Even I can feel the cold terror creep over me when faced with nothing but white screen. Over the years, I’ve developed various strategies to get the words flowing when I’m really not ‘feeling it’. So read on, intrepid travellers, if you’d like to know how to break through that first barrier.
1. Create a nice workspace
Perhaps this is purely personal, but I can’t work in a mess. If you’re surrounded by clutter, noise and the general detritus of life, you’re not going to be at your best. I’m a firm believer that a tidy workplace equals a tidy mind. This isn’t a free pass to put off writing by spending a day rearranging your desk, but a neat pile of paperwork and a vase of flowers or cafetière of coffee will make everything feel much calmer.
2. Have a plan
If the task seems a bit daunting, planning it out with rough notes and subheadings can be helpful. You’ll have a vague idea of what needs to be said, so break it down. This can be a simple one-line summary of each paragraph, indicating what should be in it. Seeing your work broken down makes it far more manageable. My typical plan for an article begins something like this: ‘Introduction: add in funny opening statement, sum up why this topic is important, and set the scene.’ I then do this for each paragraph.
3. Don’t be afraid to start in the middle
If faced with a tough writing task, I rarely start at the beginning. Introductions (and conclusions, for that matter) are notoriously tough, and can put you off starting at all. Once my work is planned, I take a middle paragraph and flesh it out. Starting with something simple is easier, and the introduction and conclusion come more naturally once you’ve written the main body.
4. Get something on the page
Literally anything is preferable to nothing. The first words are almost always the hardest, and once they’re done – even if they’re so bad that you never use them – you’ll find the rest will begin to flow a little more freely. It’s better to have something to edit than nothing at all. If you’re facing a bad case of writer’s block, describing something totally unconnected, like your breakfast, can help warm you up.
5. Write first, edit later
We all have that voice in our head that mocks our every word as it appears on screen, and our confidence can quickly wilt. Ignore it – just keep typing, otherwise you’ll never make it past the blank page. We use the right, creative side of our brain to write and the critical left side to edit. If you’re trying to write and edit at the same time, each side of your brain is battling against the other: your writing and editing skills are both diminished, and it often leads to an impasse. Editing and proof-reading are vital, but you need to write your piece first. Shut the editor out, get the words down, and then, after a rest, review them with a critical eye.
6. Go analogue
The above problem is particularly prevalent if you’re writing on a computer. It’s so easy to delete words that you never get past the first few lines. So try going to pen and paper, and just write; working on paper can bring loads of benefits. Or think about the message you’re communicating and actually say it aloud, as if you’re speaking to your reader.
7. Know when to take a break
If you get stuck, staring at a computer screen or notepad won’t help in the slightest. If the words really aren’t coming, get up and go for a walk. Preferably in the countryside (living in Cornwall, I’m lucky – and smug again), where there’s fresh air and a wide, open view. This isn’t just me being pretentious – the outdoors is proven to boost creativity. Novelist Daphne du Maurier spent an incredible amount of time on foot around Cornwall. Often, taking a walk sparks ideas that wouldn’t have come in an office.
Above all, don’t heap pressure on yourself. Putting a note in the diary when something is due and leaving plenty of time to do it is the best possible approach. There’s nothing quite as stressful as trying to be creative while inwardly panicking.
If you do find that you need help with your writing, we can always give you some: take a look at what we do, copy- and content-wise. Or if you're ready for a chat, call us on 01736 758600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.