We’ve all had the experience of sitting down to pen a new article, marketing e-mail, or blog post, and struggling to get the words out. Even professional authors find that writing can be either simple and straightforward or slow and cumbersome. The first sentence is often the hardest.
A bout of writer’s block is frustrating regardless of the circumstances. But it’s especially annoying when you’re at work, time is of the essence, and you have a lot of other assignments to complete.
If you find that the writing process is challenging or stalled completely, try the following tactics to get yourself back on track.
Make a list of essential items you plan to mention in the piece
This will help to guide and constrain your train of thought. You can also use the items on the list as “seeds” for your paragraphs—start from each individual point, then elaborate upon it in full sentences.
Begin at the end
In writing, as in many other endeavours, it sometimes helps to reorient yourself, or approach the problem from a different angle, when you find yourself stuck. To defeat what I call the first-sentence blues, try starting your written composition at the end—with the last sentence or paragraph. Rather than obsessing about how you want to lead off, think about how you plan to wrap up.
Alternatively, you can simply pretend the first sentence doesn’t exist, write the rest of the article without it, and then add a “first” sentence once 99 percent of the task is already complete.
If time permits, step away and engage yourself in something else
Your writer’s block may be partly attributable to a mental block, which you can remedy by either stimulating your creativity and problem-solving skills, working on a different task for a while, immersing yourself in fresh air, and/or improving circulation of blood and oxygen to your brain.
If you have time for a break, devote a few minutes to a pleasurable activity—like reading, ping-pong, a full-body stretch, or a walk around the neighbourhood. Ideas may occur to you more readily upon your return.
Freewriting offers numerous advantages: it helps you structure sentences and express yourself in imaginative ways, enables you to purge distracting or tangential thoughts, and temporarily quiets your inner critic. It can also help you develop a feel for and ease with writing, and furnish ideas that can inspire future articles and posts.
Change your environment
Creativity is among the most complex and mysterious of all human attributes, and surroundings that are conducive to exceptional creativity for some writers are like intellectual deserts for others. For example, at a busy coffee shop, you may be stimulated by the ambient noise, or distracted by conversations at neghbouring tables, order-taking, and the grinding, whistling, and gurgling sounds continually emitted by the machines.
Sometimes our subconscious is acutely aware of barriers to creativity in a particular environment, even when our conscious mind is not. If you find yourself unable to get writing done in one place, try moving somewhere else.
If you don’t need the internet right now, disconnect
The internet is the most powerful informational resource that human beings have ever created, but also arguably the greatest single purveyor of distractions—e-mails, social media, news headlines, celebrity gossip, funny videos of animals doing zany things, to name just a few. This is why Zadie Smith and many other wordsmiths advocate writing on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.