A good cup of tea can cure many ills and it’s a go-to remedy for me when the words won’t flow.
There were many days on the newsroom floor when my fingers hit the delete button more than any other letter on the keyboard and the corridor to the staff kitchen beckoned.
Taking that short break, concentrating on making the perfect cuppa and then savouring the tart tannin on my tongue on the way back to my desk was usually a sure-fire way to get those creative juices flowing.
Writer’s block can be caused by many things; the desire for the perfect prose, looming deadlines, distractions. Even the most prolific and successful writers suffer from this malaise.
We know what we want to write, we know what our readers want, we have all the facts and figures, but putting them all together can seem like an insurmountable task.
But writer’s block is manageable and there are many strategies to employ to make sure you are never short of something to say.
1. Taking notes
Jot down ideas and phrases as they occur to you. Don’t worry about putting these into paragraphs or sentences for the moment. Perhaps even use flow charts, arrows, boxes, outlines, even pictures. Just concentrate on getting things out of your head and onto the page before you forget them.
Getting started is often the hardest part and just writing anything can start the process of dislodging the block. Give yourself ten minutes and write down everything you can think of about your topic. Try to do it without stopping and if you run out of ideas or can’t think of anything, just write whatever pops into your head. If other things occur to you as you write, go ahead and record them, even if they are not directly related to your topic. These distractions may be part of what is keeping you blocked.
The main purpose of freewriting is to get you moving – like stretching before exercising. With your brain loosened up a bit you’ll often find that the sprint to the end is much easier.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to start at the beginning. It may be easier to get started if you approach the task sideways. It’s a trick scriptwriters will often use – start from the end and work backwards. If you've got a plan for the article or manual, choose a section from the middle or a point you know well and start there. Then do another section. After you've gained some confidence, you can work on the opening and smooth out the transitions.
4. What I Really Mean Is (WIRMI)
When you're stuck in a quagmire trying to find the perfect phrase, switch to What I Really Mean Is and just say it the way you think it. Once you know what you mean, it is easier to refine the phrasing.
5. Close enough is good enough
Don’t waste time searching for the right word, phrase or constructing the perfect sentence. Instead write down the one that is stuck in your head, highlight it and come back to it on the next draft. Often the one that got away will be on the tips of your fingers when you re-read your work.
6. Caffeine cure
My tea-walk has been replaced by a coffee run – a good cappuccino, latte or long black will get you away from the screen for just enough time to feel slightly refreshed, and chatting to co-workers, customers or even strangers in the café line can give you something else to think of and loosen the ties that are binding your brain.