I spent a lot of time dealing with this very issue in the past year as I managed a team of copywriters who were expected to produce unique and interesting content every day. I felt as though I was part coach, part editor, part nag and part magician. The good news: We met our deadlines, usually. We produced content that met the needs of the company’s marketing folks. But it took a lot of tooth-pulling. I regularly promoted some rituals that usually work for me when I’m the one staring at the blank screen.
Here are a few of those rituals.
- Set a deadline. Write 100 words in the next 10 minutes, 500 in the next hour. Doesn’t matter how good they are. Just do it. Polish can come later.
- Write in Kerouac-ese. Spit out a stream of consciousness that ignores conventions of sentence structure and organization of thought. It’s a brain dump, essentially, and you should be able to extract at least a few good ideas from it.
- Do some research. If something about the subject triggers a memory or digs up a kernel of knowledge from something you read, watched or heard, pursue it. Give your writing some breadth and depth.
- Craft an outline. Most people will groan at this one. I, myself, hate the high-school incarnation of the outline, which contains fussy layers of Roman numerals and upper- and lower-case letters. My outlines are far messier. Organized chaos is still valuable, though, and it’s immensely satisfying to see thoughts take shape in this way.
- Talk it out. Tell your friend/spouse/coworker what you’re working on. Bounce a few ideas off them. Ask for a prompt.
- Turn it into a game. Massive brainstorming sessions — with writers and nonwriters — can yield dozens of great ideas for a single 200-word assignment. Hold a contest. Solicit recommended reading. Engaging your peers is even more important than engaging your audience, and the former can influence success with the latter.
What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, pedagogically and professionally. That’s why I ask for feedback regularly and try to incorporate others’ strategies into the routine.
What works for you?
- Nonwriter’s block (moriaritywitt.wordpress.com)
- Linda Thornburg: Write the First Draft of a Great Memoir in Thirty Days, Part Four (memoriesintostory.wordpress.com)
- ritual (ravenspeak.wordpress.com)