Writer’s block: 5 great ways to power through

browningyork Charity, Communication lessons, General communication, Inspiration, University

Writer’s block. We all get it from time to time. Sometimes it lasts only 10 minutes. Other times it goes on for weeks.

But what to do if you need to write something for your organisation? When the project timeline or newsletter deadline doesn’t allow you the luxury of writer’s block. When your colleague needs that web copy to send to the digital team now. When you have to publish a tweet about a new service before you go to your next meeting.

(Or when you haven’t published a blog for 2 weeks and you’re worried your readers will go elsewhere – can you tell where I got my inspiration for this piece from…..)

The length of the piece you need to write doesn’t necessarily affect the likelihood of writer’s block. On the face of it, the shorter the piece, the fewer words you need to think of, the easier it should be to write. But that isn’t always the case. Whilst it can be daunting to sit down and put together 2,000 words for a thought piece, trying to get a strong, compelling message into 280 characters can feel just as hard.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”― Terry Pratchett(1)

So here are my top tips for defeating writer’s block:
1. The process of writing is a very personal thing, even when the content itself isn’t. You only have to listen to the ways that different authors describe what it’s like to write a book to see how individual styles vary. This is also true when you are writing in the course of your work. While some of us will sit down and write without any preparation or fuss, others will need to procrastinate, research and psyche themselves up before they start. Try to identify your own style and what works best for you, so that you can create the optimum conditions you need.

2. Playing with language is a great way to inspire yourself to put words on paper (or on screen). Find new and different words to use in your piece by playing word association games, like tennis-elbow-foot (at least, that’s what it was called in my house, you may know it as something else). Or by looking in a thesaurus or dictionary. You might also come up with unexpected topics for future writing. This is especially useful if you need to develop a series of related pieces, such as blogs or newsletter articles.

3. Crowd-source a topic. Ask your colleagues, professional network, family or friends what they would like to hear about. They may surprise you with things you haven’t previously considered. My blog series about the way effective communication solves business problems was partially developed in this way. I had a few ideas for topics myself, then asked in online forums about the challenges people were facing. An added bonus of this approach is that you know you already have an audience that is interested in your topic.

4. Pretend you’re someone else. Imagine you are a journalist at your favourite magazine. Or a war correspondent on the frontline. Or your colleague who always produces their reports on time. It doesn’t matter who you choose, the aim is to get yourself out of your stuck place and into their active one.

5. Get active. Very often, if your body is still and stuck, your mind will follow suit. Getting up and going for a walk, even if it’s only to the office kettle, can restart your brain as well as your legs. You could go and visit a friend on another floor in the building – and take the stairs. As well as getting your writing juices flowing, you will get to have a conversation and maybe find out some interesting or useful information. I find that the physical movement of brushing my teeth causes ideas to pop into my head, although I appreciate this is easier when I am working from home than if you are in an open plan office!

“You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.”― Jodi Picoult

Bonus tip: Just make a start. Often it’s the thought of taking that first step that stops us doing anything at all. Once you’ve got over that first hurdle it gets much easier to keep going. You might delete the first sentence – or even the whole of the first paragraph – before you publish if it’s not very good, but that’s OK. It served its purpose, it got you started.

Different approaches work for different writers at different times, but I hope you have found some inspiration here. If you use other methods to get yourself through writer’s block, please share your secrets, I’d love to know what else I can try.

Until next time
Sarah