How to Beat Writer’s Block by Rosie Wolf Williams
We’ve all been there – we land a dreamboat assignment, we’ve completed all the necessary interviews and thoroughly researched the topic, and now we are ready to fill up that blank screen with thoughtful and informed prose. But the white page begins to pulse like Poe’s telltale heart, and we are in full-blown panic – it’s the dreaded writer’s block.
So how do we get through the torment? Here are ten tips to move through the fog:
- Read, Rinse, Repeat. Study the magazine. I know you’ve already done this – when you researched the market and got ready to query the magazine. And you did well, because you now have this great assignment. But pick up a few back issues again, and look for articles that fit the department and word length of yours. Notice the content or style of the lede in particular. Just as importantly, look for articles that may have been done by staffers. If you find one written by your editor, even better – study it closely for style. If you deliver an article that could have been written by her – how could you miss?
- Follow the yellow-lined pad. Give it the old school try and write an outline – take it from beginning to end. After looking through the magazine for comparison, divide your interviews and information into subheadings. Even if you don’t use them at the end, creating a subtopic helps to move the story forward in an orderly fashion.
- You’re on the clock. Set the timer for 15 minutes, and focus on the story in some way, by writing or by reading through materials. Write one sentence that pertains to the article – don’t worry about where it should be placed within the body of text. When the timer goes off, stop. Step away from the computer, with both hands visible.
- Find your buddy. Make a call to a fellow writer to discuss a few of the issues, have a few laughs, and brainstorm the article as well as other ideas. I guarantee this will work. In a pinch, go to an online forum. I recommend www.FreelanceSuccess.com, an online professional writers’ group.
- Coffee break. Procrastinate! Ah yes, my dear writer, get yourself another cup – you know that pile of laundry is calling, and the dog needs walking, and you can just taste that double-shot triple mocha latte with half-milk, served by the triple-cute half-your-age barista at your favorite coffee shop. So go fold, walk, or ogle. Get it out of your system. Then come back with a little more enthusiasm.
- Let the source be with you. Do another interview. What? You think I’m crazy? Stay with me! Your excitement and interest has waned since the last engaging conversation with a source. So pick a new one, and conduct the interview with a sidebar in mind, or from a completely different angle for a spin-off article.
- Start with the creamy center. Look at the subheadings you have created, and pick one. Start writing in the middle and forget about that chocolate cookie lead for now. Isn’t the center the best part, anyway?
- Compliment yourself. Read the works of a great writer – you! Pull out some clips of which you are proud. What do you like about them? Read the leads, the transitional sentences, and the ends. Now think about how this article stands out and why it works. You’ve done it before – the proof is in your hands – and you will do it again.
- Don’t change horses – change races. Move up the deadline. Again, you think I’m crazy. Well, maybe, but not in this instance. Our brains sometimes enjoy a challenge. Like a sturdy little racehorse, we like to hold back until the last lap, then burst ahead with show of energy and creativity, getting the assignment in under the deadline by a nose. So let your brain have its run – just move the finish line up a bit. Mark the new date in bold, and give yourself time to proofread at the end. Trust me; you’ll breathe easy when you hit send.
- Fake it until you make it! Say to yourself, “This isn’t so difficult! I can’t believe I was even worried about this. I am a magnificent writer!” Then, start writing that article that rivals the notables of our time. As Stephen King said, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” All capitalism aside, you do this because you can.
You have the power – you can change the outcome by using the tools you’ve been given here. Soon, your writer’s block will be a shadowy memory, and your editor will have the article of her dreams!
© Rosie Wolf Williams, Rosie is a freelance writer and has been facing the pulsating white page for over 16 years – her work has appeared in national and local print publications including USA Weekend, Boys’ Life and Natural Solutions. Visit www.alwaysrosie.com for more info. Her upcoming website, www.trusttheuniverse.com will focus on optimism and making life fun!
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