This week I was working with a friend on content for her website. At our last meeting, we identified areas that needed to be rewritten to better reflect her current business model. She went off with her assignments and texted me a few days later. “What’s happening?” she asked in a panic. “I can’t find the words!” I welcomed her to the writer’s life.
Every writer will face writer’s block sometime in their career. My poor friend hit it right out of the gate. She didn’t know where to start. All the good ideas she’d had during our discussion evaporated when she sat down to capture them on the page. She spent hours staring at a blank screen, distracting herself with the laundry and various comfort foods. Sound familiar?
Here’s the advice I gave her to help face down this dreaded nemesis:
You aren’t alone.
The words immediately brought her relief. “You mean everyone feels like this? It’s not just me?” Yes. Everyone. Truly. Whether it’s writing back cover copy, creating a synopsis for the editor, working through a plot tangle, or writing new content for a website, writing is hard work, and sometimes we get stuck.
As a new writer, I remember feeling both excited by my work and isolated at the same time. My established community wasn’t filled with other writers yet and it took a little time to build a new one. It was worth it though. The writing community tends to be very supportive and open, willing to share, commiserate, and offer advice. The first time I heard the words, “Everyone feels like that sometimes,” I can’t tell you how comforting and validating it was.
Regroup and organize your thoughts.
Feeling overwhelmed is normal. As writers, we’re filled with ideas, often overflowing with them. It can be hard to get started. Or it can be hard to simply organize all the worthy material into something we can constructively tackle.
For content writers, it makes sense to create an outline. I consider an outline the framework from which I can build the rest of the house. Once the infrastructure is in place, I can fill in the detail. I outline my fiction as well. For fiction, it’s less formal. I don’t create a bullet point list like I do for content writing, but I do think through the major plot lines and character arcs. My outline acts as a roadmap. There’s plenty of adventure to be had on the journey, but I like to have a sense of where I’m going.
You can write out of order.
Especially if you have an outline. If one section isn’t flowing, leave it and move on to another. This works for fiction as well. Sometimes there’s a scene I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s clear in my mind and I’m excited to write it. So, I do, even if I haven’t reached that part in the narrative yet. There is no right way to do things, but if writing something out of order keeps the word flowing, and contributes to the whole, go for it.
Remember it’s work.
Sure, writing is fun. But it’s also work. I have assignments, deadlines to meet, and research to do. It takes time and discipline to finish my work, just like any other job. Even if you are on your own schedule, writing because you enjoy the creative process, it still takes work if you’re going to finish a project. Creating good habits and discipline around your writing life will keep you moving forward and help get you through the difficult spots.
It also takes work to become a better writer. As with any career or skill, I consider it my job to continue improving. I attend conferences and workshops, and I work with skilled editors. I’m constantly learning from more experienced writers.
At some point, no matter where we are in our writing journey, we’re going to feel stuck. The words won’t flow, or we’re simply overwhelmed by the task at hand. Remember you aren’t alone. Talk it through with a creative friend. Organize your thoughts and regroup. Keep to your good habits. It will pass. I promise!