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How to beat writer’s block
Writer’s block, eh? Everyone who has ever lifted a pen, opened up a Word document or inserted a crisp sheet of paper into a typewriter has encountered it. You know what you need to write, but your mind’s blank, you don’t know where to start and you’ve got a deadline rapidly approaching.
As a professional writer and semi-professional procrastinator of some years, I know a thing or two about writer’s block. More importantly, I know some ways I’ve beaten it in the past, so let’s share the knowledge!
1. Plan it out
It can be an essay, a chapter in a novel, a freelance feature you’ve only just opened up two hours before the deadline (ahem) – it doesn’t matter. You know kind of what you should be writing, so you can start leaving map markers of where you’re going from and to.
Let’s say it’s a review. You know the areas you need to cover, so write down the topics in caps, and suddenly a 2,000 word piece is six 333 word mini-essays. Far easier to start, and you can tackle it in any order. Sweet!
Same is true with a short story, or the chapter in a novel: you know what has to happen over the course, so break it down into main events, then connect the dots.
2. Just get it down.
There’s something to be said for just getting something down on paper. Batter writer’s block into submission by just writing anything.
Yes, yes, I know you’re precious about your words and the way it reads, and the way the words dance on the page, and the way it scans and yadda yadda yadda. So am I. But the vital thing to remember is that when it’s a document on your desktop, nobody sees it but you.
This is fantastic and surprisingly liberating. Just write down things as they come to you – ignore typos, disregard repeated words, forget about it reading well and fact-check later. Suddenly your word count has swollen, and you’re no longer facing the tyranny of the blank page.
Who cares that it reads terribly? This can be easily fixed and your Editor needn’t ever know how messy your prose once were. Not that these prose were ever messy, Mr Editor.
(But shhh, they actually were.)
3. Kill all distractions
One of the big problems on writing on a PC or Mac is that a web browser full of fun distractions is just a click away. It’s all too easy to give yourself a quick break because, hey, you deserve it for working so hard staring at that big blank page which is quite straining on the eyes.
Stop it. You don’t deserve a break.
Disconnect the internet. If you need it for research, try and keep it confined to a different computer, or a laptop. You can even get productivity software which blocks ‘fun’ sites for a time of your choosing to keep you focussed. Kill all music with distracting lyrics: nobody ever beat writer’s block while listening to Slayer.
If you have an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard, iWriter is a superb app that minimizes the experience to just a pure blank page without any tabs, distractions or intrusive interface. Just you and your words: perfect.
4. Talk it over
But what if you truly don’t know where to start, or are struggling to find the right angle for a piece? Two heads are better than one here.
Talk over the topic with a friend. You may well find they ask questions you hadn’t even considered, and if they come up with them, then there’s a good chance your readers will want to know this stuff too. And wahey, that’s another paragraph closer to the word count you need!
5. Clear your head
Sometimes you need a change of scenery just to break things up a bit.
The trick here is to make sure you do something that won’t fill your head up: you want something mindless so that your thoughts can wander and allow creativity to blossom. Watching TV (unless it’s really mindless), reading a book or playing a game is out.
Running is perfect for me, because it’s so mind numbingly dull that your brain rebels into creativity as a way of keeping back the boredom. Though, of course, your mileage may vary.
Writer’s block beaten? Be sure to give us your tips in the comments.