Curing writer’s block

curing writers blockBy Jake Poinier

Call me a cynic, but I tend to think that the idea of curing writer’s block is impossible, because the phrase itself represents an unhelpful catchall for a variety of reasons (read: excuses) for not writing. Moreover, for the freelance commercial writer, unlike the college-essay writer, it’s simply something you can’t allow to interfere with your business. There was a tweet by @MenwithPens yesterday that captured my philosophy nicely: “If you’re taking money from people, you have a responsibility not to do crappy work.” That necessitates, of course, the responsibility to do the work in the first place.

Note well, I’m not saying that there aren’t times when the words are tougher to come by. What I *am* saying is that waiting for divine inspiration is a fool’s game, and you’d sound like a goofball to any editor or client if you actually uttered the words “writer’s block.” Unless you’re martyring yourself on the Starving Fiction Novelist pike, the successful freelancer needs to be able to get the words on the page.

  • If you’re suffering from a lack of uber-great ideas…do a brain dump or mind map, use the best of what you’ve got to start, and try to upgrade and polish as you go along.
  • If you’re lacking the motivation to write about a topic that bores you…write it as promptly and quickly as you can, so it’s off your plate and out of your head.
  • If you’re not sure how to start something…look for the places that you can even get a tiny toehold, whether it’s the boilerplate “Services” page of a corporate web site or a sidebar in a feature story.
  • If your deadline is looming, and the work’s still not ready for prime time…talk to your client or editor well in advance, and politely ask for additional time to get it to the quality you want to deliver.
  • If you’ve sat at your desk till the metaphorical blood drops start to bead on your forehead…get the heck out of your chair and take the dog for a walk or yourself for a bike ride for a full hour.

At the risk of retreating into a sports metaphor: I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, and, ipso facto, lifelong Yankee-hater. As such, I enjoyed watching Alex Rodriguez struggle for a dozen games before he hit his 600th home run this week. I’m sure he was wondering when the next one was going to come after every agonizing failure. But at the same time, he still had to show up every night and take his cuts.

As a professional writer, you’re getting a couple of at-bats every day. Not every one is going to be a home run, but if the bat never leaves your shoulder, your stint in the big leagues will surely be abbreviated.

Please drop by Jake’s Dr. Freelance blog for advice on how to deal with troublesome clients, pricing your projects, finding new freelance business, and more.

6 thoughts on “Curing writer’s block”

  1. I’m so glad you are writing for this site–I agree with every single word you just wrote. (Except I have no burning passion for or against any baseball team)

    When I have a hard time writing it is often because I am feeling lazy. That’s the truth of it. I’m not “blocked”, I’m pouty or wanting to be outside or bored by the subject matter. And, as you basically said–so what.

    A client deserves your best efforts, so it is up to you to learn how to be a steady provider. Sure, it can take a little work, but the payoff is better discipline, and ultimately, a satisfied customer.

  2. Very true — you need to produce! But if you’re really struggling, you can also subcontract a piece of the project to help you get started. Or hire an editor to do some of the polishing for you.

  3. @Catherine: “pouty…wanting to be outside…bored” is exactly what I’m talking about! I’m suddenly reminded of Nigel from This Is Spinal Tap, when he’s all worked up over the “miniature” pieces of bread at the buffet before the show: “It’s not going to affect my performance, don’t worry about that. I just hate it… it really, it does disturb me, but I’ll rise above it; I’m a professional.”

    @Stephanie: That’s a fantastic point, or two fantastic points, really. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Yeah, I’m pouty. I wanna be outside. And I know it’s all an excuse. My method is to just start by starting…write anything and everything. Do it immediately. Then go back later and think, “What was I thinking?” At least it got started.

  5. @adchick, getting past the inertia is the critical step, ain’t it? I’m not one of those people that can just dump a ton of great words on the page, but I can generate enough OK words to find the usable stuff within, and then move it to the next level. Like McGuyver, with a piece of dental floss, a gum wrapper and a match, creating a mini-nuke.

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