“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” Mark Twain
I have been writing various blogs for a number of years and generally I can come up with something interesting to say every week. But Covid-19 hit our shores in March this week (thankfully neither I, my family and friends have had it, fingers crossed that continues) and I stopped. It was a mixture of that early lockdown feeling of helplessness and fear and then merged into ‘I’ve been doing very little of interest so have very little of interest to say’.
I joined Medium about a month ago and started off well coming up with great articles to put up. And then I stopped there too. I could not think of a single thing to write that would be of interest to anyone reading Medium. Which is outrageous for me for I have an opinion on everything. For the first time in years, I experienced writers’ block for something I should have had no problem doing.
My background is journalism and PR. I began my career as a cub reporter on a local newspaper at the tender age of 18 in 1989. Since then, I moved into PR and worked for many years, happily concocting stories for a range of publications.
So, what’s happened now? I’ve been thinking about it this morning and I think it’s a form of stage fright. After 30 years of writing articles on everything from murder to a new hospital building, I’ve allowed the doubts to flood my mind and stop my creativity. WTF?
And do you know what’s got me started again? I sat down this morning and did a bit of free writing and mind mapping and suddenly – boom – I’m back in business again. That means I produced some articles for Medium and I’m back writing this blog again. And some other projects I’m involved in. Which is great. Go me!
Now there are people who will argue writers’ block does not exist, but I’m very much in the camp of those who say it does. I have experienced it many times before. It’s literally blankness of the mind over a certain project. When I’ve had it, I cannot think of a single thing to write on any subject. It’s happened with writing both fiction and non-fiction.
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem.” Hilary Mantel
How do I normally get over it? Usually, I just write any old thing until I get back into my writing rhythm. However, recently I’ve been working on a lot of different projects and I think being more than a little tired has taken its toll. So, I sought the advice of the great and the good on the internet and came up with the free writing and mind mapping.
Hmmm? I wondered, maybe I could share some nuggets of how to combat writers’ block. So, here we go folks, a top ten of tips for getting over writers’ block:
- Just write anything – usually this works for me. The aim of doing this exercise is to just write. It doesn’t matter how good or poor the prose, just get something, anything, down. It’s actually a form of free writing.
- Take a break – go for a walk, read a book, clean out your wardrobe. Do something where you are not thinking about writing and before long an idea will pop into your head that will have you scribbling again.
- Tell your inner critic to ‘shut the f*** up’ – by telling yourself your ideas are no good, your writing style is awful and you can’t write, you are murdering your creation before it’s even taken breath. Write the damn thing and then edit. If it’s still crap, ditch it. However, you are more than likely to find that there are nuggets of greatness in there, what Virignia Woolf called ‘diamonds in the dirt’ (I’m paraphrasing because I saw the quote earlier and then couldn’t find it again).
- Start a writing routine, do it every day. That way you will improve and by forcing yourself to write you should, hopefully, not come up against writers’ block. Okay, so I write every day and I did come up against writers’ block, but this is you we’re talking about.
- Write your first draft without editing it. Set it aside and then go back hours, days, weeks later and edit it. Do not edit as you go along. You will never get it finished.
- Plan your writing. Even short stories, poems and short articles need an element of planning in them. Sit down with a notebook and pen and write out everything you want to say. Put it in the correct order then write it up. This works very well for me for novel writing. I need to know what I’m writing next and why I’m writing it in order to get the next chapter down.
- Can’t get an opening line right? Just leave it and go back to it. This is your first draft so it doesn’t need to be perfect.
- Write somewhere different. Get out of the house, go to your local café or library and write there. A change of perspective is always good.
- Is your writing still not working? Take a holiday from it. That could be a day or a week or a couple of weeks, and then go back to it with a fresh outlook.
- Write for yourself and no one else. If the genre isn’t working for you, swap it for one that does, that you love. Don’t just write it because you think other people with love it. Write what YOU want to write, not others.
“[Only jolter-headed], conceited idiots … suppose that volumes are to be tossed off like pancakes, and that any writing can be done without the utmost application, the greatest patience, and the steadiest energy of which the writer is capable.” Charles Dickens