I’ll bet this has happened to you. You’re assigned an article on, say, how to make widgets. It sounded great when you agreed to do it, but now, when it’s actually time to sit down and write it you discover you’re totally stuck.
This just happened to me. I self-assigned myself to write about how freelance writers can manage their money well. I spent almost 25 minutes mostly staring at the screen, with a few poor sentences written and deleted.
Here’s how I got unsnarled:
I admitted I was stuck
If you’re stuck, you’re stuck. I know, however, sometimes I don’t want to believe or admit I’ve stalled out in my writing.
While I certainly know that writing takes discipline, insisting that I stay staring at the screen writing poor sentences or nothing at all isn’t discipline so much as a weird type of self-indulgence.
Admitting I’m stuck is, I find, the first step to getting unstuck.
I took a mini-break
I tend to take breaks every hour or so. When I realized I was stuck I saved my work, such as it was, stood up and did a bit of stretching.
Moving around tends to break up you stuck thinking.
I went to the kitchen and fixed a cup of tea and stared out that window for a moment or two.
Change the style
Back at the computer with fresh tea I realized I could reshape the article from an essay or narrative style to one based on a list.
Making a list worked, although it doesn’t always.
A list also lets me chunk down the topic, which is often helpful.
As the list developed I also realized I’ve been writing a lot about writers and the writing business recently. It’s a good topic, I really wanted to write something else today.
Other ways I might have gotten this writing project unstuck was to do an interview, or write it as a short story, or create a conversation about it… there are lots of ways to write about any topic.
Write something else
So I put that article on hold, and wrote this one.
Writing something else often un-sticks my writing. I think that, once I have some real notion of what I will write, which in this case creating a bulleted list gave me, my unconscious works on that piece while my conscious works on this piece.
Take a longer break
Sometimes you need a longer break – over night, a weekend – to get your writing project unstuck. You’ve simply got to let your head clear.
Another approach is to leave your writing and go do something different. See a movie, walk in the park, go see some art you don’t know if you’ll like, have coffee with a friend and have a conversation about anything but your stuck writing project.
The point is to really let your head clear – to re-create yourself as it were.
If these five tips don’t get your writing project unstuck you may have to admit defeat. It happens – maybe once a year or so. This is when you call your editor, if you’ve got one, and simply say the article as planned isn’t working. Chances are the editor will either have a solution or suggest you write something else entirely.
Meanwhile, I’m going back and finish the article on freelance writers and money management. I’ll come back and link it when I’m finished.
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Write well and often,