There’s a lot of advice about how to avoid writer’s block. You know what they are. Here are some things you might not have heard.
I spent my forty-year career writing technical reports in various jobs. Each report was the result of an assignment. Each assignment had a scope, a schedule, and a boss hovering nearby because that’s what bosses do. Periodically, I experienced writer’s block. I followed the conventional advice—walked around, meditated, visualized the path of the report, played with my cats—and always got the reports done, sometimes on time. Now retired, I write for fun. It’s a very different experience.
When you write for a living, you have to push through writer’s block. You have to keep getting paid. When you write for fun, there are no deadlines, no micromanaging bosses, no income, and no stress. If it’s stressful, it’s not fun. This approach will not suit everyone. If your articles are short, stream-of-consciousness gushes, this is not for you. However, if you are more inclined to write content-heavy expositions, you will find this interesting and maybe even helpful. That said, here’s how I keep the demons of writer’s block at bay.
Let new ideas invade your space. I’m in the process of revisiting and revising blogs I wrote a decade ago (the reason why is a long story), so I have a plateful of articles I should be working on. In the process of working on these rewrites. I am inundated with ideas for new blogs. It’s the old phenomenon in which anything is more entertaining than what you’re supposed to be doing. I don’t actively pursue them, I just sleep, shower, eat, relax, go for walks, garden, watch TV, write other stuff, and especially, read. What’s important is that I neither fight them off nor drop everything to pursue them.
Give ideas homes. When I get an idea for a blog, I write down whatever I can in a word processor (I use Word). Sometimes it’s just a sentence with the idea. Often, it’s just a catchy title. Then I save it to a file in a folder called Blog Ideas and forget about it. I have dozens of files there, almost all smaller than 20KB. If the idea goes anywhere. I’ll give it its own folder.
Let ideas incubate and grow. Almost every morning when I wake up I have new ideas for one or more of the blog ideas I’ve already saved. I’ll add the ideas to the file, resave it, and forget about it again. This process can go on for days or years. Eventually, I’ll see a direction, a purpose, for the article. From there, I’ll start an outline and keep expanding it the same way. Occasionally, two ideas will merge in my head, so I’ll combine the files. Sometimes, an idea will go stale or turn out to be stupid, so I’ll just delete the file. Mercifully, most of my political blogs go that way.
Work on multiple articles at a time. Once an idea gets big enough, it’s time to start writing. I never try to write one blog at a time. I always have a few in the works. Work on whatever ides motivates me on a given day. Right now, I have five files open, including this one. In a day, I might work on all of them or just one depending on how the writing goes. If I run into a block that can’t easily be overcome by any of the traditional block-busting techniques, I just move onto another blog.
Write piecemeal. Once you have an outline, it’s easy to see how you could break your writing into chunks. Start by writing the chunks that seem the easiest. Don’t try to write from beginning to end unless you have a clear mental image of what you want. As you write more of the chunks, you’ll find that other chunks will seem easier to write. Eventually, you’ll have written them all.
Set up landmarks. If you’re writing a blog that relies heavily on graphics—charts, graphs, figures, diagrams, images, tables—create them and lay them out in your draft to present your story. Then, you can start your writing at the landmarks. Write the text that explains each landmark. This will divide your article into chunks and all you’ll have to do is write text to connect the landmarks.
Resurrect old stuff. When you’re writing a blog, if it rekindles a memory of what you’ve written before, see if you can find the old text. You might be able to steal an idea or a snippet of the old text. It’s OK to steal from yourself. Better yet, you might want to provide a link to your older writing. Publicity never hurts.
Make diversions productive. Sometimes you’re just too tired to write another word. Use this time to do things that will help you finish your blog. I conduct internet research, build tables or charts, or find pictures to augment or break-up the text. I also use the time to review old articles I’m looking to resurrect and make final corrections to “completed” articles before publishing them.
Let it mellow. With so many blogs in the works (and more importantly, being retired), I don’t feel compelled to publish on a schedule. I don’t think it matters anyway because my articles on Medium aren’t read right after I publish them. Time on Medium isn’t quite the same as in the real world. Add to that, I tend to write long articles. My average read time is about 8 minutes and a quarter are over 15 minutes. So, I’m not reluctant to let an article sit for a few days before clicking the old Publish button. This has worked out quite well. I always find a missing word or something the spelling and grammar checkers don’t catch. To me, it’s worth it.
So, that’s what I do. I find it to be pretty efficient, though it may not look like it from the lack of articles I post here. I also post to https://statswithcats.net/, https://www.scribd.com/user/74151/Charles-Kufs, https://www.linkedin.com/in/charles-kufs-b0a922a/, and https://medium.com/@charliekufs, so I do lose track of what I’ve posted where. To me, the formatting is much more frustrating than the writing. In any case I hope you find some of the ideas helpful.