Sometimes the words won’t flow. You don’t know where to start. The prospect of actually writing something and committing to it, getting it right and good enough, is so daunting that it freezes you.
There are ways around this. Here are eight of them, discussed briefly. Many of them are areas which warrant a deeper examination, and I intend to return to them in the coming weeks (and maybe months). Let this serve as an introduction.
1. Write the easy bit
Whatever you are writing, be it an essay, a business report or a novel, there will be some parts that seem immensely difficult, while others will be much easier. It’s an easy pit to fall into: you stare at the cliff face in front of you, the hard climb, the difficult part, and wonder how you will ever get up there.
Turn away from it, start with the gentle slope. Write the easy parts first, and once you are warmed up, once you have got some words under your belt and you are acclimatised to the altitude, then you can tackle the rockface.
2. Write lots now
Try writing as much as you can in one sitting, without a break and without editing or concerning yourself too much with quality. Get lots down, and some of it will be useful and useable.
3. Stop at the right time
When you’ve had enough, take a break and a rest. Think about the best place to stop too. Some writers choose to stop in the middle of a sentence, so that when they come back to their writing, they know exactly where to start. You could also consider stopping at a point where you know what comes next, you know precisely where you are heading. Then, when you come back to the draft, you can get started easily.
If you stop just when things look difficult and you don’t know which way to turn, then returning to the draft and getting going again will be hard. You might even keep putting it off, because you know you have that tricky problem to solve right from the get go.
This is a tried and trusted technique. There’s actually quite a lot to it, and I’ll return to in more depth soon. But it is essentially a kind of writing game in which you set a time limit such as five minutes, ten minutes, whatever you feel like. During that time you write continuously, letting words pour forth, writing as much as possible. Pay no mind to whether it is good, or useful, or right. Just get as many words down as possible. It’s a terrific warm up exercise.
5. Loop back
If you get bogged down while writing something, loop back. Go back to a point where things were going well, pick a sentence from there, and start again from that point. This time your writing may lead you in a different direction.
6. Write a summary
If you don’t want to write the whole thing now, write a summary instead. It takes off a lot of pressure. Summarise your argument, or the information you want to get across. It’s a good way to get the writing juices flowing, and it might just clarify your thinking too.
Don’t write what you want to write. Paraphrase it instead. Give a different version, not the one you intend to use or publish, or submit. But a version which says what you want to say, in a totally different way. It can lead to new ideas, new approaches, and can free you to write in new ways.
8. Write blind
This is similar to freewriting above, where you are not supposed to look back over what you have written. But this approach takes a slightly different tack. The idea is to actually cover up your writing so you can’t even see the words going down on paper or appearing on a screen. You can achieve this by putting a piece of light material over your writing hand, making sure it covers the paper too. On a computer, you may need to experiment to find a way to make the window in which you are writing invisible. Simply turning the monitor around so it faces away from you works (though you might get some odd looks if you try this in the workplace).
I’ll be exploring these and other techniques in more detail in coming weeks.