Last week, I blogged about the need to have a blog and to keep blogging away at it. Insensitive of me. What about those times when you simply can’t? Writer’s block is that awful, grinding-down feeling when you have to write, but can’t. Something goes wrong between mind and hand, and you just can’t write a thing. It’s like having to write in a colleague’s communal birthday or leaving card, but worse.
Do I get writer’s block? For copywriting work, rarely. The work is pretty prescribed, so I don’t get that “eek, where do I start??” feeling very often. Blogging is a different matter. It’s like logging on to Spotify and realising that you have the whole world of music to choose from and going into a state of panicked stasis where you can’t remember a single piece of music or musician, apart from something really random like The One Show theme. If you have the kind of blog that covers a wide area, an almost agoraphobic anxiety hits you with full force, and that’s when writer’s block strikes. Even if your theme is narrower, there will probably be occasions when inspiration just isn’t happening.
Searching for my own inspiration, I Googled writer’s block. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of suggestions out there. Some were obvious and pretty sensible (Exercise! Walk around the garden! Brainstorm with a friend or colleague!). Some were so wacky that they were either apocryphal or the domain of the already rich and successful (Apparently Dan Brown wears gravity boots and hangs upside down like some crazy writing bat until he gets focus. Victor Hugo used to get his valet to hide his clothes so he couldn’t go out, which could backfire unpleasantly if he ran out of coffee…). Some just came under the header “Don’t even go there” (“Have sex”. What??).
My own suggestions are somewhat tamer (but cheaper, and don’t require a second person). Here are a few ideas to get things moving again. The prune juice of words, if you like.
Write anyway – write anything
The mere act of sitting down and banging out a few sentences can work wonders. Poor writing can be rewritten later – at least there is writing. Write any bit of a blog post that takes your fancy. I often find that a post starts with a thought or a sentence that catches my imagination, and this is rarely the opening paragraph. I write most blog posts from the middle downwards, then skip back up to the top. The first line of this post was “It’s like logging on to Spotify…” which got me going on the rest.
You don’t even have to write a blog post. Compose an email to a friend, a shopping list, a Facebook status update. At least you’re writing.
If the sitting down approach doesn’t work, try the moving around approach. Swimming does it for me. OK, I am in the privileged position of being a freelancer and I appreciate that pounding the pool isn’t possible during the day for many. Walk, run, scamper a bit. If you’re at home, pull up a few weeds so at least you’re getting a useful by-product. Thoughts can flow freely during exercise.
There’s always coffee
Or tea. Or juice. Let’s not go down the stereotypical creative-off-their-faces-on-caffeine thing. It can be part of a comforting ritual (Stephen King always starts with a nice cuppa. I like the juxtaposition of the cosiest of drinks and the scariest of creative imaginations), or a break from the screen. I think what I’m trying to say here is don’t neglect your bodily needs. Don’t stare at your paper so hard that your eyes bulge and you break into a sweat.
Go with distraction
Read the news. Scroll through Facebook. See what’s trending. It could be a total waste of time – or an item could catch your imagination, and whoosh, off you go. As I said last week in my blog blog, try Google News for your specific subject and see what’s out there today that you can bounce off. Even Homes Under the Hammer may prove fruitful (Next week’s blog – literal songs for background music).
Come back again later
Do the mental equivalent of switching it off and on again. Give your thoughts time. Unless you have a deadline – and we’re talking about blogging here, not copy for tomorrow’s broadsheets – accept that it’s just not happening, and shelve it for another time. There may be a good reason why you have writer’s block (tiredness for example), so be nice to yourself and stop trying to force it.
Write a blog about writer’s block.
Damn. Gave myself away there…
Here are a few of the (many) articles on writer’s block that inspired this piece. The short BBC film is worth a look.