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How to Beat Writer's Block - and Hone Your Skills!
by Dawn Copeman

Return to The Writing Life · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

The only way to be a writer is to write. Now, you don't necessarily need to write every day, but you do need to write regularly and to strive to constantly improve upon your writing style -- to make it tighter, more concise, to make it flow more easily.

But what if you're finding it hard to find topics to write about? What if every time you sit down to write, your mind goes blank? What if you've developed the dreaded Writers' Block? Then do as it says on my screensaver, and "just write something!"

It really doesn't matter what you write; the important thing is to start writing something and not to feel discouraged. All of us, at some time, find it difficult to get started. So here are some tips to help you beat the blank page and develop your writing skills at the same time.

Use Writing Prompts

A good way to warm up your creativity and avoid the blank page is to use a writing prompt. You can buy books of these or download a free program such as Write Sparks lite. I use this program to warm up every time I have difficulty getting started, which is pretty often. Another favourite of mine is to try writing for just 15 minutes on a topic I've read about or heard about recently. Don't factcheck, don't research; just write. See if you can get the main points across; this is a particularly useful prompt for nonfiction writing.

Once you've used a few prompts, you should be ready to start work, but if inspiration is still lacking, try writing something else instead.

[Editor's Note: Visit Writing-World.com's links to Writing Prompts, Exercises, and Idea-Generators.]

Keep a Journal

Keep a diary and try to note down as much as you can about your day -- sights, sounds, smells, emotions, conversation. You'll be surprised at how much you can remember, and later you might find these entries useful when plotting a short story or even a novel. If nothing else, it will sharpen up your writing 'eyes and ears', which will, eventually, show itself in more accurate, believable and realistic description and dialogue.

Even if you don't normally keep a diary, doing so when you're short of inspiration is one way to spark your imagination. You can write about simple things: a walk to the shops. Describe the buildings, create personalities and histories for the people you meet, describe the way the day feels. That alone should get you help you fill the screen with words.

Switch genres

Another way to get the words flowing is to try writing in different styles or genres. If you normally write romantic fiction, try crime. If you only write nonfiction, have a go at fiction. I did this recently at Newbie-Writers. I write nonfiction and had never written a fantasy story before, but I had to write a 200-word contribution to a team short story in just 24 hours; now that was challenging! But it was great fun and very liberating. Like they say: you don't know what you can do until you try! So if you're stuck in your style, work around it and write in a different style altogether.

You could even, for fun, re-write your journal in a particular style: literary, romantic fiction, horror, crime or even just in the third person. Go on, see if you can. (If you go for the third person, don't forget to describe yourself!)

Revisit, rework and resell

Another slant on this is to take an article you've written and rewrite it in a different voice. Mimic the style of a favourite author, or try to mimic the house style of a magazine. This could also have the added benefit of enabling you to pitch your re-worked article to a new magazine.

But what if you haven't written an article yet? Then do some article brainstorming. Take an article you've recently read and enjoyed and summarise it in 200 words. Then compare your summary with the article: did you include all the main points? Does your summary read well? If not, go back and do it again. Finally, look at your summary and think about how you could rewrite that article, expand it, reslant it and sell it to a different type of magazine, or better still, to two different magazines. Now, get on and write that new article. Don't worry, this isn't theft. There is no single new idea under the sun; everything has already been written about at least once. It is how it is written about that differs and every writer has their own unique voice; their own way of writing -- if, that is, they can only get around to doing the actual writing in the first place!

Go back to school

But, you might ask, how do I write in a new genre, or rewrite my work when I can't write anything at all? If you are that stuck, I suggest you take some free online courses. There are lots of courses available at the moment. So, if you're short on inspiration and finding it hard to get started, why not go 'back to school' and be told what to write instead? Harlequin is currently running a free online course on how to write romantic fiction. The BBC is offering free courses on how to write children's fiction, horror fiction or poetry. And WritingBliss.com offer free courses all year round on finding your muse and unleashing your creativity.

These courses don't offer feedback, but they do provide you with lots of exercises to get you started. And getting started is all you really need to do to beat the writer's block.

So, go on, just write something!

Find Out More...

Facing Down Life Block - Donnell King

Fighting Writer's Block, Part I: Causes and Cures - David Taylor

Fighting Writer's Block, Part 2: Block Writing and Speed Writing - David Taylor

How to Break Writer's Block - Jacob Myers

Nine Anti-Muses and How to Placate Them - Victoria Grossack

When the Writing's Going Well: Ten Remedies to Demolish an Unexpected Block - Noelle Sterne

Writer's Block: Is It All In Your Head? - Leslie What

Helpful Sites:

Writing Bliss

Write Sparks

The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing
by Bonnie Neubauer

Copyright © 2006 Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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