4 ways to loosen your writing muscles (and get stuff on paper)

Maybe you’ve heard that the best way to overcome writer’s block is to do some prewriting before you tackle the big task. Prewriting is simply anything that comes before the major writing task, from researching to note-taking to doing brainstorming exercises. There are countless ways to get you started on those daunting pages of writing. Below are four painless ways to loosen your writing muscles and gear you up for the word crunch.

Read up

Read as much as you can on the topic you’re writing about. If there are gaps in your knowledge about the topic, fill them. Explore what others have to say and any advice they give. Furthermore, read writing that resonates with you. Is there something especially effective about the writing style? Does the author present a unique perspective? What you take in during the reading and researching process will impact how you approach your own written work.


Keeping a regular journal gives you an outlet for expressing original thoughts and ideas, perspectives you want to experiment with before sharing with others. Journaling can help you generate new ways of looking at a problem or situation. Instead of thinking of journaling as a catalog of your day’s events, approach it with the attitude that any thought, no matter how “out-there,” is a legitimate thought and worthy of pursuit. Writing only what feels safe and predictable will not lead to meaningful ideas. Your journal is your own. Express your thoughts, play with ideas, then put the pen and paper aside and get back to work. You may just find your writing muscles well stretched and ready to tackle the big tasks.


Perhaps you’ve heard of freewriting. It’s sometimes used in therapy to help people unload their thoughts, no matter how trivial and seemingly insignificant. The guidelines are simple: pick up your writing medium of choice (physical or electronic) and write. Don’t stop and look over what you’ve written; just focus on what is currently running through your mind. In this case, it’s okay to let go of perfectionism and let disorganized, bad writing make it out of your brain into the observable universe. While it may look like silly babble, there is something worthwhile to it. Freewriting can free you to express your thoughts in a way the hypercritical part of your mind may not have allowed. Some great stuff can come from that jumbled mess.

Use the one-inch picture frame

This concept comes from Anne Lamott, a humorous author who shares tons of great writing insight in her book, Bird by Bird. In the book, she describes the one-inch picture frame technique: imagine you have a picture frame with a one-inch diameter. Now imagine you’re sitting at your desk suffering from a case of writer’s block. Pick up that imaginary picture frame and hold it up to the screen or page and think, what small, one-inch detail can I write about? Don’t look at the whole picture. Only write what you can see through the one-inch picture frame. If this means you only write 50 words out of 3,000, so what? You didn’t give in to writer’s block. Furthermore, when you get just a bit down on paper, you may feel successful enough to tackle the next one-inch detail. And the next.

In summary, you’ll almost always want to read up on your topic before sitting down to write. Journaling, on the other hand, accustoms you to freely expressing yourself without worrying that others will see it. Freewriting can be done regularly (in your journal), or as a warm-up exercise before the big task begins, and the one-inch picture frame is a great way to pull your mind out of its petrified state and channel it into a more manageable, bite-sized task.

If there are other exercises or tips that have helped you flex your writing muscles, please share them below!

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