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When You Don’t Know What To Write

Every freelance writer I’ve ever talked to has times, at least occasionally, when they simply don’t know what to write next.

Sometimes the not knowing comes in the middle of an assignment or project; sometimes it happens at the beginning. Sometimes you won’t have a clue why you’re having problems, and sometimes you’ll know the cause precisely. There are solutions.

Starting To Write Helps

For example, when I was the Guide to Freelance Writing for about.com, I usually wrote my columns on Wednesday morning. One particular Wednesday I sat in front of a blank word file for several minutes, not having a clue what I wanted to write about.

I knew exactly why I couldn’t seem to get started. I had another project that was, frankly, way more exciting than another column about freelance writers or freelance writing jobs and I wanted to get started on it. But I needed to get the writing column out of the way first.

So I got up from the computer and paced a bit. Somehow getting up and moving often helps. It dawned on me that what I was experiencing happened to all writers at one time or another, so I sat down and started to write about the experience of not knowing what to write!

For me, knowing I will start writing shortly seems to be the key.

If I delay, stew and storm, go shopping, or take a nap, nothing will happen except the deadline pressure will build. On the other hand, if I actually put some words on paper, chances are I’ll be able to continue.

Writing Experience Equals Self-Trust

Now, I’ve been a freelance writer for years and I totally trust my writing process. It wasn’t always like this, of course. Back when I was just starting my writing career, starting any writing project was likely to be agony. Maybe I’d get a few words written and then I’d stop, erase them and start again. I’d repeat this process over and over again.

Fortunately I got enough freelance writing work done and published that I was actually offered an editing job for a church magazine. Suddenly I was in a position to see the writing of other freelancers. What a blessing!

Beginning Paragraphs Are Almost Always Dreck

It wasn’t long before I recognized that the articles submitted by beginning writers often needed the first two or three paragraphs lopped off.

I asked a more experienced writer about this and he said, “Oh I write those beginning ‘graphs too; I just have enough experience to erase them before I send in the article. I have to warm up as it were before the real stuff starts to flow.”



What a lesson! Just write and don’t worry too much about how the first few sentences or paragraphs or, if it’s a long project, even pages. Chances are they will have to be eliminated, but they have served as the pathway to get your creative juices flowing.

Write, and write some more. Write until you’ve exhausted either the topic or yourself.

Then, let the editing begin. Polish, prune, clarify, and reorganize until the piece is as good as you can make it.

Submit it, and get on with the next work. Do this often enough and you’ll end up a professional writer for sure!

What do you do when you’re stuck for ideas?

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • I am known for never being stuck for story ideas — I recently compiled 50 techniques I use to find ideas for this Copyblogger post. Enjoy!
    Carol Tice recently posted..My First Webinar- 7 Hard-Earned LessonsMy Profile

  • jorgekafkazar

    For fiction pieces, I find it helpful to do some back-story: notes about character, what led up to the situation, some scenic detail, and so on. I once was stuck writing the first 5 chapters of a novel over and over, in every possible order. After two years, chapter 6 still wouldn’t come. One day, I wrote a transcription of the main character’s first therapy session. I toyed with the idea (bad idea, bad!) of putting the transcription into the book, but I realized that the reason the session worked was its POV. I rewrote the material all in first person and finished the first full draft within 60 days.

    And remember: always shoot the sheriff on the first page.
    Some beginners try to cram all the back-story into the m/s, using multiple flashbacks and infinite “she remembered”s. Not necessary, and doesn’t make for a coherent tale.

    • Ha ha, I love that about the sheriff! That’s a great way to remember to start in the middle of the action.

      I’m stuck right now on a book; I know what’s supposed to happen but I can’t seem to find the right structure. I’m still throat-clearing, but at least I’m trying to put SOMETHING down. I’m sure I’ll find my way eventually.
      .-= Elizabeth West´s last blog ..Shiny New =-.

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