I started writing a post about writer’s block, but it wasn’t working. I know that sounds like a gag opening, but I’m serious.
It was going to list the types of writer’s block and some tips for conquering it. I wrote the whole post but all I was saying was “keep working” or “take a break.” So instead I’m just going to talk about my personal experience with writer’s block, and how I deal with it.
Since most of my writing occurs in a work environment, so does most of my writer’s block, usually when I’m trying to write a headline for an ad or billboard. I call this “hitting my head against the keyboard.” I feel guilty, because I’m being paid – by the hour, from the client’s perspective – to come up with something clever, and here I’ve spent two, three, four hours staring at a blank screen with nothing good to show for it. I begin to panic, thinking I’ll have to stay at work until seven or eight, so I can still put in eight hours without counting the three I wasted. But how far have I gotten? I open an email to my boss and paste in my work from the last few hours. For some reason, it’s easier to think away from the Word doc I’ve been working on. I weed out the worst lines first. There might be two or three half-decent lines left, which I scrunch together and stare at. If I had just a couple more good lines, that would be a decent list of options. I take a few more minutes to think about it. I type whatever comes into my head. Then, most of the time, something good comes to me. It may be the best line of the lot – or not. Either way, I now have a decent list to send to my boss to pick favorites, tweak, or make suggestions.
It’s like playing the kid’s hiding game, Hot and Cold; to find out where the thing is, you have to move. You can’t be afraid of moving in the wrong direction, because even going from chilly to freezing helps you figure out where it is.
You have to write something to know what you are not writing to know what you are writing.
First, you just dump something out. Read it – no, that’s not it. Dump again. You kind of like that part. But the rest is rubbish. Dump again, building around the good part. No, never mind; you were really aiming for something else. Dump again. Eventually, you’ll eke out something decent. You’ll spend the next week editing, and a few months later, you will completely rewrite it again and that will be The One. With a few minor tweaks, of course.
It’s all part of the process.