Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a complete newbie, at some point it’s bound to happen. You’re going to find yourself in front of your laptop screen, staring at a blank page.
The cursor will blink accusingly at you.
The whiteness of the page will threaten to blind you.
Meanwhile, you’ll keep stealing glances at the clock on the top right of your laptop screen, feeling the pressure and trying to stop yourself from breaking into a cold sweat.
You guessed it, my friends. I’m talking about that most nefarious of mortal enemies, aka writer’s block.
Unfortunately, if you’re a professional writer, waiting for that pesky Muse to get the fuck back here and do its bloody job isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to have to find a way to power through this.
You’ll be happy to learn that this isn’t as hard as it sounds.
Read on for my proven five-step approach to stop writers’ block in its tracks and nail every assignment.
1. Don’t Panic
If you’re having trouble putting your thoughts on paper, stressing out about it isn’t going to help one bit.
Of course, you may counter that this is easier said than done, especially if you have a looming deadline and have no idea where to even start. But you need to understand that, the more you panic, the longer it will take you to complete your assignment. In fact, it will make matters worse.
Accordingly, your first order of business is to get a hold of yourself. Take a few deep breaths, get up and stretch your legs, go for a walk in the park. You can even scream if you want to.
But calm. The fuck. Down.
2. Direct your focus
Once you’re reasonably relaxed and in control (well, as relaxed and in control as you can be under the circumstances) it’s time to direct your focus.
You can do this by asking yourself this all important question: What is the aim of the piece I have to write?
Try to answer this question by breaking it down in the simplest terms possible; as if you were explaining it to a friend who knows absolutely nothing about the subject. Really get to the bottom of it. This will help you sharpen your focus and direct your energy towards achieving a specific goal.
It also leads you effortlessly to the next step.
3. Organise Your Thoughts
Once you know what your main goal is, you can start building your piece by writing an outline.
The outline is essentially your roadmap to achieving the ultimate goal you’ve defined in step one. It’s a list of the bases you need to cover in order to get there.
So, for example, if you’re working on a blog post, you need to define what the main thrust of your argument is (step 2) and then list the points you have to tackle in order to get there (step 3). Start with a list of sub-headings. Once that’s done, expand on them by jotting down a list of what should go under each sub-heading.
Just like that, you’ve transitioned from a terrifyingly blank page to a very specific list of items you need to address to complete your task. You have a skeleton in place. Now all you need to do is flesh it out.
So you’ve calmed down, you’ve focused on your main goal and you have a roadmap to get you there. Now you just need to transform those bullet points into coherent sentences.
Still struggling? No worries. It’s simply time to bring out the heavy artillery. In other words, you’re going to free-write.
Free writing is essentially just writing whatever comes into your head. Without stopping.
Pick a section of your assignment, and just go for it. What you write and how you write it isn’t important (we’ll get to that later). The point is to write uninterruptedly for a set amount of time – say five or ten minutes. This will help you build momentum and kickstart your brain into gear. Think of it as the mental equivalent of jumpstarting a car by letting it roll downhill (without the associated risk to life and limb, of course).
As far as I’m concerned, this is probably the hardest step. But you really need to keep going. If you’re stuck, simply write the same word over and over again until something else pops in your mind. It will happen, trust me.
5. Take A Break, THEN Edit
If you go through steps 1 to 4, you’ll probably find that, at some point, things will click into place. At least, they do for me.
However, this doesn’t mean you won’t need to proofread and edit your work. In fact, sometimes it might even need some major restructuring. But you know what? Writing that first draft is half the battle. Once you have it locked down, even a major re-write will be a lot easier to do.
With that being said, you should never jump straight into editing. Take a break, and then come back to it. This will help refresh your mind and restore some objectivity. As a bonus, you may also find that what you’ve written is a lot less terrible than you thought it would be.
Bonus Tip: Plan Ahead
Planning ahead greatly reduces your stress levels and sets you up for success.
Personally I do this in two main ways:
I always give clients a conservative estimate of my turnaround time. Usually, I’ll say I can get the work done a day or so later than I think I can actually finish it. This gives me a buffer zone which sets my mind at rest that I have plenty of time, even if I’m not feeling it on a particular day. The extra breathing room greatly reduces my stress levels and drastically improves my productivity and the quality of my work. Also, I never miss a deadline.
I get all my research done before I sit down to write. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating. If you know what you’re talking about, it’s a lot easier to focus on your goal, build a good outline AND free-write about it. If you know fuck all about the topic or product, on the other hand, it’s going to be even more of an uphill struggle.
How do you deal with writers’ block? Sound off in the comments below.