your audience — somebody who really needs to hear what you have to say.

Now type this:

Look, stupid.

Then start typing what comes into your mind next. What do they really need to hear? What do you want to unload? What do people just not understand?

Keep going as long as you can. Build arguments. Make good points. Support your evidence. Show that stupid (actually, ignorant) person what you know, what they really need to know.

Based on my experience, this will unblock the blocked. It doesn’t generate the most beautiful, well organized prose, but it does shake loose things worth saying.

Why it works

Obviously, your audience isn’t stupid. So why does this work?

It gets you riled up and emotional. When you’re blocked, that works better than logic to unblock you.

It focuses you on the audience. Thinking about what you want to say to an audience is a good place to start.

It is conversational. It generates conversational writing, which tends to flow better than other stilted forms of writing. Everyone can speak — and if you can speak, this method helps you go from speaking to writing.

I recommend the “Look, stupid” method especially for student writers. It generates movement in people who don’t know where to start. It’s always easier to edit roughly created work than to start creating it in the first place.

Now fix it

Now that I’ve unblocked you, please don’t publish what you wrote this way. While this method generates action, it does not generate the best prose.

Look at what you wrote.

First of all, delete the “Look, stupid.” You don’t want to insult the audience, after all.

Then examine what you wrote. Which ideas and phrases are worth saving? What organization would suit them best? Revise your yawp into actual well-structured prose.

Next time, start with a fat outline. Fat outlines are easier to create, reduce anxiety, and ease the transition from researching to writing.

Keep your “Look, stupid” in a glass case. If you use it too much, you’ll become a shouter, not a writer.

But keep it available. In case of incurable writer’s block, break the glass.

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