Think You Can't Write?

Seascape calm sea, some large rocks in foreground

Creative writing can sometimes be hard work. At other times, the right words seem to just fall onto the page in almost perfect harmony like the way a gentle flowing tide caresses a sandy beach on a summer's day. Yet crafting a superb written excerpt is harder still.

Nevertheless occasionally, our best thoughts and ideas seem to desert us. At such times, we may be convinced that the muse has gone. Never to return. We can then overdramatise our predicament.

That's when some writers can be plagued by irrational fears, insecurities and suchlike. Nevertheless below, we have some powerful tips, techniques and suggestions to offer designed specifically to fix the problem of "writer's block."

If you can't think of anything to write, you may have up to three problems — all of which can be overcome:

  • The wrong mindset: you may be unknowingly in the wrong frame of mind.
  • You may temporarily lack self-confidence or self-belief.
  • You may be thinking of your writing as nothing special, just another collection of words. And you think the world is already awash with such information. After all, hasn't everything of value already been written you may wonder. 

Here's a strategy that might help break the spell and overcome all of the above problems at the same time. Consider the following guidelines:

  • When you just can't write, don't! Yes, that's correct, don't even try to write a single word! Time to play, do something else. At least for now. You're not a robot so why not play the rebel for a while? If the guilt of not doing is gnawing away at your conscience, maybe you need to perfect how to be an even better rebel. Try some other ideas below, to help kick-start your writing session.
  • Still stuck? Then try talking about the topic to be considered and record your thoughts — using an app, mobile phone, tape recorder, Dictaphone or PC headset / microphone. Why? The more you "talk" your thoughts, the more likely your brain is to start making new "connections" that can open up different thought streams, questions, ideas and opportunities. As you continue, your writing problem may simply get forgotten as your brain gets busy. You can start to genuinely relax and therefore start your writing in earnest.
  • Above all, keep in mind, who you're writing for, so that you can truly consider the needs of your reader. When you focus on someone else, your own seeming imperfections or limitations can seem to disappear.
  • In your mind, separate the look or presentation of your text or article from its content or presentation. For writing, what matters first and foremost are words, thoughts, ideas first and foremost, not looks. Packaging comes later.
  • Here's one tip that some writers use to get out of "stuck mode". Create a series of one-line sentences to use as headings of chapters, sections or paragraphs that you can eventually use to form a document outline or structure.
  • Also if required, add in meaningful, relevant and seductive subheadings that seek to challenge your reader. Why? These are especially useful signposts for those readers who prefer to scan-read a document to determine whether to read further. Scanners are a manifestation of our impatient, "push-button-I-want-a-result-now" age. 
  • The act of creating headings and subheadings can stimulate your mind sufficiently that you're able to start "filling in the blanks".
  • Keep your focus on the writing. Concentrate on the content first and ignore the presentation of your document. Why? To allow your mind to focus on the really important message or what you want to say. PCs coupled with word processing, desktop publishing, web design software, and so on, allow for easy change of presentation style at any stage in the document production process. So you can think about your document "packaging" later.
  • To minimise distractions, some writers prefer to use sparse writing tools, such as a bare-bones software program. For example, an application that includes few buttons, no formatting commands, just a digital page and a keyboard, not even a Save button, as the software saves your material automatically as you type. All editing is done later. If a clean, minimalist "start-off" space helps you create, go forth and simplify. 
  • In most instances, resist the urge try writing the introduction to your document before you have written some of the main content. Why: to introduce something that doesn't yet exist is a big challenge. So wait until you have at least written some content. Aim to get the main points listed as soon or as you formulate them. There's a well known story about the benefits and the importance of "getting the big rocks in the jar first." I won't go into that here, but the quotation makes the key point sufficiently well.
  • You could even start simply by listing a word, a phrase, or a sentence as an "opener" to your main point. When "stuck", you'll be amazed at the power of "just getting started" — without making excuses or judging yourself. Next, expand on this starting point stage by stage. A little flow can open up more flow (of thoughts, words and ideas) which can open the floodgates of your creative mind.
