You may scoff but “writer’s block” really is ‘a thing’. Back in the 1970s, clinical psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios carried out research into the phenomenon. They concluded that there are four main causes of writer’s block:
- Excessively harsh self-criticism
- Fear of comparison to other writers
- Lack of external motivation, such as attention or praise (as if an imminent deadline isn’t enough)
- Lack of internal motivation, like the desire to share a story
But the good news is there are many ways to overcome writer’s block, several of which I’ve tried myself over the years and found to work. Here are some tried-and-tested tips to get you unstuck:
Just get something down
When you’re under pressure to write something, there’s nothing more intimidating than a blank screen. So get the thoughts in your head down, even if it’s rubbish. You can improve on it later. We professional copywriters even have a saying for this: “Write in haste, edit at leisure”. (Thanks to children’s author Sinéad O’Hart for that one)
Use the wrong word if you’re struggling to find the right one
Writers with perfectionist tendencies (like me) can spend hours looking for the perfect word or phrase to get a message across. Avoid this time-wasting practice by simply writing what you’re thinking, whether it’s eloquent or not. You can then come back and improve on it later.
Do something else
When I say “something else” I mean literally anything that doesn’t involve writing. Before coronavirus, I might have suggested going to an exhibition, the cinema or out for a meal to get your subconscious working. For me, swimming was the perfect way to spark inspiration whenever I was struggling to find the perfect headline or article idea. Now we’re in lockdown, instead of staring at a blank screen, I’d suggest going for a walk, preferably somewhere you’re surrounded by nature, to get a change of scene, clear your head and start afresh.
Don’t feel you have to start at the beginning
This one relates to my first point about just getting something down. By far the most difficult part of writing is the start when you have all those words to find ahead of you. So instead of feeling you have to start at the beginning of whatever it is you’re going to write, just dive in. Start in the middle or wherever you feel you know what you want to say and work backwards or forwards from there.
Be relaxed about your first draft
Don’t put pressure on yourself to write a perfect first draft. Give yourself permission to write imperfectly and tell yourself you’ll go back and edit. Remember “perfect is the enemy of good” and, for now, just getting the words down on the page is enough.
If you’ve tried all this and you’re still lost for words, perhaps the answer is to leave it to a professional. Email me or call 01923 212048 to discuss how I can help!