Do you sit down to write that all-important essay or job application letter and find yourself staring at a blank screen? A feeling of panic starts to creep over you, and you wonder whether you’ll ever be able to string two sentences together again. Or do you suddenly have the overwhelming urge to clean out the fridge, or treat yourself to bowl of crisps? You’re not alone. Writer’s block has been around ever since, well, ever since writing began. And it’s afflicted many famous authors from Franz Kafka to the creator of Peanuts, Charles Schultz.
What can you do? Here’s a few tips to awaken the ‘muse’ and get those words rolling onto the page.
Get some words down on paper
Whatever medium you prefer to use – notebook, laptop, tablet – open up a page and write some words. You don’t need to start at the beginning or write in sentences, use bullet points that can be expanded later.
Record or note down your thoughts
Take every opportunity to jot down any ideas that come into your head, or phrases overheard, as soon as possible. Carry a small notebook in your bag, keep some paper on your bedside table or use the memo app on your phone. I like the romantic notion of the aspiring writer with a moleskin notebook and green fountain pen, scribbling away in the corner of a cosy café. I suppose more realistically they’re tapping away on an iPad these days.
Write it by hand
Being a bit old-fashioned I have to confess that I do like writing things down. It comes from years of taking down copious notes in university lecture halls. Nowadays I do find it easy to compose direct onto the screen, but I still carry a notebook around with me to jot down ideas. If you’re staring at the flashing cursor, put the keyboard to one side and write with a pen or pencil on real paper. This method always works for me. In fact, I started writing this blog post in one of my favourite orange notebooks, using a pencil. I’ve got a bit of a thing about writing in pencil…
Another one of my failsafe methods to order your thoughts and clear the mind. Put on a pair of comfy shoes and wrap up warm if necessary, then get outside into the fresh air. Go on your own if possible, empty your mind and simply walk. You don’t have to go far, trudge round the streets if necessary or feed the ducks in the local park. By the time you return home your subconscious mind will have mulled over the myriad of facts revolving in your head and you’ll be ready to get these down on paper.
Begin at the end
If you’re having trouble getting started, perhaps deliberating too long over the exact wording of the opening sentence, start further on – plunge straight into the next chapter or section. The best advice I’ve seen recently about writing blog posts and articles is always create the title last. If you sit trying to compose an eye-catching, google-friendly title, you’ll sit for hours. Write the text first, headings and titles last.
I hope that these tips help you when you are sitting facing the blank white page. I’ll leave you with one final thought. If one day you find ‘the muse’ is with you, the words are flowing and the ideas are buzzing – don’t stop! Keep writing, typing, recording on your phone, whatever it takes, keep going until you have noted down all your ideas – they can easily be refined later.