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How do you deal with writer's block?

Many writers suffer from writer's block from time to time. It's probably best described as a feeling of procrastination coupled with a sense of unease/uncertainty that precedes writing the first sentence.

Equally, though, writer's block can strike halfway through a piece of written work when you're broadsided by the crushing realisation that you don't know where to go next.

In my opinion, there are three main causes of writer's block:

1/ Lack of experience or confidence in your writing ability.

2/ Lack of confidence in what you want to say.

3/ Not taking enough time to structure your work before you begin.

Just to get it out of the way early on, I'm fortunate enough to never suffer from writer's block.

That said, I could suffer from it if I was asked to work on something that I didn't understand. If I'd just been asked to write a 5,000-word opinion paper on the perils of inorganic matter colliding with hydrogen isotopes off Jupiter, I'd have no idea where to begin.​

Generally speaking, though, I can start any article, freelance copywriting job or website content I've been asked to work on because I'm very comfortable writing, having done it for more than 25 years.

It's also unusual for me not to have confidence in what I want to say because I'll have done the necessary research before I start writing. If a client asks me to take on a website copywriting assignment for them, for example, there's a discovery phase where I'll learn about that company and the market in which it operates.

As for the third thing on my list – not having a structure – I'm unlikely to be derailed by that because I typically plot things out before starting.

Tackling information overload

To give you an example, I was recently asked to write a 1,000-word piece about sustainable aviation for a magazine. The brief they gave me was pretty full-on and listed about 15 points they wanted to cover. They also asked me to interview three separate experts for the article.

Man dressed in black leaning against large concrete wall - face first
Writer's block, yesterday

Before I continue with my story, a quick detour about interviewing experts: when you're asking someone to take time out to talk to you for an article, there's a balancing act between not wanting to waste their time and not wanting to give the impression that they're unimportant.

In other words, it's hard to say to someone, "Can I interview you for two minutes, please." You kind of have to suggest at least 10 minutes, and what inevitably happens is that this becomes 15 or 20. As a result, you often end up with far more material than you can use.

So, bringing us back to my aviation article, I ended up with 7,000 words of quotes.

At this point, I was approaching information overload. Fifteen points that the client wanted me to cover, 7,000 words of interviews – plus the narrative that was starting to form in my own mind. This is exactly the kind of situation in which writer's block can occur, so I did what I always do... I took a step back.

If you're in a similar situation, just ask yourself: "How can I break this story down into four or five sections?"

Then ask: "What would each of these sections cover?"

And then, in all probability, a logical or interesting place to begin will present itself. When it does, it's easy to write that first line, and then the rest should follow because you've already provided yourself with the structure for the article.

So if you're struck by writer's block, my advice is to take a breather and ask what is the point of all the writing you're about to undertake. Break it into sections that follow on from one another, and then decide what will be in each section.

With practice, you'll gain confidence not just in your ability to do this but in your writing, too. And that should make writer's block a thing that used to affect you or that only rears its head rarely.

And if all else fails, try taking a break and coming back to your work with a fresh pair of eyes in 30 minutes. Or asking ChatGPT for a set of prompts :)


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