Writer’s block has to be one of the worst occupational hazards of freelancing, right up there with magazines that take forever to pay.
Lifehacker, one of my favorite sources of unconventional thinking on getting stuff done, suggests curing writer’s blog by stepping away from something you’re working on while the words are still flowing. Do it often enough, and you’ll avoid getting blocked at all, says Lifehacker’s Kevin Purdy.
As someone who writes for a living I can’t afford to pound the keyboard for 30 minutes, or even two hours, and then step away. If I don’t finish what I’m working on, I don’t get paid. To get rid of a case of writer’s block, here’s what I suggest:
1. Work on elements of a story package that are easy to do: the a headline, deck, subheads, source list, photo captions, charts, etc.
2. Re-read interview notes, highlight quotes, make notes or work up an outline.
3. Get up from the computer and do something non-work related for a couple minutes – take the dog for a quick walk, fold laundry, make lunch, read the paper – then come back and have at it again.
4. Work on another project – there’s always another project.
5. Think of it like a crossword puzzle or a yoga pose. If the approach I’m taking to a specific sentence or section isn’t working, take another approach – mentally will myself to look at what it is I’m trying to say from an entire new direction. I wonder – does this mean I could write off my yoga class as a business expense?
6. Talk to someone about what you’re writing – or even just talk to yourself – to force yourself to come up with a concise explanation of the piece. This is great for when you’re stuck on a nut graph.
7. Tackle a different section of the piece. If you’re struggling with the lead, work on a section that you know you’ve got down cold. Or go through your notes and pick out the handful of quotes you know need to be in the story, put them in your story file along with attributions. Then write the transition sentences that lead up to the quotes. Then write the transition sentences that follow the quotes. Pretty soon, you’re writing.
8. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed, or in your car, in your backpack or purse. Inevitably just as you’re drifting off to sleep, or in the grocery store checkout line or picking up daughter from soccer practice the lead, nut graph or conclusion you’ve been struggling with will pop into your head.
9. Especially if it’s late in the day, pound out as much as you can. Promise yourself you’ll stop once you hit a certain number of words, whether that’s 200, 300 or 500. Then close the file. The next morning, you may be surprised by how decent what you wrote is. But even if you end up not using much of it, it’s a start, and better than opening a file full of nothing.
10. Read something you enjoy – it could jump start your own creative process.
Here are some of my other suggestions for getting over writer’s block.
What writer’s block cures do you use?