I’m not sure if a lot of people still have this problem in this day age — you know — writer’s block. But I do have some advice on how to deal with it.
First, let’s think about what it is.
For me, writer’s block has generally meant that I can’t figure out how to start something. For other’s I understand it means you sit down and don’t have anything to write. Both these situations can come from a variety of places in your head. For example, they can come out of fear, boredom or, being over prepared or underprepared, to name a few.
Fear can arise out of doubts in one’s abilities and sometimes in one’s preparation. You think what you’re going to write will suck, or isn’t worth reading. Or you can be afraid that you don’t have enough information. So your scared to do anything.
Sometimes boredom strikes as you look at the page and realize you just have nothing to say about the subject you’ve chosen because ultimately, you don’t really care about the subject.
There’s the preparation thing that can also trip you up. Like I said about fear, sometimes you start something and you realize you don’t have enough information to really write this thing. That’s a real problem. Then, there’s preparation overload, where you have so much knowledge of a subject you become paralyzed about where to begin because there are just too many possibilities.
I think some people say they just get stuck and the white page and the blinking cursor just sort of paralyzes them.
You might have a different experience with this phenomena if so, please let me know in the comments.
Anyway, back in the day when I was a reporter and on deadline, you can imagine that writer’s block was not acceptable. You had to get the story done and sometimes you had to convert 10 to 15 pages of notes to a 14 inch story within minutes or you missed the paper. Yes, I’m that old. I started right before the newspaper I worked rolled out a website and even then, the website was an afterthought. I wrote for the deadwood edition and that’s when when deadlines meant something. I developed over those 12 years a couple ways to deal with the so-called writer’s block.
First, I would come in sit down, scan my notes and then bang out a general sentence that answered who what when why and where. If that didn’t work, I would find a good quote and type that in and usually, the act of writing that down got me into the story and then I could write the lede.
The times I had too much information, I would write something I thought was interesting and just go from there.
There’s also outlining, when you have time. You literally sit down, write out a basic outline of what you want to cover and then start the actual writing of sentences.
I also learned to talk to myself while writing. Like right now, I’m actually saying a lot of the words, though they’re kind of under my breath. I learned to also ask myself questions and then answer them in writing. For example: I’d ask myself, “Why is this important? Who cares? How do you know this? What’s the most interesting thing? How would you tell this to people in a bar? (I got that from Erik Hesselberg one of my earlier editors.) What’s funny about this? What’s sad about this? What’s infuriating about this? What happened?”
Then I’d actually type out something answering one of these questions. I’d usually just pick one of these questions and then I’d write something like, “The Transportation Committee threw its support behind public transportation Wednesday backing millions of dollars in projects for trains and buses instead of roads.”
“Voting 5-2, the committee’s decision could influence the state budget and give public transit advocates their biggest victory in 15 years.”
Or something like that. Sometimes I would even type things like “this is important because it sets the stage for how transportation funds will be spent over the next decade in the state.”
If I had too much information, which happened quite a bit, actually, I’d pick a fact I thought was interesting from my notes and start there writing about that.
Anyway, if I was really stuck I did what I liked to call “priming the pump.”
What that entailed is writing the craziest, worst or most ridiculous sentence I could think of whether it had anything to do with the actual topic or not. For some reason that just got everything in my head moving again. This was especially useful when I was feeling afraid or worried that what I was writing was no good or that I was no good.
Today, Alternative Energy Advocates took to the Capitol to push lawmakers to accept new technology that runs on rat farts, disappointing the mouse fart lobby.
Or, “You got to hand it to the governor, he’s not as stupid as he looks and/or “Is Jake Gyllenhaal and Aaron Rodgers the same person?”
Now most of them are ridiculous, stupid and juvenile, but every once in a while I’d type something that was good enough to keep as part of the story.
I once wrote an economic story about issues with supply and demand and their impact on consumer prices. It was difficult to get my head around at the time, so I wrote something like, “While college and health insurance prices continue to climb, experts say you’ll at least still be able to afford Oreos.”
Or something like that. Anyway, it actually fit the story, which was about how the Federal Government measured inflation, ignoring things like college costs and health insurance, but instead concentrated on things like Oreos and other items that weren’t increasing in costs. At least that’s what I think it was. I know there were Oreos involved.
That gem pushed that story out of the business section and onto the front page.
Anyway, I hope some of this helps if you’re having trouble with writer’s block. I’ve found the simplest cure is to just start writing and I mean writing anything. It’ll get you going again.
Let me know if you have your own cures.
Keep writing, keep running.