We’ve all been there. The deadline is looming, the research and interviews have been done, yet we can’t seem to put the fantastic ideas we’ve gathered into the right words. For whatever reason, the creative switch has been shut off. Here are some strategies I use to ease the stress of a rough writing day.
1. Bribe yourself with food.
Nutritionists, doctors … well, anyone concerned with health and obesity may frown upon what I’m about to say. But I just want to be honest. When writing, I often bribe myself with food. That doesn’t mean I eat a doughnut every time I finish a sentence. But, it does mean keeping snacks or drinks at the ready in case I need a little pick-me-up. Often, the toughest times of day for me to write are mid-afternoon, after lunch but long before dinner. Grabbing a handful of a small snack to munch on as I finish those last few paragraphs is often a way to make the time go faster and help the words flow. I also like to sip an herbal tea, or even hot water, to keep the rhythm going. I’m not suggesting eating or drinking straight through the writing process. But nibbling a little now and then keeps my blood sugar up and my creative juices flowing.
2. Get up and move.
I hope this suggestion counterbalances suggestion 1. I also get up and move frequently throughout the day. I read a great blog post by a well-known productivity expert recently who advised factoring in an two extra hours into your work day just to get up and walk around. In other words, if you plan to work an 8-hour day, be sure to give yourself an hour for lunch and four 15-minute breaks in between each bout of work. Take short walks, do some stretching moves, whatever floats your boat (and whatever you can get away with without attracting stares from co-workers). If you’re lucky enough to be a home worker, consider taking a long lunch break to sneak in a workout or walk the dog.
3. Plan ahead. Work a little at a time.
If you like working down to the wire, go ahead and skip to #4. But if you don’t, this one’s for you.
I don’t function well under pressure. I hate being crunched for time when on deadline. Whenever possible, I take a methodical approach to my writing, planning as far ahead as possible, and working a little at a time each day. Doing this prevents subject-matter burnout and also helps me return fresh to my work with new ideas I’ve gathered during my time off. Planning ahead also helps me schedule in writing time when it works best for my routine, when my office and home are the calmest and when my brain functions at optimum levels. For me, this is in the morning between the hours of 8:30 and 11:30.
4. Use an outline.
These days, when just about anyone can write and publish anything, it seems as if writing has taken on the reputation of a clever sport rather than a craft. However, the idea that all (or even most) great writers approach the blank page at random is a myth. Good novelists make story boards and content outlines, and so can you. I’m not saying you have to use Roman numerals and map out every major detail before starting your first paragraph. Even simply listing the main points of your article, in the order you think you want them discussed, can take a large amount of trepidation out of your piece. If you’re not comfortable starting out on a road trip without a GPS or map, why should you be comfortable writing without an outline? Don’t be too hard on yourself if you resort to pre-planning. It’s not unromantic. It’s practical.
5. Just get it out. Then refine it later.
Even if you use an outline, you’ll reach a point where you can’t plan any more and you really just have to dig in. If you write your first sentence and it sounds like garbage, don’t be too hard on yourself. Rather than erasing and continuing to re-write that same sentence, just move on. Get your ideas out. You’ll feel so much better when you have words on paper. I find that, once the words go down, almost anything is re-workable, even if it needs a lot of help. You’re not hooked up to electrodes. No one is going to zap you each time you write a bad sentence. So write it an move on. You can always fix it later.