Proven cures for writer’s block
In case of emergency, re-read this post. It only takes 6 minutes.
When it comes to writing—PowerPoints, brochures, scopes of work, blogs, tweets, a speech for your best friend’s wedding, thank-you notes, you name it—performance anxiety is real. Even the most seasoned scriptwriters and essayists find themselves stuck much more often than they’ll ever care to admit.
The cruel irony is that the harder you try to write, the more paralyzing it can become. Soon, you find your mind wandering aimlessly, spinning with questions about your qualifications and the life choices that brought you to this stage of your existence. What am I doing? Why is this so difficult? Who am I?
“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”
-Robert De Niro, while presenting the Best Screenplay nominees at the 86th Academy Awards
Relax. It doesn’t have to be that way.
There are so many tricks to get over the hump of writer’s block.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Get more information.
If you can’t figure out what to write, chances are you don’t have enough information.
- What do you know about the product, service or experience you’re trying to sell?
- What do you wish you knew more about?
- Can you visit the factory/location/facility where it’s made?
- Can you interview an expert on the subject?
- Is there background research on the target audience?
It’s impossible to write anything of substance if you don’t have any substance from which to build upon. Right? Remember, it’s always okay to take a step back and gather more intel.
Once you have enough to work with, start writing.
2. Write hot. Edit cold.
This piece of advice comes from Luke Sullivan, author of “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.” Now in its 5th edition, I highly recommend this tome (I still keep a dog-eared copy on my desk).
Sullivan’s approach goes something like this: First, write. Just write. Pour your heart out. Don’t stop to review or tweak. Get every last idea onto the page and then walk away.
Later (maybe after lunch, or the next day), be “ruthless” in your editing. Pick apart your writing with an objective eye. Find the best nuggets and hone them…work them until they can’t be worked any further. Then, start the process over again.
Sullivan is spot on. You can’t write and edit simultaneously. The rational part of your brain takes over, and the creative part of your brain surrenders. You end up with the most bland, boring, blehhh content that no one wants to read. Not even you.
When you can’t figure out how to begin, do what Sullivan says and just write. Get your ideas out. The good stuff will follow. You can edit later.
If that doesn’t work, try this…
3. Read more.
That’s right. Read.
When you’re stuck, and I mean really stuck, one of the best things you can do is to read. Anything will work, but try reaching for something outside the subject area that you’re writing about.
For example, if you’re working on something scientific, pick up an architecture magazine. If your topic is food, pick up a book about classic cars.
Exploring a seemingly unrelated subject may give you an unexpected boost or new idea. At a minimum, you’ll give your mind a much-needed break.
4. Switch your style.
With a new medium comes new ideas.
Are you typically a typer? Cut the computer out of the equation. Pick up an old-fashioned pencil and paper instead.
Want to stay tech-y? Try a tablet and stylus. You could even write on your phone. Evernote is a great app for this. Note: If you’re self-conscious about using your phone at your desk, be sure to tell your colleagues that you’re actually working.
Another often overlooked method for pushing through writer’s block is to dictate your ideas. I bet your smart phone already has a free voice recorder app installed. Use it. Then, transcribe your thoughts later and take out all the awkward pauses, umms and non-sequiturs. It works. In fact, I used this method for about half of this blog post. Remember—always write (or speak) hot, edit cold.
It works. In fact, I used this method for about half of this blog post. Remember—write (or speak) hot, edit cold. See point #2 above.
5. Get out of your box.
Give yourself permission to roam, if you want to. Leave the office and go to the park, bookstore (if you can find one anymore), coffee shop or alley behind the building. Create your own serendipity.
Still can’t figure out what to write? Send me an email. I like helping people.
It’s the write thing to do.