There’s nothing worse when you’re up against a deadline and NEED to write, than staring at a blank screen with an even blanker mind.
It doesn’t matter what you have to write – it could be an email to a client, the copy for an ad for your business, or a blog for your website – writer’s block can inflict even the most confident and prolific writer.
As a freelance copywriter, Becky Walker can’t afford to give in to writer’s block. So she’s come up with seven tips that help her to beat it.
Seven tips to help you beat writer’s block
Sometimes writing is impossible. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page while the minutes trickle away and a deadline looms.
But hopefully, by sharing my own ‘best practice’ maybe, just maybe, I might save you from ever again writing something astonishingly mediocre, or even worse, nothing. So here they are, my seven tips for beating writer’s block.
1) Pick the right workspace
Make wherever you write a haven of calm to match the Dalai Lama’s holiday destinations. Virginia Woolf thought you needed money and a room of your own to write, but she also once called her own husband a ‘penniless Jew’ so, clearly, she can’t be trusted.
All I need is a spacious desk in a bright room, and a not-too-comfortable chair. Add your favorite mug of coffee and feel your best work a-brewing.
2) Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
I love to plan. I really LOVE to plan. Becky and plans, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, etc. When I wrote my dissertation I had a very complicated system of letters and numbers so that I knew which source to use, where to use it and which point to link it to – for every paragraph.
Time spent making a solid plan eliminates time spent looking out the window with your brain humming like a fridge later, so before you think of putting pen to paper, make. A. Plan.
3) Catch the brain sparkles
Ideas can come to you in the funniest and most inconvenient places, and rarely when you really need them – when you’re sat trying to write them down.
So catch them as they come. Sentences, sights, sounds, thoughts; scribble them down (or even type them in a trendy notes app – there’s loads) and come back to them later. No matter how spangly and fantastic the idea, you’ll forget it otherwise. Never trust your brain.
4) The great desk-scape
I can’t work for hours on end. Even if I’m totally absorbed in what I’m writing, I lose my train of thought, my writing structure wanes and I end up like a cargo ship carrying ten thousand dictionaries with a hole in the keel: lots of words, no good to anyone.
So don’t settle in for long writing marathons. Stand up, walk around, look out the window, and have a tasty snack. Get away from your screen and return refreshed and raring to go once more.
5) Even wrong writing is right
Don’t think you need to get every word right first time. Or even any of them. It’s a first draft and no one ever has to know that the first line you wrote said ‘stuff wot I did once’.
Once you start writing you can go back to it and make it better (or ditch it and start a more promising second draft), but unless you get started you have nothing to work with. As a wise surfer once said: you can’t surf without gnarly waves, bro.
6) Be brutal
Edit your work ruthlessly – in a new document. Brain sparkles have a horrible tendency to vomit themselves out of your fingertips and you need to sift through for the good stuff.
Tim Schmidt once wisely said about architecture, ‘If you don’t want to make love in it, for God’s sake tarmac it’ and you need to take the same approach to your writing. Unless it’s crucial and also brilliant, delete it. But don’t throw it away into the ether of digi-rubbish – I always hold onto my drafts just in case.
7) Get reading
And if you’re really stuck… read. As an English Lit graduate, I firmly believe that reading is the starting point for writing. Find something that:
- Inspires you because it is beautiful.
- Sets your head-cogs turning because it is fascinating.
- Angers you because it is downright awful and you could do a better job.
Whichever it is, read it. It’ll make you want to write and that’s why you’re reading this (although hopefully this post isn’t option C.)
Just get started!
If you’re putting off writing something, I suggest you find a tip above you like and get on it. Sometimes I follow every step just to get started, sometimes I pick ‘n’ mix to turn a bad day of writing on its head. The most important thing is to find what works for you, stick to it and succeed.
Becky is a freelance copywriter in Edinburgh. She graduated from Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in English Literature and is soon starting her Masters course in Modernist Literature at Edinburgh University.Hannah Martin