I get two types of writer’s block.
Either I don’t know what to write about at all, or I know what I’m supposed to do but can’t find the right angle or starting place.
I call the first type a Content Block. I just can’t find anything I want to bother writing about.
The second is a Story Block, I can’t work out how to twist the content into a story that ticks the boxes I need to be ticking and stops the reader slipping into a coma of boredom. This is especially problematic when thinking how to write a business report.
I don’t get other blocks really.
If I have the content sorted, and know how I want to communicate it (the story), then the rest will flow.
I might get Edit Block, where I can see a whole passage, or worse the actual structure, just isn’t working and I need to unpick it but don’t want to because of some neat phrase in the middle I’m desperate to preserve … but this is more an attitude problem rather than a proper block: I know what I have to do, I just don’t want to do it.
If I’m writing something personal this is less of an issue because I can just pick a title and then start typing any old crap and hope that something forms eventually. The most used key ends up being DELETE but I usually get something eventually that gives me enough to inspire a subject matter.
If it’s professional stuff then it’s not so easy just to riff on a theme and hope something decent pops up eventually. In the age where everyone’s personal brand is built on being a guru in something or other, you’ve got to keep churning out useful stuff that people will value and adds to their expertise.
This requires research and effort!
For me the best starting place is to have a mind map, capturing the objective of the blog I’m writing for.
This might be to create content which customers, potential customers and people who influence potential customers will find valuable.
This means it must speak to what interests them.
In the example of e-commerce websites*, this might be around the theme of online marketing with particular emphasis on maximising conversion on sites.
This goes into the centre, and I can then draw out spikes for SEO, social media, advertising, site design, etc. which can then be further broken down to Twitter, Google+ and so on, giving me a picture of all the themes where I could create content without losing sight of the objective of the site.
I can then just pick any of these and start researching.
This is harder.
The problem here is not finding the angle or the way I want to construct the argument. Just going for it and hoping to find a structure can work sometimes, but is not a very effective or efficient way to do it. For me, I find that if I really know the subject then mapping it out helps (again using mind map approach) and then walking about talking to myself for a bit.
This has a few advantages:
- Breaking the state, just doing something different
- Moving away from staring at a blank screen
- Physical movement makes it easier to think (for me at least)
- Talking out loud, and listening to myself, makes me see things differently
- Illuminates what I don’t know (trying to explain it to someone, imaginary or otherwise, exposes the gaps!)
The last type of writer’s block I sometimes get I call the Crap Block.
This probably needs to be renamed something like Style Block or Production Block. This is when I know the content, have my story but for some reason keep producing a load of crap.
It reads stilted and clunky, or it’s breezy and empty, or it’s just not sounding like I want it to sound. My PPC (propensity to produce crap) tends to be manageably low when I’m focused, nothing a good Edit phase can’t sort out, it only becomes a proper bona fide Block when I’m just not into it. To solve this I make a conscious decision to focus or to leave it, then do one or the other.
This usually mean switching off Twitter and other distractions and just getting on with it.
+ I used to do a lot of writing (and other content creation) for the e-commerce world