Writer’s block is usually a sign of anxiety. For me, it’s when I’m worried about what people will think of what I’ve written and how I’ve written it. It’s fear of being told that I can’t write. Other people get blocked because they’re worried about spelling and grammar or that their ideas aren’t good enough.
The only way round writers’ block is to lose the anxiety. You need to persaude yourself that it doesn’t matter what you write, or how you write it – you can always revise it later – it’s just getting it written that matters.
Here are my top ways to beat writers’ block:
Just write, without stopping, for 10 minutes. Write about anything and everything – if you’re stuck on a particular project, then write about how you are stuck. Just the act of writing, knowing that what you’re producing can be thrown away and won’t be seen by anyone will help you to get un-stuck. For more about freewriting, see Writing with Power by Peter Elbow.
- Set a timer.
This is a good way to get into writing if you don’t feel like it just then. Set the timer for 15 minutes and don’t allow yourself to stop writing until the timer goes off. Knowing that there’s a time limit will help, but I usually find that when the time’s up I don’t want to stop writing.
- Ask questions.
If you’re blocked from writing because you don’t know where to begin, then get a fresh sheet of paper and write a dialogue, answering and asking questions about the project. It’s another way of getting into writing without feeling under pressure to produce something perfect, and it will help you find out more about the topic, see where you have gaps in your knowledge and might even help you find a new angle.
- Play around.
This is sometimes the hardest method to use – especially if you’re at work – but it can also be the most useful if you are really stuck for new ideas or need a new way to look at something. You take your topic as a starting point – whether it’s a letter, a leaflet or even a story, and change the format. Make it a dialogue, change your point of view (why not try writing a draft of a leafet from the POV of a customer, asking for what they want from the company?) Try playing around with rhyming couplets, write it as it would be said by one of your favourite tv characters – anything to get you thinking about it differently.
After a while, you’ll find a new way of looking at the original piece of writing, and with a little (or a lot) of editing, will have got what you needed. The downside is that it can take a lot of time, and that if you’re writing something for work and your boss comes up behind you, it might take some explaining. But I still think that it’s a more productive way to deal with writers’ block than tidying out your desk drawer or making cups of coffee.
Or mind maps or spider diagrams or whatever you want to call them. They are one of the easiest ways to order ideas or even to generate new ones. If you’re getting stuck on what it is that you’re writing about, or want to write something but don’t know what – then this technique will help. Just take a piece of paper, write a word in the centre, circle it, then write any words or ideas that come to you in association with the word, linking them up with lines.