Writer’s block is an affliction we hacks don’t suffer from. We simply can’t afford to. When you have a deadline breathing down your neck and a stressed editor screaming across the room for your copy, waiting for the muse to lavish her blessing upon you simply isn’t an option.
So, how do you get over it?
The first step is to stop giving yourself excuses not to write. Just sit down and start. That’s the biggest step taken there and then. Stop procrastinating, dawdling, dithering or otherwise farting around.
Give yourself a word count and a deadline and then make sure you meet it.
Example: I’m going to write 400 words in the next 20 minutes.
Don’t worry if the first few sentences are rubbish. Just keep going. Let the story tell itself. You’ll be surprised what happens when you just get yourself out of the way. Don’t think too much about style or panache or trying to impress your reader with your stunning command of language. Go back to basics. Get the facts down in more or less the right order.
Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect first time.
I’ll let you in on a secret: you write when you re-write.
In other words, It’s only on the second or third draft that a piece of writing really begins to come together.
That first draft is just about getting everything down on paper – facts, ideas, themes, etc. They may not make just sense yet but don’t panic, they will.
Don’t be afraid to write fast.
This way you have a much better chance of capturing the immediacy and energy of the story you’re trying to tell. Too much self-editing at first draft stage can have a paralysing effect – think too much about what you’re writing and you might not write anything at all
It’s only when you’re finished your first draft that the real job of writing begins.
At this point, it is useful to put yourself in the place of your reader. Most journalists have an archetypical reader in mind whenever they write. That could be an 87-year-old farmer’s wife who left school at 16, or a 45-year-old college professor with degrees coming out of his ears – it all depends on your audience.
When reading back over your first draft, become that reader. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will this make sense?
- Have I captured the essence of the story?
- Have I included the most important facts?
- Have I left anything out?
Remember the 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, Why When. Have you included all these details in the appropriate order?
Don’t be too precious about what you have written. Feel free to chop sentences up, move them around, re-write them completely if necessary. You can always undo your changes if they don’t work
KEEP IT SIMPLE!
Cut out all the unnecessary crap, imprecise words and clunky phrases. Scrap the jargon. (See my post on mistakes to avoid https://writelikeahack.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/5-common-mistakes-to-avoid-when-writing/)
You’ll be surprised at how the essence of the story begins to emerge once you have written everything down.
Finally, ask yourself: Does my story have life in it?
Include direct quotes, description, characterisation. Used sparingly, these are the elements that give your story its energy – or ‘flow’.
Don’t worry about getting it all right. Like most things in life, you get better with practice.
For now, just write and keep writing. And, while you’re at it, go out and buy a couple of newspapers and read them from cover to cover. If you want to learn how to write, study how the professionals do it.