By Elisa Zallio, Jr Account Executive, Hoffman Europe (London)
What’s writer’s block?
Writer’s block is a condition more common and annoying than a seasonal cold. Anyone who writes has faced it, some just once in a while — *cough cough* Stephen King *cough cough* — while others seem to be constantly living it — looking at you, George R. R. Martin.
No one knows what triggers writer’s block, but it will get you when you least expect it, no matter how much experience you have. Usually, when you’re working on a very tight deadline, like it happens all the time in PR. It’s then that the block becomes a real pain in the ass.
If, like me, you’re more of a George R. R. Martin than a Stephen King, you start looking for strategies to break through the block as soon as possible. I’m not the only one struggling, so I asked the rest of Hoffman Europe for their methods, tried them, and mixed them all in this nice blog smoothie.
In the end, we boiled it all down to the following:
5 tips to overcome writer’s block
- Step back from the draft and return with fresh eyes
- Lower your expectations for the first draft
- Ask yourself why you can’t write
- Explain your idea to a colleague
- Immerse yourself in a relaxing environment
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
1. Step back from the draft and return with fresh eyes
As Chris Owen says, when you get stuck, set what you wrote aside, and let it sit there for an hour — or even better overnight. Chaining yourself to the chair until you’re done won’t help. Have a walk, brew yourself some coffee, let your brain mull over the problem in the background. Seeing your writing with fresh eyes can kick start things again.
2. Lower your expectations for the first draft
Your first draft will always be terrible. The good news is that’s normal. Aiming for a perfect article right away often triggers my writer’s block. That’s how it starts: I pause, read a few paragraphs, hate them, cancel them, stare at the blank page, then question my own worth as a writer first, as a professional second, and finally as a human being. Fun times.
Thankfully, Mark Pinsent is here to remind me that even when the first take is crap, you can edit it until it shines.
3. Ask yourself why you can’t write
You are stuck. Why are you stuck? Maybe you need to do more research on the topic or to read your sources again. It often helps to refresh my perspective, especially if I’m not familiar with the technology I’m writing about.
Sometimes I discover my idea is not really worth writing about. Either the angle is forced, or there are so many articles about it already — even from the client’s point of view — and my article doesn’t add anything to the conversation. And when I know what’s wrong, I know what to write to fix it.
4. Explain your idea to a colleague
Taking the idea out of your head and laying it on the table as a skeleton or a mental map can unblock you, especially when you have a colleague willing to lend a hand (or rather an eye).
Patrizia Huen and I often bounce ideas off each other. We explain our topic, list down the core points of what we want to write, and ask one another what she thinks about it. We usually find new angles or discover a missing connection between two concepts, and we can return to writing with confidence.
5. Immerse yourself in a relaxing environment
Sometimes all you need to overcome writer’s block is a bit of concentration. Leave your phone aside, silence your email inbox — if necessary, wear headphones to silence the rest of the office too. Eric Van Damme listens to instrumental music, while I prefer horror stories podcasts.
Writer’s block is awful, but there are many tricks to cure it. What are your favorite strategies? Do you have a trusted recipe to make your writing flow again? Tweet me about it at @ezcopywriting, I’m always looking for tips to add to the list.
(P.S. Yes, I did get writer’s block writing this #TheIrony!)