An interviewer once asked me, “How do you tackle writer’s block?”
“Writer’s block?” I said. “What’s that?”
Seriously, I don’t much believe in writer’s block. Oh, there have been times I don’t know what to write. And even times I’ve felt a little desperate about that. But I’ve never been afraid or unaware of how to plow right through it. Why? Because I don’t think blocked writing is where the problem originates.
See, most of the time, I believe what stops a writer from writing isn’t a lack of output at all. It’s a lack of input.
When I find myself losing steam, I stop and read. Then I start taking notes. Before I realize it, I’m chasing a new and original idea all over the page. And more often than not, an idea that doesn’t appear at all in the thing I first picked up to read for inspiration.
That’s the most immediate “cure-all.” Then, like any ailment, there are long-term steps you can take. Some include other ways to get more input. Like making sure you stick around people who will talk intelligently about what you’d like to write about. Pick up the phone, raise the topic in the right company, invite smart people to lunch and get them chattering.
But one of the best “curatives” many writers overlook is to simply try writing — anything — more often. How’s that? So many writers, especially newbies, imagine they get blocked when they pour out too much of their best stuff onto the page. They think of the well containing a limited quantity of ideas.
Nothing could — or at least should — be farther from the truth.
What really happens when you write often, preferably on a fixed schedule, is that you get more accustomed to the habit of writing and your brain is mixing and matching all those inputs you come across, in constant preparation for the next scheduled session in front of that blank, blinking screen.
Try it. You’ll be surprised.
Here are my two ways for ensuring I don’t get writer’s block:
1. Be clear on why it’s important to me to do this particular project.
2. Make a good outline.
Both are good suggestions… particularly the outline… because both focus on keeping your writing goal in mind. I’d suggest, though, that this is a great start… but for some people, not enough. I know of some writers, for instance, who can’t write well with outlines. Sounds strange to you and me, but that’s what they claim. Also, I know from personal experience that I feel sure of what message I want at the start of a project, only to see that message take a different shape when I get into the details. That said, I wouldn’t want to discount either of your two steps. I’d just like to add a third: Read. A lot. The more you know about what you hope to say, the harder it is not to know next what to talk about.
Jack, good point about wandering away from the outline. I frequently do it as I actually start writing, always because I find a better path. But for me, having the outline helps me get started.
I agree that making writing a habit is a very good strategy for beating writer’s block. When you’re writing regularly, the ideas tend to accumulate. But I think writer’s block is a relatively new problem for a lot of folks who are trying their hand at business blogs. If that’s the only type of “creative” writing they’re doing during the course of the day, it can be hard to shift modes. I offer a few tips of my own in my blog post How to overcome writer’s block when blogging (http://bedellcommunications.com/how-to-overcome-writers-block-when-blogging).