Sunday, December 25, 2011

What to do when you have writer's block

Writer's block?

Please allow me to suggest a couple of remedies. In my 10 years as a corporate writing coach, I've seen hundreds of people get unstuck using both of these approaches.

(1) List questions from the audience's perspective.

(2) List your ideas as fragments rather than full sentences.

Why list questions

Writer's block often comes from failing to adequately "pre-write" -- that is, to think critically and do research before settling in to begin composing. If you pause to imagine yourself in your audience's shoes and think from their perspective about your topic, it can be helpful to simply list questions that you think the audience might ask. This can jump-start an effective pre-writing effort that, once initiated, is likely to flow readily and will feel to you like intuition.

It could be that you have writer's block because you simply weren't ready to begin.

Why write fragments

Another common reason for writer's block is self-censoring too early in your writing process. Have you ever typed eight words across the page, then backspaced to delete three of them, typed two more, then backspaced over five, and so on? You can work for a half-hour like this and end up with a grand total of four words on the page.

We've all been there at some time or another, right?

Or worse still, you sit there just staring, unable to compose a first sentence while your mind races, unproductively creating and rejecting possibilities in rapid succession.

In these cases, try writing in fragments instead of sentences. This will release your over-active censor. Misspelled word? Fine. Wrong tone? No prob. Incomplete thought? All of these are OK while listing your ideas as fragments.

When bad is in fact good

No need to make a pretty sentence ... yet. Really, it's too early for that. You should be in "free-writing" mode, not "re-writing" mode. Free-writing means slapping it all down without finessing the details. In this phase, you have permission to write what I delicately spell in make-believe French as "crappe." Let me say it again: You have permission to write "crappe." (wink wink)

The act of listing your ideas as fragments breaks the unhelpful brainwave pattern that comes with editing/censoring/rewriting. Instead, you'll slip without noticing into a different brainwave pattern conducive to creating rather than polishing. Again, as with Remedy No. 1 above, you'll find yourself in the flow and enjoying a feeling of writing intuitively.

These tips are like diving boards. Once you rise up and break the surface with either of these deliberate acts, you will find your natural buoyancy and enjoy new momentum and freedom.

If you want examples, check out this previous related post.