It’s currently 8pm here in the West Yorkshire. As the kids sleep soundly in their beds, I hear the faint sound of the TV in the distance as my wife indulges in some boxset.
You know what this means?
A night for some quality writing time.
Despite the privilege of having freedom from distractions, I’m at the point looking at a blank unsaved page in Microsoft Word.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced that blank in creativity where you just don’t know where to start too.
Writers block is real – but what do you do when you’re in that position where you have no idea what you want to say?
This post focuses on some approaches to help you get around this blocker…
The ten-minute rule…
A technique I apply to anything in life is the ten-minute rule…
When you are in a situation where you’re struggling for motivation, simply do the activity for ten minutes and if you’ve not started engaging with the task, stop.
I first discovered this technique at the gym. Whenever there was a day I felt too tired to go, I would force myself to show up and work out for ten minutes.
99% of the time this worked, and I was able to keep going.
The technique is also really effective with writing. Once you start putting pen to paper it becomes difficult to stop.
Yes… but what do I write about?
The challenge with writer’s block is knowing what to write about.
Here are some useful prompts for inspiration to start writing:
- What did you do today?…
- Is there a past anecdote/experience you can write about?
- What troubles you? If you had advice to yourself what would it be?
- What have you been reading? Can you write down your thoughts on the book/a single chapter?
- What else is going on in the world? How does this make you feel? What can you learn from it?
Experiment outside your comfort zone..
I wasn’t always a writer.
I got into it because fitness was my life and I realised my body couldn’t cope with the amount of stress I was putting my body under with exercise. I need a more sentry pursuit.
And this got me here, ever since it’s become a fascination with what you potentially can do with the English language.
I have a defined style and I write on particular topics.
But when lacking inspiration, I’m open to experimenting – sometimes to improve my craft, sometimes just for fun.
I got a massive kick writing this article about the fat acceptance movement, my pleasure came from getting out of my comfort zone using satire to prove my point rather than the usual arguments.
Have a think how you can mix up your writing – look at the words you use, try to come up with creative ways of describing things, write what your trying to say as haikus…
Flex your innovation muscles.
Rainy day writing…
Most my ideas come when I am busy.
In an ideal situation your inspirations would come when your sat behind your workspace free of distractions.
But it doesn’t work like that, so you have to manage your ideas so you can come back to them later, ready to mould them into something beautiful.
Write them down in note format, record some thoughts into a dictaphone, it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember 100% of the original detail, they are useful prompts to get you started and they are priceless when you don’t have a clue what to write about.
All the unseen…
I write in a blog, so most of my writing is crafted with the intention that it will be published.
Whatever your writing goals, this tunnel vision can impact your flow – why not have a go at just writing things without your usual audience in mind?
If you have goals, write something about your progress.
Send a love poem to your other half.
Write about something deeply personal, that may never get read by anyone.
Not everything needs to be seen, I view this type of work as contributing to your soul – and when your soul feels good, it means you’re nicely warmed up to put something together for wider viewing.
You can sit down to write in the remote in the wilderness, in a log cabin somewhere, and your mind will probably still find ways to waste time and distract you.
Many of us, don’t have the benefit of isolation, and here are some of the typical things I do that stop me from focusing on the writing task at hand:
- Check WordPress stats.
- Wonder what’s on Twitter.
- Scroll through a dozen WhatsApp messages.
- Do a YouGov survey.
- Over think what I’m writing about and decide to look at other blogs to see if there is a writing style I can copy to make it sound better.
Eliminate your distractions and be careful how much you consume, this can destroy creativity. Sometimes I’ve been in mid-flow writing and decided to stop because I wanted to research what other people have said about the topic.
Then when I’ve read fantastic writers like Mark Manson, James Clear or Ed Latimore, it puts me off writing my own words. It’s best to maintain focus.
I’ll repeat that:
A few years ago, my writing seemed to get a lot harder. Every 800 word article I made I seemed to spend the week working over.
Really writing hadn’t become harder, just my standards had increased, and I wanted everything I did to be that killer content, providing the most unique experience for my readers who would be drawn in by those heavenly words.
Writing like this was stressful, I was always rushing to meet post deadlines, I started hating the writing process, deciding to take breaks, before stopping writing completely.
The best cure for this is to recognise when you’ve done enough and just throw your work out there and see what the public thinks.
Accept you’ll have peaks and troughs…
When I’ve had blockages, it’s been the worst feeling, I’ve gone one, two, three days struggling to write.
I’ve learnt to accept that I won’t always perform, and you should too.
Sometimes you just need to get away from your writers desk, have a walk, workout, get enough sleep, or do something more productive.
The worst thing in my opinion, is forcing yourself to your desk and not leaving it until you’ve got a 1000 words out…
…a 1000 words of shit mostly likely. – by taking time away you’ll be more refreshed to write something again and more importantly, enjoy it.
And one final thought…
I’ve recently set myself a goal this year to submit at least once piece of writing every month to an external website for consideration in a publication.
This isn’t really a difficult goal, because whether my submission gets approved it’s about making that effort to risk rejection.
I’ve examined websites I’d love for my work to be featured. I’ve studied the guidelines for submission, I’ve looked at the style of other articles that have been published, I’ve got a few ideas on the types of things I want to write for consideration.
And yet when it’s come to hammering fingers against the keyboard, I keep freezing up.
The ideas in my head of that article that would work great for the site disappear and as I look at that white page background, I feel tired – the whole process of writing seems burdensome!
And then it dawned on me…
… that I won’t get a response.
… the extra work it will take.
… even if successful, what next?
… How do I build on that?
… with a bigger audience, what if I open myself up to critics?
These are all problems I won’t answer in this post, that’s for me to deal with in my own way.
But it does highlight the point –
How much of your writer’s block is not actually due to lack of inspiration, but some sort of own fear?
What’s stopping you from writing?
James @Perfect Manifesto.
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