September 25, 2016

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Writer’s Block: How to slay the dragon

Writer’s Block: How to slay the dragon

You sit. Staring at a blank page on a screen, watching the cursor blink. Blink, blink, blink—a mocking metronome keeping count of the minutes you are wasting while you are ON DEADLINE.

Tentatively, you type out a sentence—wait, not even a whole sentence, you just start one—and then something in your head says “nope, that stinks” so you hit the backspace key until you’re back at the blinking cursor. Your inner editor starts critiquing sentences before they are even fully formed, and has rather annoyingly decided to hold you to a Pulitzer-prize winning standard for an ordinary blog post.

If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about: writer’s block.

  1. Try writing longhand. This is my preferred way of dealing with writer’s block—for some reason, I get unblocked far more quickly when I sit down with a spiral-bound notebook and a pen. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it is because it’s more permanent than typing in a word processing program. When I’m typing directly into a document, I have a tendency—because I know it’s available—to edit as I go. And if you’re having trouble getting started, the one thing you do not want to do is allow your inner editor to have free reign over what you are writing. In other words, when I’m writing with pen and paper, I give myself permission to make mistakes that I’ll correct when I type it into my computer.
  2. Read. Regardless if you are writing for yourself or on behalf of a client, if you can’t seem to get any words on a page, then take a step back and start reading material relevant to what you are writing about. Keywords set up in a media monitoring service will yield results that could spark some thoughts. If you’re the competitive type, try reading positive articles about your competition—and have a piece of paper by you when you do. Every time you catch yourself muttering “we do that better” or “here’s how we shine,” write it down. The trick is to keep reading until you have at least three to five thoughts down that you can expand on. Don’t stop too soon, because if one of those thoughts doesn’t flesh out easily, you don’t want to have to go back and forth.
  3. Do something else that is creative. When Albert Einstein got stuck on a problem, he’d play the violin. It sounds like a classic avoidance strategy to do something else, but please note I didn’t suggest surfing the Internet or checking Facebook. Those don’t count as “do something creative.” My creative fallbacks for writer’s block depend on how much time I have to step away from a piece. Sometimes I’ll go and bake something, which almost always works but has the negative effect of causing a surfeit of cookies and brownies in the house. If I only have 20-30 minutes, I’m going to be totally cliché in admitting I am now the owner of a coloring book. I don’t know the brain science of how or why this works, but it does for me.
  4. Move. This can be taken more than one way—you can get some physical exercise, such as walking or going for a run, or just taking the dog for a quick stroll—or, you can relocate to a different place to do your writing.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for writer’s block. In some cases you might be tired, or hungry. If you are a perfectionist, sometimes that trait can stop you—especially if your ideas aren’t fully formed when you sit down to write. The key is to disrupt the cycle of inner criticism that opened this piece. If you can do that, you’re well on your way.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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