In this resource, we will offer twenty-one strategies for overcoming writer’s block. We don’t recommend trying all these at once, though! Choose two or three that seem interesting and give them a shot when preparing your next piece of writing.
One of the realities of ministry is that pastors are constantly writing. Sermons, lessons, emails, newsletters, reports, evaluations, social media posts . . . the list keeps on going.
Pastors are practically word machines who have to keep feeding content to a hungry congregation. After all, the guiding force of our spiritual lives is a book of words (the Bible), so there is an expectation that pastors must have an endless source of words as well.
Sometimes, though, the well runs dry. Few things are as frightening to a pastor as writer’s block. You sit down work on a sermon or lesson and you come up empty. The result is a lot of wasted time, not to mention the frustration that comes with not being able to produce the words you need.
Pastors can get writer’s block for all kinds of reasons: fatigue, stress, burnout, lack of creative input, and distraction, to name just a few. No matter the reason, the result is the same: a blank page that must be filled on a deadline.
There is an intimate brain-body connection that writers can easily miss. We spend a huge amount of time sitting at a desk putting words together, but unlocking lots of creative energy can be as simple as taking a walk.
When you combine this with the capability of modern phones to transcribe your dictation, it is a powerful way to write. The next time you feel stuck, get up from your chair and take a walk around the building or down the street. When you can you talk out your thoughts, it helps the words to get flowing much easier.
Back in the old days, everyone had their own well. You would have to “prime the pump” by moving the handle up and down to get the air out of the line and draw the water.
The same thing applies to writing. You have to get the creative process moving. A simple way to do this is to just start writing about your topic—whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t mean you will necessarily use that material. It’s just a way to get the words flowing so the good stuff can flow to the surface.
This sounds so obvious, but it’s worth mentioning here: outlining your material before you actually write it is an effective way to write faster. Even if you only take a few minutes to sketch out an introduction, main points, and conclusion, it can save a boatload of time when you sit down to write.
The biggest reason we face writer’s block is that we simply don’t know what to say. Having an outline in front of you eliminates most of this frustration.
Your definition of “interesting” will be different than the next person’s. But the point is to grab something off the shelf (or read it on your Kindle) that inspires or entertains you.
It might be a book of sermons, a screenplay, some poetry, a thoughtful book by a modern author, or even a graphic novel. The point is to introduce a creative element into your thought process and get you out of a rut. We all get into ruts sometimes, and great writing is a wonderful tool to pull us out.
This amazing tool is designed to help you tackle the individual parts of a sermon by themselves. Instead of starting at a blank Word document, you have dedicated spots for each section of the sermon.
But not only that, the Sermon Editor gives you many different templates to help you organize your sermon. This is a fantastic way to ensure you have a balanced, well-structured sermon. It also helps you break writer’s block since you are not facing the typical blank page.
Many pastors block out a large chunk of time to work on their sermon. But you don’t necessarily have to do it this way. In fact, if you plan several smaller chunks of time, you can work more quickly and take the pressure off of writing the whole things at once.
For example, you might want to write a sermon introduction on Monday, the main points on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the conclusion or application on Thursday. When you break it up like this, you can schedule your writing time around other activities, therefore reducing the need to set aside a huge amount of time all at once.
This can also help you on weeks where you have an unexpected crisis or a couple of funerals. Those weeks can easily wreck your well-laid plans. But when you write in smaller chunks, there is less pressure and more flexibility, which works well with the ebb and flow of a typical pastor’s week.
When you are working on a lesson, sermon, or other content to be published, it is easy to put pressure on yourself to “sound good.” But you can take away that pressure by pretending you are writing an email. An email is less formal and more conversational, and therefore, more free-flowing.
Likewise, pick a specific person who would theoretically receive the email. Consider how they might receive the message and address concerns they might raise. This will put hands on feet on the content and make it more personal.
These are the classic who, what, why, when, and how questions that writers use to get the details of a story. Simply apply these to your topic, essentially interviewing yourself, and you will immediately start generating ideas.
Additionally, put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Choose one person from your congregation and imagine the kinds of questions they would ask about your topic. Or, you can think about their specific situation and apply your topic to them. This will generate some ideas that will help take your topic from abstract concepts to real-life truth and action steps.
It’s the old carrot-and-stick principle. But yet, it works! If you are feeling blocked, what kind of simple reward can you give yourself for finishing your work? Maybe it’s a trip to the coffee shop, a few minutes of watching your favorite TV show, or even a nap.
Better yet, you can create a little more accountability by having to show your work to someone else, who then dispenses the reward. You get the added bonus of actually getting the reward, plus the knowledge that someone else knows you hit your goal. A double win!
Sometimes you need to put a little pressure on yourself. A great way to do this is by using a timer. You can use an app or an old-fashioned kitchen timer that clicks away the seconds.
