This is an excerpt of a post that originally appeared on American Express OPEN Forum on Dec. 3, 2014.
I’ve been a writer and editor my entire professional life, and I’ve come across a number of misconceptions about the craft. One of the most common is that great writing depends on inspiration—something you’re either blessed with or not.
For professional writers, the reality is far more mundane. When writer’s block strikes, we can’t afford to indulge it for too long. So we all develop strategies for powering through the work when we’re not feeling it—tips that even people who don’t fancy themselves writers can put into action.
Next time you’re feeling uninspired, staring at the blank screen in front of you as the deadline for your blog post, marketing copy or email newsletter looms ever closer, try any—or all—of these eight suggestions:
Always be on the lookout for ideas. Lee Wagstaff, content manager for digital marketing agency Bring Digital, captures his ideas whenever they strike, then comes back to them later. “All writers should carry a notebook or [use their] smartphone,” Wagstaff says, “and scribble down ideas as they come to them.”
Break it into baby steps. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a big writing project, but it becomes less stressful if you break it down into more easily manageable steps. It can be especially helpful to decouple the generation of ideas from the nitty-gritty of getting the words out. My own process goes something like this: Develop the idea, then do research, then outline, then write. The actual writing takes the least amount of time.
Set a schedule. Writing takes time. And as with any task on your to-do list, it’s more likely to happen if you put it on your calendar. I have specific times blocked out each week that I dedicate to writing. When that time comes, I pull out the ideas I’ve come up with and get to work.
Stop trying to make stuff up. If you’re having trouble writing, it could be that your real problem is that you haven’t done your homework. Writing is easy when you’ve done your research, which can include reading, conducting formal interviews or just going out and asking questions of your employees, customers or vendors. “Stop thinking, and start listening,” advises Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute. “That’s where the raw material is.”
Embrace rituals. Many writers develop rituals to get into a mood for writing. Kristy Zeringue Boxberger, a lawyer and author of the blog Giftie Etcetera, heads to a local coffee shop carrying pen and paper or her laptop. “Then I pretend I’m a famous author,” she says, “sipping coffee and enjoying my day.”
Jesse T. Hoggard, a marketing and business development director for the Louisiana Technology Park, sets limits for himself. “If the block is really bad,” Hoggard says, “I set aside 15 minutes to concentrate on writing and write whatever comes. If nothing happens in those 15 minutes, the odds are nothing will in an hour of sitting. So I come back to it later.”