We’ve all been there. You have a deadline fast approaching– a college term paper, a summary to get to your boss, or entering a writing contest– and your fingers hover over the keyboard, unable to proceed further.

How can you overcome writer’s block? Here are some techniques I use to be more productive with my writing.

Write a Story

It’s scientifically proven that stories can invoke feelings and empathy in readers. Stories often resonate better than straight facts do, and it’s a powerful way to connect with your audience.

Mimic the Experts

What makes you click on a blog post or email newsletter? What makes you keep reading the entire thing? Start taking note of what attracts you, and try to embody similar things in your own writing. It’s okay to look to the experts for inspiration.

Say it out loud

I distinctly remember the day that our 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Burpee, brought in several pieces of pipe that looked like this:

He instructed each of us to take one, hold it up to our ear like a phone, then whisper our personal narrative drafts into one end. It’s amazing what a difference hearing your own voice makes– it was also a great exercise for those of us shy kids who hated sharing our work out loud.

Reading over your work out loud can help you not only find typos, but also eliminate boring or unnecessary sentences, and brainstorm new ideas.

Outline It

This one’s an oldie, but a goodie. After making hundreds of outlines through schooling, I thought I’d never want to make one again. Turns out, my teachers and professors were right all along.

Outlines are a simple, but highly efficient way to plan out your thoughts. Start off by identifying your topic, and then brainstorming all the ideas that relate to it (“word vomit,” if you will). Next, categorize related ideas under topic subheadings. Finally, place them in a logical order, and fill in the gaps using transition words and phrases.

Take Breaks

When you try to write for hours on end, your mind gets tired and it’s easy to run out of ideas. Instead, break up your writing segments by using the pomodoro technique – write for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. These 30-minute “pomodoros” are just the right length of time to be productive. I like to use this online Tomato Timer.

Write What You Know

Finally, take a step back and examine your own life. Chances are, you’re probably an expert in something and you might not even know it. What you do might be novel and useful to someone else.

Are you a productivity hack geek? An extreme couponer? A rare baseball card collector? Write about it!

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