I used to think of writer’s block as a dearth of ideas. Lack of ideas is not something that I’ve ever experienced; in fact, my usual problem is deciding which idea I should focus on next. The best description I ever had of my brain was a thousand browser windows open at once. Fortunately, I can focus on the one thing I want or need to, and put the others into the background. So, I confidently expected to never get blocked as a writer.
Until I did. It was the weirdest thing. I wanted to write. I knew what I needed to write. But when I sat down at the typewriter to start the download from my brain via my fingers, nothing happened. I just couldn’t get started. That’s when I came to the realisation that is is so beautifully expressed by Joyce Carol Oates up there.
The best analogy I can come up with for when I know an idea is ready is the creation of the universe. Inside my mind, I have an incredible assortment of information floating around. I’ll do my research for an article and add to it. The ideas swirl around in my mental firmament until a couple collide and stick together. Then another, and another, until the idea starts to have gravity. It attracts other things and I get a pleasantly unpleasant feeling of fullness in my head. That’s when it’s time to write.
For example, today I am going to write a blog about digital marketing. I know the subject I want to write about. I’m interested in it and excited to get started but…I’ve written the opening paragraph about eight times and the words are still not flowing. I could sit down and force myself to write it, paragraph by painful paragraph, but I know it wouldn’t be my best work. Instead, I’m going to give those ideas a little more time to swirl and connect and do something else.
Change Mental Gears
I think, when you’re blocked, that your conscious mind just gets in the way. If I try to work the problem, I’ll just get more frustrated, so instead, I’ll let my clever subconscious work on it while I do something else. What? Well, that depends. Here are some of the things I do to get into the right frame of mind:
- Make a drink or snack
Sometimes this is all that’s needed to get me back on track. Especially if the drink is coffee or Berocca 🙂
If the idea isn’t developed enough, then take a little more time to refine it. I brainstorm. Looking back through my notes from research and trying to pull together a narrative thread.
- Take a nap
I’m a single Mum of two incredible kids. Tired is my default state of being. A fatigued brain isn’t going to work at maximum capacity, so I ask Alexa to play me rainforest or ocean sounds, and I nap. Napping is awesome.
- Do something practical
Unload the dishwasher, hang the laundry, mow the lawn, pick up the million and one nerf bullets that are scattered around the house from last night’s epic battle.
- Work on something else
Reconcile my accounts, polish my CV, go on a scouting mission for more work, or write a blog post for myself – as I am doing right now!
- Go out
I’m lucky to have a little wood just a few minutes walk from my house. I can go out into nature, listen to the birds and the swish of the wind in the trees and be back at my desk within about half an hour.
Mr. Stephen Colbert is often seen on my recently watched list. I also like listening to the BBC Friday Night Comedy Podcast. I think the laughter probably releases stress and helps the creativity to flow!
- Leave it for another day
Of course, this one is no good if you’re the sort that leaves your work to the last minute. I’m not, I always build myself in some time, if I can, so that if the time isn’t right, I can defer it.
- Just get on with it
Although I’ve put this last on the list it’s actually my first choice of action. I try. If I can’t, and deadlines allow other options then I use those. For some types of writing (especially bids and tenders) the deadlines are usually so short that you have no other choice than to crack on. It’s easier to do that with bids, though, because the question you’re answering gives you the structure of your answer.
And if after all that I really can’t connect with the idea? Well, then there’s a good chance that I’ve either got the wrong idea or the wrong client. The wrong idea means going back to the drawing board and coming up with something new – it’s not the best idea for me, because it means I’ve worked more hours on a piece that I had budgeted for, but ultimately it’s worth it to have a happy client. And if it’s the wrong client? Well, then it’s time to get this piece finished and then have a conversation with them about how we might work together better, or who might be able to help them better than I can. It’s good to have a network of copywriters that I can pass work that isn’t right for me, on to.
How about you? What do you do when you need to get past ‘writer’s block’?