You know you have writer’s block when that blank white computer screen keeps winning the staring contest.
In the meantime, you’ve checked the weather, updated your Spotify playlist, gotten not one, but two cups of coffee, and now you’re actually contemplating re-organizing your files.
Even when you have well-researched, thorough and strategic creative briefs and backgrounders to draw from, it’s still possible to get writer’s block. In fact, the neatness and completeness of your source materials can almost create the sense that everything that can be said on a given topic has already been articulated in your source material.
Rather than cash it in and quit, there are ways to beat writer’s block; not just beat it but blow it out of the water.
For our purposes here, we’ll imagine in this scenario that you’re charged with creating content for a website that centers on a new health app. Here are five ways to fill that white screen with the right words.
If you ever learned in school the practice of freewriting, this is it. Here’s how it goes. You just start writing whatever comes to mind. It may or may not have a thing to with your purpose for writing.
If nothing is coming to your mind, just start writing about why you can’t seem to get started. As you progress, write about what you know and don’t know about the health app, and the conditions or treatments involved. Write about what you think people care about and don’t. Try to focus your content in the same general subject area of the app without forcing it.
The key is to physically start moving your fingers on the keyboard to jumpstart your mind’s focus on the topic.
This exercise hardly ever produces finished copy in the first draft. In fact, you may end up deleting the entire document and starting fresh. But it will help you focus on the task at hand. By the time you’ve exhausted your unfocused energies through this freewriting exercise, you will eventually find that both mind and fingers are ready to get serious and put some sharp and crisp content together.
How many comedians have made a living by giving a funny take on the things that bother them? Gripes are fertile territory for finding common ground with just about any audience.
That T-shirt tag that rubs against your neck? Some comedian made an entire routine about it. The frustrations of dating? The craziness of parenting, married life, driving a car? It’s not hard to find countless stand-up acts, television shows and more, all centered on the simple inconveniences of daily living.
So, what kinds of things that bother people can be solved by this health app? Write it down.
Start by writing about the gripe itself, and then write about the solution the app represents. You can do all of this in the first draft. In subsequent drafts, you can improve the tone by removing the negativity.
If you are writing a blog post or a first-person piece on the health app, this is a very straightforward and reliable technique.
Just think about something you did in the past that you wish you could do over, and say why and how.
Think about some past mistakes you may have made in your own life that might have been different had you known about this health app. Think about what you knew, what you didn’t know, and how this app might have led to a better outcome. Then, given what you now know about this app, explore how your life will be different going forward should you find yourself in that same dilemma again. Write all of it down.
Nothing can eliminate writer’s block like a strong opinion.
In this case, consider doing a search to find anything and everything on a topic touched on by your health app. Use search terms that are counter to everything that the app stands for. For example, if the health app helps people with pulmonary disease, look for articles that glorify smoking or vaping as “cool.” Your mission then would be to deconstruct their arguments or themes.
Once you have identified a point of view in an article that demands to be addressed, start analyzing the piece for what’s true, what’s not true, and what must be corrected through your own content.
As with so many other techniques for eliminating writer’s block, the purpose of your first draft is just to get you started writing, not to engage in a debate. You can avoid a tone of defensiveness or combativeness in future drafts and through the editing process. The main thing is to remember that inspiration can come as much from articles you don’t like as those you do.
Think about all the people you may know in your own life who could benefit or could have benefited from this app in some way.
Think about their daily issues, struggles and frustrations. Think of the things they’ve said to you about this issue. Think about how you’ve seen them alter their own lifestyles to accommodate.
Then imagine how their lives might have been changed by the app. Once again, start writing it all down. A good guiding thought is that if you have trouble writing about “it,” then start writing about “her” or “him.” Write about people and their stories, and how this app might have altered their course for the better.
These are just five ways to beat writer’s block. What are yours?
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy. He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist.
Photo via Pixabay