Unblocking Writer’s Block
There’s an adage about writing that always strikes a chord: “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”
You don’t have to be trying to write the next best-seller to find yourself struggling with the common condition known as writer’s block. Maybe your assignment is to contribute a blog post for the company website, draft a white paper, or produce design documents or other materials. And then, a blank screen somehow turns into an impenetrable force field. Unfortunately, being unable to think of what to write can happen to anyone.
So when that blank screen doesn’t seem to be changing, what’s the best way to power through?
What about writing via artificial intelligence? The Washington Post uses a hybrid content management system that incorporates AI technology to pull in and structure basic stats alongside human reporting. And last year Bloomberg Media introduced a newsfeed-style feature in its mobile app that has one-sentence summaries produced by an artificial intelligence-powered program. However, while media companies are making forays using the technology, I don’t think any of us will be able to use robots to help with our own writing any time soon.
There are several more typical suggestions for overcoming writer’s block. You could take a break and go for a walk or a run. Pick up a pen and paper and write in longhand. Do research. Create an outline; sometimes structure helps. Perhaps try building something with Legos or playing an instrument, if you’re musically inclined.
In her best-selling book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, writer and writing teacher Anne Lamott eloquently states, “There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock.”
Some writing tips distilled from Lamott’s TED Talk on conquering what she calls the “unassaulted ice floe” include advice she gave to a second-grade writing workshop: Set your sights small (“You don’t have to write a whole book on birds; just pick one bird”). She also said that “a terrible first draft is the secret of life” and she hits the delete button a lot.
Finally, one cure often recommended for writer’s block is to simply get words on the page and worry about content and quality later. Remember, writing is not knitting, where words are stitches that have to be crafted correctly the first time because it takes a lot of effort to go back and fix your mistakes. Write, then edit—and use that delete key.