It was midnight.
It was midnight and a cold autumn wind howled across the barren, rock-strewn landscape and shrieked through the lifeless, skeletal remains of an ancient oak tree. A harsh beacon of light burned into the darkness from an attic window in the rundown two-story farmhouse.
In the attic, a dismal figure was sprawled upon a wooden writing table, sobbing quietly. The desk's scarred surface was illuminated by the glare of a single, naked lamp and the unblinking, unfeeling gaze of a computer screen.
It was midnight.
It was midnight and sleep evaded the disheveled, exhausted writer. Sleep could not come because the words . . . the words . . . would not come! And deadline (such an ominous term) was at morrow's first light.
The unholy daemon that is writer's block had invaded the author's bleak office and clenched its cold, bony fingers 'round his neck. Slowly, it choked the literary life from his very soul!
It was midnight . . . and the words simply would not come.
Banishing writer's block
Well, that little exercise was fun!
Ok, I'm no Stephen King or Edgar Allen Poe by any stretch of the imagination. But not only are these larks enjoyable, writing them fulfills an important purpose as well.
That's one way I combat writer's block.
Most of my little "mini-sodes" never see the light of day. But when I'm stuck on a project, I'll write one. It gets the creative juices flowing again and helps clear my mind. I usually just delete them.
I don't know how this one got loose!
I write B2B content for several businesses. Serious stuff, you know. But sometimes it's good to let your hair down — not that I have that much to begin with — and get a little creative. It loosens you up and before you know it, the writer's block ogre skulks away to find someone else to pester.
A personal blog is another excellent outlet for creative writing.
Here are some other writer's block tips that friends and colleagues have proffered:
- A friend suggested that you put down the work and do something completely unrelated. Take a walk, go for a drive or do anything that doesn't involve writing. I've tried it and it really works.
- A writer friend of mine, Marianne Foscarini, told me that she listens to classical music when she's stuck. The melodies are soothing and since much of it is instrumental, there are no words to distract you. I've used this method as well (I had forgotten it until she mentioned it) and listen to music that "flows" with the topic.
- Start your article . . . yesterday! When I get up in the morning, around 6:00 AM, and open a blank document, it's often hard to get started. If I know what I'm going to be writing the next day, I'll start a new document. I'll jot down a headline and some subheads, or start on the lede. When I open it in the morning, I've got a head start. Sometimes I'll actually leave the document open all night long. You never know when the "write" mood or inspiration will hit you!
- A change of venue helps as well. I like my office. But there are times when it seems the walls are closing in on me. Not only that, but my desk is not always, shall we say, neat and tidy. Plenty of things can catch my interest and sidetrack my writing. Going to a café, the library or even the picnic table in my yard often brings renewed energy, perspective and focus. Watching people going about their daily lives can spark an idea or two.
- Reverting to good old pencil and paper is a suggestion from Gina Marie Long. It's a great way to start brainstorming. Sometimes "old school" is the best school.
A lack of research forces writer's block upon you as well. If you haven't done due diligence, you're just asking for it. Once you know the subject better, the words write themselves!
But there's a flip side to that coin. You don't need to know every minute detail to write effectively. I've seen writers over-research their topic. In fact, you may have so much info that you don't know where to start. And doing too much research artificially caps your income.
But some writers do excessive research because they're afflicted with another problem.
And that would be writer's block's evil twin — procrastination.
Put procrastination in its place
Granted, there are times when you just don't feel like writing. You know the deadline's looming, but you just can't seem to get motivated. You'd rather do something else.
You need to get your motivation back . . . and soon!
Some of the same techniques for banishing writer's block work here, too. For example, start your article the night before. It will be calling to you in the morning: "Steve, oh Steve. Come write with me . . . now!"
I was talking to a writer buddy over coffee one afternoon. He was always putting things off until the last minute. I asked to see his calendar.
"I don't really keep one," was the reply. That's a problem and it leads to CPS (Chronic Procrastination Syndrome). All right, I made that up. But, do keep a calendar. It's not that hard.
And I don't care if it's paper or plastic (actually, digital). You need to keep a calendar if you want to hack this procrastination thing. I've used paper calendars and journals in the past. These days, I work from a Google calendar.
I use it for setting appointments; but more importantly, for setting deadline reminders. Since it's online, I can access and update it anywhere with my tablet or laptop.
And it's free . . . so you can't whine about the price!
Sometimes writers procrastinate — particularly new ones — because a writing job looks HUGE! This ought to be common sense, but break it down into easily digestible chunks. I use a digital timer when writing larger works. After 33 minutes, the bell rings. I'll get up and take a break for about 10 minutes.
Don't try to devour the whole pizza at once . . . just eat it one slice at a time!
Don't write in your underwear and other tips
Ok, you can write in your underwear or even . . . your pajamas.
After all, writing can be done from virtually anywhere. You dream of writing on sunny beaches, or from anywhere at any time and wearing anything you choose. And besides, if you're Skyping with clients or team members, they only see you from the waist up. A shirt and tie is really all you need!
Wake up, Sparky!
You may get there eventually. But if you're having productivity issues, it's time you treated your writing as a business.
Here are some quick tips to increase your productivity when working from home:
Put on your writer's uniform: I have some very specific clothes that I wear for writing. Several nice shirts, a couple pairs of pants and my penny loafers make up my writer's wardrobe. (Although lately, I've been partial to my Crocs®. They just feel better.) Donning my writer's clothes transforms me into "Super Writer Man," even though I don't wear a billowing cape.
Well, not all the time.
Have an office: Now, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy. But you really should have a dedicated location where your writing lives. And you should make it sacred ground. I've got a nice office in my home with a desk and a credenza and bookshelves and everything.
It even has a door that locks!
But I started out on the kitchen table many years ago. Even then, my family knew that when Dad was in his "office," he was not to be disturbed. Pick a location — maybe a corner of the garage — and make it your writing shrine. In his book On Writing, author Stephen King mentioned that he sometimes worked in a converted closet at his vacation home.
Keep an "inspiration net" handy: Inspiration flutters by without warning. Are you ready for it? Keep a notebook, digital recorder or even your smartphone handy wherever you go. Don't think, even for a minute, that you'll remember it later. Capture the moment now!
You never know when or where inspiration and creativity will strike next.
The most important productivity hack of all time
Read a lot.
Read everything and anything you can get your hands on.
Read books, read magazines, read fiction and nonfiction. Heck, read the back of cereal boxes for crying out loud! Somewhere down the line — if you fill your mind with enough useful information — the right words will come spilling out of your brain, down through your fingertips and onto the page.
I couldn't have told you about Stephen King's closet office if I hadn't read his book. Most of the ideas presented above aren't original with me — I read them somewhere!
I just put them into my own words.
You can't get water from an empty bucket. And you can't get creative, quality writing from an empty mind. Read as if it was as vital as breathing. Fill your mind with buckets full of words as if your livelihood depended on it, because…