For some people, the pressure of the ticking clock is a motivating force that kicks the creative energy into high gear. Many times, we are not productive because we have too much time. A timer takes away this factor and encourages you to take action.
Free writing means exactly that—you are writing with no constraints. Set a timer for ten minutes, put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write whatever comes to mind. This may seem strange at first, and you may even write something like, “I don’t know what to write.”
But once your fingers are moving, something will come to mind. It is astounding what comes out of your mind, and how the creative obstacles fall, when you simply start writing.
We are creatures of habit and tend to write in the same location all the time. If you are feeling blocked, switch your location and see how the change of scenery helps you get a fresh perspective.
It doesn’t need to be a complicated ordeal. If you normally work in the church office, go to a coffee shop. If you normally write at the coffee shop, try working at the library or at home.
A key element of creativity is introducing new elements into the mix. Changing your location is a simple and fun way to do this.
This sounds like obvious advice, but sometimes we get in such a hurry to finish a task that we forget to actually take a break and rest. When you are working on a lesson or sermon that requires multiple hours, be sure to take a quick break every hour.
When you do this, get up and walk around. It helps clear your mind and get your blood flowing again. Sometimes we forget that we are physical creatures. Our creative powers depend on things like hydration, oxygen, and blood circulation. A short break can have a powerful impact on dealing with writer’s block.
A common trap that blocks writers from making progress is the bad habit of editing as you write. When you do this, it slows your progress and makes everything harder.
If you are prone to this, try switching it up. The next time you write, get a first draft done as fast as humanly possible. It won’t be great, and you will likely have some typos and other errors. But you will have a complete draft that you can go back and edit.
If you struggle with being a perfectionist, this strategy can work wonders and break your need to be perfect. Remember, only God is perfect. The rest of us need to edit. You can do this on the second draft, but get that “terrible” first draft done quickly so you can feel like you have made progress.
Adults often scold young people for wasting time with video games. But truthfully, a little video game time never hurt anyone. In fact, it can provide a great break from the monotony of writing.
Don’t feel guilty about playing games. The music, characters, and challenges of video games can stimulate your creative thinking and help you make progress on your writing.
Most of the time, pastors work alone when they create. But it is becoming increasingly acceptable (and preferable) for pastors to work in teams. You find this a lot as larger churches where they have a preaching rotation.
Even if you don’t have that luxury, you can enlist the help of a writing partner. Perhaps it’s a pastor from another church, and you are preaching through the same series. Maybe it’s a staff member of your church who is good with writing. It might be a professor from a local college or a writer you know.
The arrangement needs to be beneficial for you both. Any way you slice it, having a creative partner can be a big help in getting you motivated and providing some accountability.
Everyone has a favorite author they admire. When you feel stuck, grab a book by your favorite one and type out a paragraph from one of their books verbatim. This may sound crazy, but typing their words has a profound effect on interrupting the voice inside your own head.
As you access that author’s voice by typing their words, it awakens your own voice and helps you get the creative juices flowing again.
We write in our own voice, but what if you use someone else’s? Pretend you are a famous pastor, your favorite superhero, a historical figure, or your third cousin. How would they write?
This is essentially what a ghostwriter does—communicating in someone else’s voice. When you take this approach, you access a different part of your creativity because it’s like putting on a costume. Of course, you’ll be writing this eventually as yourself, but switching voices is a great way to break writer’s block.
One of the reasons we experience writer’s block is because we get lost inside our own heads. A simple way to avoid this is to have someone give you prompts about your topic.
For example, if you are preaching a sermon about faith, come up with a few questions about faith and have the other person do a mock interview. When you talk out your responses, it engages different parts of your brain because you are talking about your responses instead of writing them down.
This sounds like a crazy idea, but it really works. The simple act of someone giving you prompts has an amazing effect on your ability to share your thoughts on the topic.
It seems so obvious, but we miss this strategy so much of time: simply praying. It is easy to get caught up in the activity we are working on, only to forget to ask for divine guidance.
When you are creatively blocked, what do you ask for? Ask for wisdom, guidance, creativity, the right words, a new idea—anything that comes to mind. James 1:5 says, “ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV).
There is no reason to think this does not apply to writer’s block as well. After all, you are writing material for God’s people. God is highly concerned about the effectiveness of what you write and will respond when you ask for His help.
This is a terrible way to select a sermon or lesson text . . . but it works wonders for your creativity. Grab a print Bible and crack it open to a random spot. Read the chapter and see if it spurs your thinking.
You can also be deliberate with what you’re reading, but either way, the result is the same: you are diving into God’s Word for inspiration and a creative boost. You will probably find that a word, phrase, story, or metaphor will spur your thinking and get you out of that creative rut.
There you have it: twenty-one ways pastors can defeat writer’s block. As we mentioned before, don’t try all of these at once. Just choose two or three to test out this coming week. You might be surprised how effective they are in helping you blow past writer’s block and become even more productive than you ever thought possible.