Overcome writer's block

Overcome writer's block

Journalists. PR counselors. Advertising copywriters. From time to time, all writers hit obstacles. What to do? Here are ideas from full-time writers who sometimes hit the wall, but manage to overcome and meet their deadline, and also how they avoid writers block in the first place.


Do

Do stop-start

Only stop writing when you know where your next thought will be. You’ll never face writer’s block if you only stop when you have a clear idea where the article will go next. You can leave yourself a short note or general idea what the next section will be in order to take that well-deserved pause.

Do freewrite

Just write. Anything. Whatever comes to mind, jot it down. Set your cell phone alarm for 10-20 minutes and force yourself to write, write anything. If nothing comes, write, “I don’t know what to write.” The key is to not stop at all. Don’t edit yourself. Write until the subterranean thoughts break through. This technique works often, but it takes some time.

Do hit the brakes

Take a break. Run. Do yoga. Call the president. Fly a hot air balloon. Do something different to allow your white-hot mind to idle. That’s when the mind sometimes does its best work.

Do read, read, read

Siphon off the talent of others by reading the work of writers who once inspired you. Everything in this world is derivative. All writers are influenced by other writers, so maintain the trend and read others and let their work irrigate yours.

Do cherry-pick

Go to the thesaurus, pick an unfamiliar word and study it. Use it to leapfrog back into the piece on which you are working.

Do theme hunt

Use the theme that you are pursuing and search for famous quotations on that topic. It's a great way to examine every aspect of a topic. And hopefully get you on a roll. 

Do phone a friend

Call a close pal and insist that he or she give you an idea. No idea is out of bounds. Push them. Give them a 30-second deadline and demand an answer. It works. Sometimes.


Don't

Do not do something just to do something

Many writers find it helpful to walk away from the assignment and literally do something besides write. Allow the subconscious to ruminate. One writer who worked on an advertising campaign for a bikini with a newspaper pattern slept on the idea and woke up thinking, “All the news that’s fit to squint.” Clever.

Do not cave in and give up

Hollywood has created the iconic genius who needs the writing muse to alight before any good writing is possible. The grim reality is that the best writers have a schedule. Most find that the morning is their best time to compose. Use the time of day that works for you and maintain that schedule. I know a writer who finds working in a restaurant to produce her best work. She orders an entree, tells the waiter that he will be rewarded with a sizable tip for allowing her to write, but not eat, and she begins her work. Often she pushes her meal and gets it “to go.” For her, the restaurant context stimulates her writing.

Do not waste time needlessly

Staring at the computer screen is pointless. Typing a stream of consciousness without stopping is better than letting the blank page intimidate you.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Writers, even the best, have off days and each has to find what works, whether it's standing upside down to get the blood moving in an odd direction, doing jumping jacks, or reading the greats like Shakespeare. Today, consider a strategy like the ones above before the writing task takes on Herculean proportions. If you have the heartbeat of a writer, you will overcome, but prepare today for that dark moment when all is silent and all you hear is the distant tick-tock of the deadline clock. Scan this list and make one of the ideas your secret weapon when you are at the end of writing rope. Tie a knot at the end and hang in there until you are flush once again with a deluge of ideas.


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Michael Ray SmithWriter. Professor. Speaker.

Michael Ray Smith is leading the new media charge at Campbell University with his work with online and multimedia using the Web. World Journalism Institute, Manhattan, named him the John McCandlish Phillips Scholar for 2011. Philips was the inte...

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