Whether you’re writing a financial report, an email update to your manager or team, or a blog for your company’s website, it can often feel overwhelming starting a new writing project. Sometimes the words flow onto the page like an unstoppable waterfall, and sometimes each and every word is a struggle, and you feel like you’re pushing a boulder up a hill.
Writer’s block is that frustrating moment when you have no idea where to start or what to say next. The very idea of it haunts professional writers, and often stems from feeling weighed down by the task ahead, not feeling creative or when you just don’t have any good ideas.
We’ve managed to push through these thoughts to bring you our top tips to follow the next time you’re looking at a blank page and experiencing writer’s block.
1. Plan it out
One of the biggest causes of writer’s block is not knowing what you’re actually trying to write. You may have a rough idea, but it’s unlikely to fall onto your page fully formed at the first attempt. It’s usually a good idea to plan it out before trying to write it properly. This is particularly true for longer documents, reports or articles, but can be helpful even for shorter emails or messages.
You may want a full document of notes to refer to later, or just a quick scribble on a post-it note. It’s much easier to find a good flow and structure when you know what’s coming next, rather than trying to figure it out as you go along.
However, you don’t have to be completely beholden to the plan. If, halfway through writing the document, you feel that it isn’t working or you’ve missed something out, you can change it. Writing should be a free-flowing exercise. Nothing is set in stone until it goes to print, or you hit sent on the email. As a true example: when planning this article, the five points were originally in a different order. Once it was written out fully, I decided to swap them around for clarity. Your plan is more what you might call guidelines than actual rules.
2. Give yourself time to warm up
Often, the hardest part of overcoming writer’s block is writing anything at all. When this happens, try a warm-up activity. If you were going on a run, you’d stretch your muscles first, and when you’re writing a long document you also need time to warm up and get your brain in gear.
At this stage, just write down anything that you think of. It might not be your best work, and it might not even be relevant to the topic, but once you begin getting words on the page, more will follow. Nothing is more intimidating than a blank page, so once you’ve got something down, the rest will get easier. You can delete it all later, or you might surprise yourself with something you actually want to use.
3. Start with your first draft, not your final one
It’s very rare that your first draft will be your only chance to write it. Even if there’s no time to create a completely new version, you can read it back, make changes and revise sections, if needed.
This takes the pressure off getting it perfect at the first try. Chances are, you’re the only one that will ever read your first attempt. You can play with it, try different ways to phrase things and make mistakes.
Think of your final product like a play: people don’t care about how good or bad the actors were during rehearsals, they only care about the performance when they’re in the audience watching. In the same way, your readers won’t give any thought to how messy your first draft was, as long as it all ends up reading well in the end.
The author Neil Gaiman once described the job of a second draft as trying to “make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”
4. You don’t have to write in order
It sounds logical to write your opening section first – after all, that’s the first thing people are going to read. However, this will often be the hardest part to write, because you want to introduce the rest of the content and set the tone, but until the rest is actually written, you may not know what’s coming or how to talk about it.
For this exact reason, it’s common practice for the opening to be the final part written, especially for longer reports. Instead, start with the part you think will be easiest, this will get you into a good rhythm, make you feel more confident about the rest and get the process going.
Similarly, if you’re struggling to write a particularly challenging section, you can move on and come back to that bit later. There are no rules to say you have to write in any particular order, especially during your first draft. You can jump around, leave sentences unfinished for a while, and work in whatever order suits your thought process best. Just make sure you proofread it carefully, so everything ends up making sense and doesn’t contain any silly errors, before sending it to anyone else.
5. Experiment with your time and setup
Before starting a new project, take a moment to consider when you’re going to be at your best. Your creativity on a Monday morning is probably going to be a bit different from late on a Friday afternoon.
Of course, you don’t always get a choice when work comes to you, or when the deadlines are, but you might be able to set the order of your day so you work on it first thing, rather than after dealing with something that’s going to mentally tire you out.
You can also experiment with what helps you feel most creative. Do you need a cup of coffee beside you, or your favourite music playing? Do the ideas flow better when you’re sitting at your laptop or do you need a walk? Do you prefer to type your first notes or work with pen and paper? Once you find your perfect setup, you’ll be much more comfortable overcoming the spectre of writer’s block.
Writer’s block can affect everyone at some point and is a challenging experience when you feel under pressure of deadlines or you’re not the most confident writer anyway. However, by giving yourself a chance to warm up, plan your thoughts and find your best process, you can overcome these feelings and write your next masterpiece.
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