5 ways to deal with writer’s block

This entry is part 5 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Oh no! I’m stuck in the doldrums.

My dad said that the difference between an amateur and a professional
is that a professional will deliver even when he doesn’t feel like it.
Or he’s good at making himself feel like it. Someday I’m going to
figure out how to be a professional writer.

Here are the five things I’m going to try to break this writer’s block:

  1. Write for five minutes about anything. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the words flowing from my mind to the computer.
  2. Mindmap to see if the problem is that I don’t know what I’m talking about. If so, then this calls for some more research and playing around with Emacs.
  3. Tell myself that I only need to write about Emacs for five minutes. Just like in conversation, I tend to get carried away—but I have to start somewhere.
  4. Take care of my other tasks so that I’m not thinking about them.
  5. Deliberately not write until it drives me mad and I just _have_ to write.

See, that wasn’t so hard…

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  • Have you ever read On Writing Well by William Zinsser? If I remember correctly — it’s a 50-50 shot — he basically says that as a professional writer, he just forces himself to write something. It seems to me — and this is likely much less than 50-50 — that editing is the majority of the task of writing, so if you can push out something now, no matter how hard it is, you can return to it later and improve it.

    As you can see, I’ll never be a writing coach. I try to apply what I’ve learned as a distance runner, where you must train even if you don’t want to, to writing.

    No, this isn’t very helpful… if you’d like to borrow my copy of On Writing Well, I’d loan it to you.

  • Raymond Zeitler

    You wrote, “Write for five minutes about anything.” Did you get that from “The Artist’s Way?” This book is geared more to creativity and artistic endeavors rather than technical writing, though.

    And I don’t understand why you think you have writer’s block. Didn’t you just post a huge amount of material?

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  • Raymond: Could be. I remember liking that book. I also really enjoyed The Right to Write. The five-minute trick is something that’s also described a number of other places, like this blog post about writing in five minute sprints. It’s a generally useful tool for anything that you’re procrastinating. Somehow, five minutes feels like a very doable segment of time.

    And yes, I still run into writer’s block. I sometimes find it hard to write about the things I want to write about. I want to show people how to use tags on projects and all sorts of other cool things about Org and Planner. Sometimes I feel that Emacs is so very big and I am so very small. <laugh> I’m glad that I’ve managed to get the hang of Org enough to write about it despite having only used it for a couple of months. Some of the other things I want to write about are hard for me to describe because I’m not too familiar with them myself. I could write based on the manual and other blog posts on the net, but it’s not the same as writing from experience, with cool hacks from my config or other people’s config files. I’m sure I’ll think of more things over time. I’ll be working on this book for another year. =)

    The encouragement I get from people really helps keep me going, though! =D

  • My problem is that often I can’t think of anything to write about. A secondary problem is that I don’t want to reveal too much through my writing.

    • Diane:

      “A secondary problem is that I don’t want to reveal too much through my writing.”

      If it’s a problem of revealing too much personal info about yourself, well, that’s why my blogs are “anonymous”. :) I’ve convinced myself that they’re anonymous, anyway, even if they’re not.

      You have a nice blog, for an alien misfit. :)

  • Diane: Write whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem very profound or anything like that. If nothing comes to mind, fool yourself by talking to people or e-mailing people or whatever else you do to communicate–then writing about that. From the looks of your blog, you’re doing fine. =)

    As for not wanting to reveal too much–can’t do anything about that. =) I find that there’s so much I want to write about that I’m not too worried about revealing more than I intended…

  • Kirk: “On Writing Well” has arrived from the library. Yay! =)

  • Hey hey. Good news. I hope you enjoy it. And if you figure out how to get over your block, maybe you can teach me how…

    • Schedule apparently plays a big role for me. Writing Emacs stuff? Mornings. =)

      • Cool, glad to hear you’ve come around in the past months. Lately I’ve been blocking 30 minutes each day to write. The ‘when’ is variable (usually after work, after 6pm, I’d do mornings if I could find my discipline), but the ‘how long’ is set. I guess it’s like your 5-minute sprints. For some reason, it takes the edge off the anxiety. The athlete in me is trying to go as far as possible, and the worrywart in me doesn’t have time to throw a wrench in things. But, I’m no expert or writer, just a hack.

        Good luck writing and editing.

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