Cat got your tongue? Or your fingers? Suffering a serious case of writer’s block? Impossible. Writer’s block’s doesn’t exist.
You may think you’re blocked, but can you write a grocery list, an email to your mother, a love letter? Unless both of your hands are broken, chances are you can still write. The problem is simply with quality, not necessarily quantity.
Whether we’re working on the great American novel, an online post or a business report, we all have had times when our production slowed down and we felt at a loss for just the right words. That’s not the time to say we’re blocked, to lament we’re not Hemingway or even Grisham and flip from MSWord to Angry Birds .
You can work your way out of it—and quickly—with my method for getting the words to start flowing. I developed the following techniques over many years and included them in my first book, Write Like the Pros, published by John Wiley & Sons. Some of the suggestions are shortcuts taken from journalists, others are just common sense ways to help you relax and practice.
Taken as a whole, the following approaches are almost infallible in unclogging the connection between your brain and the pencil in your hand or your fingers on the keyboard. I’ve used all these suggestions at one time or another with great success. If one of these ideas doesn’t serve to kick loose your vocabulary, the next one will.
We’ll tackle the first three suggestions here and follow up with two more online articles until we’ve covered all eight. Stretch, take deep breaths, relax then dive into one of these options to free up your brain.
1. Dear Craig,
My friend Craig and I met in college. He doesn’t live near me, so we keep in touch by email. We have exchanged email and letters for years. Our messages are informal and full of slang, colloquialisms and sentences we’d never put in a business letter or anything for publication. It’s easy for me to write to him; my mind works faster than my fingers. Letters to Craig are among the easiest and most enjoyable things I write.
Therefore, when I’m having trouble phrasing something, I pretend I’m explaining it in a letter to Craig. It works. The words come almost as easily as if I were actually writing to Craig. Sometimes, to really loosen up, I actually write “Dear Craig,” at the top of whatever I’m writing. It fools me into relaxing even more. It’s easy to delete all personal references before I print or send the document.
After I’ve gotten over my muddle, with Craig’s help, I usually have to change a few words to dress up my language, but clear communication remains. This method will be particularly helpful to you if you regularly correspond with someone. If writing to a friend or relative is easier for you than writing anything else, you’ve just found your secret reservoir of ideas. Any time you need help, just write to someone you know.
2. Explain the whole idea
If trying to fool yourself into thinking you’re writing to a friend sounds too silly, try writing informally to yourself. Stop in the middle of what you’re doing and write: “THE WHOLE IDEA IS: ____;” then fill in the blank. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or any rules; just summarize. Write the gist of what you want to say in your letter, story or whatever it is you’re writing. You could consider this your instructions to yourself on what to say. Like the Dear Craig technique, you’ll need to edit your words, but you’ll have the ideas on the screen or down on paper.
Another way of using your “whole idea” to create the balance of your text is to write a beginning paragraph that starts, “My purpose in writing is….” The conclusion to that statement can help you get started quickly, or help you redefine your purpose if you get stuck in the middle.
3. Write your favorite part first
This probably won’t work with short works, such as brief letters, flash fiction or anything that covers but one page. For many jobs, however, writing your favorite part first will get you started quickly. You focus on what’s easiest or of most interest to you. It’s the lazy way to begin, but it works.
If you’re in the middle of a report–or a short story–and your output of words slows down, skip to a part that is more interesting to you. Write that part first to build up your confidence. Say you’re writing a novel and one of the big scenes of conflict will be fun to write. Write it now. Or in business, if you’re creating a new product proposal and would rather write about how you came up with the idea, rather than about how the product can be sold, do that first. Leave the sales and marketing until later. Tell what you’re excited about first, and the momentum will carry you through the entire project.
Group unrelated short writing tasks together. If some of the jobs cause you to hesitate and wonder, write the one that comes easiest first. When the words are flowing, jump into the other topics.
Next time, we’ll explore ways to use outlines and summaries to kick your writing into high gear.