Some people say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. You know, that feeling when you sit down to write and just stare at the blank page because no words will come? Or, as is more common for me, you just can’t pick up your pen because you know whatever you write will be rubbish that no one will ever want to read. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it. Sounds totally daft, doesn’t it?
When I was working as a journalist I rarely got writer’s block. I wrote hundreds of words a day, thousands even, and it was rare for me to not know what I was supposed to write. Of course, news writing is different to fiction. Firstly, I always knew what the angle of the story was and secondly, I just didn’t have time to have writer’s block. I didn’t have the luxury of time to have writer’s block. Certainly there would be times when I would struggle for a ‘clever’ intro, but getting words onto the page was never a problem. I developed a system where if I were stuck for the angle of a story, I would type up the comments from the main speaker and start from there. This meant I wasn’t working on an intimidating blank page. Once you have words on the page you can start to work on them. You can’t edit a blank page!
So what do you do when you sit down and the words just won’t come? Journalism has clearly taught me a few tricks, which I’m happy to pass on!
1. Deadlines – when you’re a professional writer you’re nearly always working to a deadline. Missing this deadline is not acceptable and it’s an excellent motivator. When you’re an amateur, the time stretching in front of you can sometimes become a hindrance to your creative process so set yourself a mock deadline. Make it realistic, so you can complete it on time without stressing yourself out, but make it inflexible. Make an arrangement with a friend that you’ll email your work to them on a specific date and get them to set a forfeit if you miss the date. That’ll give you the motivation to crack on!
2. Starting from the middle – the beauty of writing is that it can always be re-written. Even if it’s written in permanent ink, you can always move things around and make changes, so instead of trying to begin at the beginning – if it’s proving elusive – start from a midpoint and put the beginning in later. No one will ever know! It just means you grab the inspiration while it’s there, do the easy bit first, and go back to the tough bit once the creative juices are flowing.
3. Take a break – if you’re struggling for inspiration sometimes a short walk, even if it’s just to the kitchen for a coffee, while thinking about your story can help. It gets you away from your chair and away from the pressured situation and can often spark the creativity you need.
4. Making a plan – As I’ve discussed in a previous blog, making a plan is often the best way to get the words flowing. In news reporting this is rarely possible, due to time constraints, but a bit of thinking time is necessary. Anything that gets you thinking about the story is a bonus. When I knew a story had to be written quickly, I’d often use the time as I travelled back from a job to get my head around it. That way I could start the moment I arrived at my desk and get a first draft done.
And finally, as all good newscasters say, my last tip doesn’t come from journalism and, in fact, isn’t really relevant to it. Instead it came from the master of horror fiction Stephen King, who says ‘write your first draft with the door closed’. In other words write your first draft as if no one will read it, write freely and don’t worry about it being rubbish. You can always take care of any problems during the re-writing/editing phase. So for now, just write and get it done!
Do you suffer from writer’s block? What do you do to get rid of it?