Sprint to the finish line: becoming unstuck when writing

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself getting stuck from time-to-time, unable to move forward with a piece of writing or a presentation.

This can happen before you’ve even started, or somewhere in the middle, when doubts begin to creep in about what you’re trying to say and why.

The best way I’ve found to get through this is with a trick I’ve nicknamed “Sprint to the finish line”.

For me, the blockage usually happens because of a perfectionist voice in my head that says “don’t do anything until you can do it perfectly”. This very quickly snowballs into existential doubts about whether my original idea actually has any validity at all, and alarming thoughts of drastically changing tack (often when there isn’t time to do so).

What I’ve learned is that it’s actually the process of working an idea into a narrative that tells me whether or not it’s valuable. Trying to pre-empt that leads to overthinking, which in turn leads to paralysis.

So the idea of “Sprint to the finish line” is to go through that process as quickly as possible, and postponing evaluation and refinement until after you’ve become unstuck.

How it works

1. Acknowledge you’ve become stuck

This sounds basic, but it’s actually very easy to grind to a panicky halt, procrastinating and putting it off, without realising what’s happened. Identifying and accepting the fact you’ve become blocked is the first step to fixing it.

2. Recommit to your original idea

Remind yourself that you once felt compelled by the idea you’re doubting.

99% of the time, even if you’ve identified gaps and flaws along the way, the idea still holds value. The value might be different from what you first envisioned, but the evolution of your thinking is useful—for yourself and most likely for others, too.

Commit to seeing the idea through and trust that you’ll gain valuable insights along the way.

3. Get to the end as quickly as you can

The aim of this bit is to produce something you can critically evaluate and refine, so focus on getting it done, not doing it well.

If you’re writing an article, jot down messages as bullet points. If you’re working on a presentation, include placeholder slides with key words or phrases that capture what you want to say—you can flesh out later.

If you encounter any major questions or doubts along the way, make a note of them and keep going.

Above all, just keep going until you’re at the end.

4. Walk away

Take a break. Leave it overnight if you can. If not, go for a walk or do something distracting. The point of this is to give your brain a break and time to digest. It also helps you transition from creator mode into editor mode.

5. Edit your work

Now you’ve taken some time away, you can come to the much easier, more enjoyable and less daunting task of editing your work—in my opinion anyway.

I love Caroline Jarrett’s guide to editing.

Try to prioritise your improvements, placing most importance on the ones you must do before sharing your work (for example, turning memory-jogger phrases into full sentences, or adding images you’ve left placeholders for).

The best bit about editing is that you no longer have to overcome the hurdle of writing the thing—you already did.

From here, things can only get better (it’s OK if you sang this).

Over to you

I hope you’ll find the “Sprint to the finish line” method as helpful as I do.

Give it a try and let me know how you get on.