  • Get interested in what you're writing about — really interested! Why: authentic enthusiasm is its own driver.
  • To help stimulate your creative juices, apply the following questions to your topic: who, what, why, where, when and how. The order in which you ask these questions doesn't matter: you can rearrange your text flow later.
  • Look for ways to create excitement or tension about your document topic. Why? Emotion and passion in text is like color and hue in an image.
  • If you're "on a roll", don't let the concerns of  so-called "writing best practices", "correct order", "shoulds" and "should nots" interrupt your flow. Go with the flow first.
  • Once you have some content, consider how to arrange your material for the best logical flow.
  • While producing a first draft, don't be concerned about spelling errors or making minor mistakes — they can be fixed later — for now, just focus on the topic and your thought stream.
  • If your think that your creativity is faltering, take a break. Writing can be draining. Sometimes, when on a roll, we just don't realise, we're getting tired. So stop — regularly if you can. Rest your mind for a few minutes. Do something different. Relax — you're probably tensing up again. Shut your eyes; look out of the window to focus on a distant object; listen to some relaxing music. Take a walk. Jump on the exercise bike or treadmill. After 5 or 10 minutes, resolve to continue. Yet don't hold yourself to a rigid "must do" timetable.
  • When you have created a first draft, finish for now, save your document and create a backup copy.
  • Ideally, ignore your document for at least one day and then start work on your second draft. Cut out any unnecessary repetition. Check your grammar. Run a spell-check. Complete other basic checks.
  • If still can't think of anything of sufficient quality to get started, forget quality (for now) - just start by writing anything about your topic that comes into your mind. Why: to exercise your mind and train it to focus in on the topic.
  • If you still can't get started, don't panic, just write anything that comes into your mind. Why: to simply attempt to get started and feel the flow of writing. When you "get into your groove", you can return soon enough to the real writing topic you want to tackle.
  • However, don't try to force yourself to write if you really don't want to — the results will almost certainly display your displeasure. Nevertheless, perseverance can bring its own rewards if that works for you. You may be the kind of person who needs to go through some kind of mind-tormenting ritual for a few minutes every day before you can start writing your best gifts. The secret is to simply know yourself to achieve a balance of these two powers — if you need to achieve a balance at all.
  • If you really can't think of anything to write at the current time, you're probably trying too hard, are maybe just too tense, even expecting too much of yourself, or even worrying about not being able to write. You may have other urgencies dominating your thoughts or issues that are upsetting your natural state of mind. If you think any of these obstacles could apply you, consider practicing any of the following possible remedies:
    • Relax and try to get your mind to concentrate only on the present moment. Don't try to fix or force anything, just be the independent observer of yourself. Notice the sound your breath makes. Enjoy quietness for its own sake.
    • Do something entirely different for a while.
    • Move away from your desk, workstation, PC, tablet computer, or smart phone.
    • Take a walk in natural surroundings.
    • Feed some birds in your garden or local park and notice especially how motivated they are when feeding.
    • Observe a young child — see how excited she gets at sights, sounds and scenes that many adults might find mundane. Children often see a level of wonder that is invisible to adults.
    • Throw a pebble into a quiet pond or lake and notice the way the light plays on rippling water.
    • Talk to your pet (or someone else's animal companion). Some dogs can be remarkably intuitive, tuning in to their owner's moods and emotional nuances.
  • Once you've written your document's second draft, re-read each part of your material — several times across several different days. Each time you re-read, your mind will almost certainly "suggest" other thoughts and ideas to you, possibly identify areas that still require expansion or further explanation, developing and coloring what you already have.
  • If your document is particularly important or crucial, when you're finished, ask a friend or colleague to read it and provide critical feedback. Why: additional errors may be identified and new ideas suggested.

Most of all, whatever the outcome, resolve to enjoy your writing experience — sometimes, that alone can break your writer's block to help ensure you get complete your publication satisfactorily.

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