An autobiographical guide to curing writer’s block
After nearly two weeks of sitting on the sofa eating shortbread in my pyjamas, I returned to the office to find a cruel request sitting in my inbox:
“Mady, can you write a blog post about writer’s block?”
With all the sickeningly predictable irony of a Hollywood movie, I found myself staring at the screen, hands hovering over the keyboard, completely and undeniably blocked.
But if you scroll down, you’ll see there’s an entire blog post here. Which means I must have found a way to wring some words out of my sugar-coma brain.
An easy route might have been to pull together a list of cute tips, like “try freewriting!” or “take a break and make a cup of tea!”. Or I could have repurposed some advice from famous writers about conquering the dreaded block.
But the truth is, I didn’t find any of those tips particularly helpful. So instead of telling, I thought I’d show you my own battle and demonstrate the tactics I used to turn a blank document into this finished piece.
- Start by starting
The very first step was the easiest. I opened a Word document and began typing:
Then, I changed my mind.
In completing this simple action, I set this piece off in a vague direction. Granted, very vague, but still, a huge leap away from the abyss of the blank page.
If you’re sitting down to write something, whether it’s a marketing blog post or an epic poem, you’ll have a loose idea of what you want to write about. Start by writing down that loose idea, and you’ll already be miles ahead of the empty space.
- Force yourself to do some thinking
Next, I stared at my first four words and tried to think about what I wanted to say.
The problem was, of course, if I knew what I wanted to say I could have just written it down.
I thought about what someone like me, the writer with writer’s block, might want to know as they tried to break through the agony of being paralysed in front of the (almost) empty screen.
I realised I didn’t have enough to offer. I needed to find some real information I could put down on the page to give you, dear reader, something of value.
- Bolster with research
And so, I did what any good content marketer would do:
The research process taught me it’s important to do the right research.
I spent a lot of time reading about famous writers who have experienced writer’s block, which navigated me into a black hole that you too can enter via my search history:
All of this was interesting, but, if I’m being honest with you, I was also indulging in a chronic symptom of my own block; procrastination.
So I took a tip from Dame Margaret Drabble and went for a walk.
- Find your niche
When I came back, I knew I needed to narrow my focus. I started by asking myself some questions to help shape my piece:
- Who is my audience?
- What do they want to know?
Source: Answer the Public
Doing this helped me realise there are a few posts you can write about writer’s block:
- Writer’s block in a literary context (think F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf).
- Writer’s block in a marketing context (think ‘blog ideas’, ‘how to begin a post’, ‘titles for articles’).
Even though I’d love to tell you all about Plath’s inner struggles and Kafka’s crushing self-doubt, it’s clear my audience (you) has come to Edit’s site to learn about writer’s block in a practical context. I decided to approach the subject from an everyday angle: how to cure writer’s block.
- Making sense of the research
First, I took comfort in the fact that other writers get blocked, too. And then I took some notes.
To hit two birds with one stone, I decided to use my research to treat my own case of writer’s block while simultaneously defining the points I wanted to include in this post. This allowed me to formulate a loose structure.
According to decades’ worth of research, writer’s block is associated with human psychology and emotions. We’re feeling something that is stopping the writing from being able to get through. This blockage can be caused by all sorts of problems. Based on the struggles of the great poets and novelists (and a bit of self-reflection), I formulated a list of triggers:
If you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald, your writer’s block may be associated with a deep, existential crisis triggered by the fear of leaving your best work behind you, along with your youth, in an art-deco ballroom littered with champagne corks and lipstick cases.
If you’re me, it’s probably a little bit of sulky petulance because your time off is over, you can no longer sleep until 10am, and you’re a bit worried you’ve forgotten how to write anything decent, interesting, or unique.
- Plan (and write)
Once I’d figured out what was stopping me from being able to write, I was able to hack my way through the block using the solutions I’d listed:
- I worked out my audience wasn’t every novelist, poet, playwright, and critic who’d ever skimmed a page. It’s you.
- I decided this post didn’t need to cover the complete history, psychology, and culture of writer’s block – it just needed to provide some actionable advice about how to conquer it.
- I told my dogs I wanted to finish a draft by their dinnertime.
- I read some relevant posts by some great writers.
- I decided to structure my blog slightly differently from those posts.
- I made an outline according to the above.
- I wrote.
I’m not pretending all these words flowed like maple syrup. But once I’d acknowledged what was hindering me, I was able to carve out an angle that would allow me to get around the block.
From there, my research fell into place and the boundaries I’d set helped keep me on track (for the most part).
Next time you feel the block settle in, try to figure out what’s really bothering you. From there, you can take some simple steps to bypass it:
- Indulge in some research – Use this for both inspiration and information, but gather the right research and don’t procrastinate.
- Analyse what you’ve learned – Ask yourself questions that will help you define your perspective and review your research through this lens.
- Plan – Decide on the way you want to approach your topic and devise a structure that suits.
- Fill in the gaps – By this point, you’ll know which points you want to cover (thanks to research), you’ll have the angle you want to take (thanks to analysis), and the format you want to follow (thanks to planning). You’ve built a bridge over the block – now, you just need to trust that it can take your weight.
Still stuck in the information-inspiration stage? Glean some ideas from our blog and let our team guide you out of the abyss. Once you’re ready to let the words loose, read 5 easy ways to instantly become a better writer to ensure that what you do write is unique, creative, and quality content