Overcoming Writer’s Block, Revisited

Apparently I touch on this topic every four years or so (2012, 2016). And since I’m revisiting older posts anyway, I might as well take another look at those moments where the words just aren’t coming. There are ways to get out of your self-imposed literary prison.

Writer’s block can come in small or large cases. A small version of writer’s block might be finding the right word or sentence–and in the case of single words, there’s always the thesaurus. Sometimes you need a paragraph, page, or entire document and the words are failing you.

Where is this literary blankness coming from?

You could be tired, burned out, or feeling like your creativity has run out. We’ve all been there. I’m still stuck in my fictional writer’s block (two years and counting). However, work-related writer’s block hasn’t been nearly as painful or long lasting.

There’s Nothing Like a Deliverable…or a Deadline

Unlike writing for yourself, writing for others usually comes with a delivery date, which provides an excellent motivator to keep moving and keep writing. The other good thing about working for customers is that they have a set of expectations that you need to fulfill. They need a product of a particular length, style, and intent that will produce the results they want. Push enough words around and eventually you’ll arrive at your destination, especially if you’ve worked for the customer for a while.

Write What You Want in the Blank Space

My mentor D2 is fond of the “blahblahblah” method of filling a blank spot in a document. If she doesn’t know what to write, she will at least write down what should be in a particular place, then come back to it. Examples include:

  • Need transition here.
  • Need some inspirational blahblahblah about training here.
  • Insert appropriate technobabble here.

The “blahblahblah” is simply a way to fill the space until you know what you want. And generally you have a notion, just not the specific, artful wording.

Tell Me Your Troubles

A slightly more advanced version of the “blahblahblah” method I would call the cathartic method. You don’t just write what should go into a particular document or section thereof. You write what’s bothering you about it. An example might be:

Need a paragraph here explaining why this program/project matters to this particular audience. They don’t have any NASA centers in their state; nobody in their state or district is working on the project. Why should they care? Why should they cough up tax dollars to fund Brilliant Widget X? Do I take the altruistic approach that says “space benefits everybody?” Or do I try to find a selfish motive that might move the audience? Or both? What will my customer want to see? What will be more effective, and why?

And so forth. You might discover by writing down the questions that are plaguing you that you already know the answers to some of them. What writing a long form of your needs does is get you thinking about the problem another way…or, at the very least, at least gets you writing something.

Bottom Line

Writer’s block is not fatal, though it can feel that way depending on your level of stress and frustration. When in doubt, I at least make a note of my needs and intentions and then come back to them the next day, usually with a fresh perspective. Maybe I should take this approach with my fiction. Hmmmmm.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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