When the Words Won’t Come
For writers, words are our product. When writer’s block strikes, it’s like the factory shutting down. It’s especially bad news for freelance writers, because when the words don’t come, the checks don’t come either. So just like factories, we can’t afford a work – or a word – stoppage.
As a result, people use lots of tricks for getting over writer’s block. Free association. Googling a word to see what comes up. Starting an assignment in the middle then working back to the beginning. A hot shower or a long walk. Here’s what I suggest:
Focus – Before starting, ask yourself: Do I have a clear understanding of my topic? Do I know who I’m writing to? Do I know why I’m writing this: am I introducing a new topic, or advancing a story that’s already out there? Sometimes when you have trouble getting started it means you don’t have a firm grasp of what you’re writing about.
Verbalize – Pretend you’re having a conversation with a friend. Can you distill your topic into one easy-to-understand sentence? Can you say it out loud? If so, write it down and get started.
Break it down – Once you’ve got the what and why down, you’re ready to tackle the project. Do you know how long it has to be? If so, you can break the assignment into chunks: a 750-word story might need a 150- to 200-word intro, 450 words of content, and 50 to 100 words to wrap things up. If you can come up with the lead and nut graph, the rest of the text should follow. Or, outline points you need to hit, then go back and fill in with your supporting material.
Write it through – Sometimes if you’re stuck, it helps to write through an entire piece as fast as you can to get everything down without worrying about how detailed or polished it is. Then go back through to add facts, rewrite and refine.
Settle for good – It’s easy to get hung up on writing the best lead ever, or picking the perfect anecdote to illustrate a point. But at what cost? If your search for perfection keeps you from moving forward, it’s not worth it, especially if it means missing a deadline.
Use peak energy time – If you can afford to write during your most productive time of day, do it. If you’re a morning person, there’s nothing worse that trying to summon your creative energies at the end of the day when you’re brain dead. Instead, sit down at the computer the first thing in the morning when you’re thinking straight. If you’re a night owl, put those productive late-night hours to good use. Shut the door, ignore the TV, phone, email, etc., and pound away.
Forget about it – Stop consciously thinking about your article and let your subconscious take over. Inspiration could strike at any time. When it does, stop what you’re doing, grab a pen and paper or race to the computer.
Write all the time. It’s not always easy, but writing every day gets you into the groove, so when writer’s block strikes, you can dig your way out.