By writer’s block I’m talking about that feeling you get when you try to type something (an email, an article, a sales promotion, anything) and the words just won’t come out. It’s not fun, you just sit there feeling like a useless blob.
He thought it was a ‘psychological thing’… I thought he was talking nonsense.
Whatever you want to call it: procrastination, lack of focus, boredom… stage fright even – we’ve all been there and know how frustrating it can be. You can have all the good intention in the world but sometimes the words just dry up.
The cause of writer’s block can vary. We all tick along to a different beat and our temperament and even mood that day can affect how we write. So what can you do to overcome it?
How to beat writer’s block
Here are few tips and tricks you can use to take on the curse of writer’s block – and win.
– Jot down your key objectives: Write exactly down what it is you want your reader to ‘take away’ with them – otherwise you’ll be stop-start and making it up as you go along. Whether you’re writing a 10,000 word essay on St Johns Wort, or a 500 word sales promotion for a toaster – have a conclusion ready. For example, a sales promotion needs to cover the specific benefits of the product you’re selling. If you’re not sure what these are yet, you’re not ready to start writing. Keep researching, brainstorming and taking notes until you’re 100% clear about the message you want to put across.
– Pull the plug… on everything: Modern life is a minefield of bleeps, flashing images and popup windows. These constant distractions are responsible for more than their fair share of writer’s block casualties. TV, radio, other people talking… the INTERNET – turn it all off. Physically unplug your Internet cable (or switch off your Wi-Fi) so that you can’t accidentally drift off and web surf that actor who’s name you couldn’t remember. Being offline means no email notifications, software updates or unwanted interruptions.
BONUS TIP: For anyone who finds the ‘distraction’ bit particularly tricky, there’s a fantastic (and free) writing tool you can pick up here called Ommwriter that works on Macs, PCs and iPads. I’ve reviewed it on the website here.
– Sack the vocalist: Musical preference is a personal thing. I know some people who can only work effectively if they’ve got death metal blaring away on their speakers. Others find that the dulcet warbles of Engelbert Humperdink helps them to focus. For most of us, however, music with heavy vocals will zap away at our concentration as our brain subconsciously tries to latch on to the lyrics. Instead plump for classical or instrumental music to ease yourself into the creative flow.
– Put a gun to your head: I should make it clear that I’m talking about an imaginary gun here. Imagine that you’re in a life or death situation. Someone’s hovering over you and if you don’t start writing RIGHT NOW it’s curtains. It might sound silly, like self-help psychobabble even, but it works. Clear your head of everything else and convince yourself that if you don’t get your message across this second something terrible will happen. The adrenaline rush will give your typing speed a boost and your prose great clarity. Even if you think you’re typing gibberish at first, stick with it, the good stuff will come – remember you can always edit later.
– Write like you talk: Try not to think about how your words will come across before you write them. You’ll worry yourself into a blind frenzy over style and technique and won’t get anything down. Write down the dialogue exactly as it sounds in your head – as if you were taking minutes in a courtroom. Stylistic tweaks can come later. It takes some practice, but master this and you’ll find your prose more fluent and less ‘forced’ sounding.
– Eat, drink and sleep clever: Boring but vital. Rest and nourishment play a huge part in our ability to string a sentence together. By getting at least 8 hours sleep the night before, you’ll ensure your neurons are firing on all cylinders. Keep your blood sugar levels constant (proper meals and snacks rather than candy floss and battered Mars bars) and remember to take frequent sips of water so you don’t get dehydrated.
– Go walkabout: There are a thousand different reports telling us how frequently we need to leap out of our office chairs and do star jumps… or whatever else morning television experts are recommending we do this week. A good rule of thumb is to take short breaks in 15 – 30 minute intervals. Stand up, stretch your legs, grab a glass of water or nip outside for a minute. Several short, sharp productive bursts are far more valuable than one long, dribbling zombie marathon.
Try a combination of these techniques. Some of us are more deadline driven – in which case you might find the ‘gun to the head’ technique works wonders. Others who struggle with structure and planning will find jotting down bullet points first before switching off the outside world will help focus the mind.