Writer's block. It's the eternal nemesis of anyone who has ever had to turn thoughts into written words. Most of us have been there, and it's always a frustrating problem to overcome. Here's how to bust through blocks.
For journalists like myself (and other professionals whose livelihood depends on their ability to communicate written information in a timely fashion), writer's block can be more than a mere annoyance. It's "publish or perish" for us, as they say in the world of academia. Even the best reporters and copywriters face a lull in inspiration from time to time, and they can either power through it, or face the consequences.
At least once or twice a week, I hit a wall when I'm writing. It's like not being able to fall asleep when you know you have to wake up early the next day: You watch the time tick by, knowing that each minute you're not sleeping (or, in this case, writing) is a minute wasted, and there's going to be hell to pay in the morning. These bouts of writer's block used to really throw me off, but I've found a few helpful tricks to overcome the dread of a blank white screen. Here are four things you can do to beat your writer's block:
1. Create an outline. Do you have a mess of notes and links that you can't figure out how to turn into an article or post? Try creating a rough outline with bullet points and sentence fragments. If you can at least organize the notes you have, you may be able to start envisioning it as a fully formed written piece.
2. Write out of order. A lot of writers tend to get stuck on their introduction or lead. Instead of wasting time thinking about how to start your piece, begin with something from the middle. Use a placeholder for your intro – I usually just write [intro] – and move on to the next paragraph. Sometimes having the core of your article in place can get the ball rolling and help you figure out what to say in the beginning. Just don't forget to come back to it before you submit the piece!
3. Write anything. I don't recommend doing this often, but if you're really struggling and need to get your piece written, just get something – anything – down on the page. It doesn't matter if it's bad, or grammatically incorrect, or full of typos. Spit out a sentence and work backwards. I sometimes find that it's easier to edit and rework a bad paragraph than craft a really good one on the first try.
4. Work on other tasks. When all else fails, put whatever you're working on aside and do something else. And by "something else," I don't mean go on Facebook for an hour. Tackle another short but productive task that you've been meaning to get to. Checking other things off your to-do list will take some of the pressure off when you revisit your writing. Be sure to set a time limit for these other tasks, too, if deadlines are a concern.
Of course, every writer is different, so what works for me may not necessarily be right for you. Other journalists/copywriters/authors/media professionals: How do you overcome writer's block?
Related post: The Write Stuff: How to Improve Your Writing Skills