Whether you’re poised to write the next Great American Novel or need to do a company report (that is, by the way, due this Friday), it’s bound to strike you at one point or another. It’s been called the Terror of the Blank Page. It’s been called Writer’s Block. It’s horrible.
So what can you do about it?
1) Outline, outline, outline!
Outlines impose discipline on the writing process, and they prevent losing sight of where you’re going. Keeping an image of where you’re coming from and where you’re going will always help you get to that destination a little (or a lot) faster.
Decide right off what are your top five or ten points and write them down as bullet items. That’s it! That’s your outline! Now all you need to do is look at the flow of the outline and move your bulleted items around until you like the logic. Combine or split bullets if that works better.
Next, expand each summary by listing bullets under each one, thus creating a second outline level.
Now turn each of these secondary points into one or two full sentences. Try to ignore the points on either side, concentrate just on that one point you are making. Once you’ve done this for each point, you’re very close to being finished.
All you have to do now is insert an introduction, a conclusion, and the missing transitions between your points. Try not to endlessly revise as you go; save that for the second time looking at your text. When you do manage to get sidetracked, your outline will help you get back on track more quickly and easily.
2) Talk, talk, talk!
It’s often helpful to talk to somebody about what you’re trying to write. I’ve always found that talking about what I’m writing reveals just how muddled my thinking is, and gives me greater confidence in what I do have down. If there’s no one to talk to, draft your ideas as an email or letter to someone else, even if you never send it. The act of explaining something to another person often clarifies it for you.
3) Start new writing habits
Here’s something you probably don’t know: people who keep journals often find themselves experiencing writer’s block less frequently than the rest of us. In that vein of thought, you might want to consider practicing the exercises from one or more of the following:
- The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron)
- Writing for Story (Jon Franklin)
- Techniques of the Selling Writer (Dwight Swain)
Finally, many people say that in order to write, you have to – well, write. Write other things. Turn off your inner editor and write for fun. (Surely you remember what that is like!)
What are you waiting for? Do it, and you’ll find yourself… beyond The Elements of Style!