What to do when the words won’t flow

These days I rarely suffer from writers block – too busy trying not to drown under a sea of commissions.

But when the words just won’t come or you cannot find a way to get the article started , it is blooming annoying.

The nearest I’ve come recently is on a piece I’m doing about stem cells that had an open-ended deadline and I made the fatal error of leaving it too long between the interview that told me everything I needed to know and writing the thing up.

It is only 1,000 words and the draft has been sat untouched for weeks.

And actually the key point is that there was no tight deadline to focus my mind.

It has now become a huge pain, constantly pushed to the bottom of my to do list as other more pressing matters vie for my attention.

I think I’m vaguely hoping that publicly admitting to it will shame me into finishing.

Perfecting procrastination

When I was a student of course I was an endless procrastinator. I could have won awards.

There was always an excuse, or a night out, or some epic sleep session that was more important.

And actually it was never that I was lazy (epic sleep notwithstanding) just didn’t know how to get past that ‘staring at a blank page not knowing where to start’ feeling.

Photo on 01-02-2013 at 11.42 #2

What do you mean I’ve already had four cups of tea and it’s not yet ten?

Then the deadline would be on top of me and I would be forced to do it and the words would come.

If someone had told me I would be eking out a living sat on my own in my little study with no one to crack the whip I would have dismissed them as unhinged.

Yet nothing’s changed really, I am exactly the same now, except my deadlines are constant and usually its a race against time to get it done.

I spend way more evenings sat at my desk slaving away than I ever did as a student.

But then if I don’t do it on time, I don’t get paid, or repeat commissions and end up looking seriously unprofessional which focuses the mind somewhat.

My saving grace is that I have opted for a career with constant deadlines which mean I don’t have time to procrastinate.

And now I can see my students suffering the same fate as I once did.

When they eventually enter the real world and have to churn out hundreds if not thousands of words every day, they may be in for a shock. I certainly was.

So here are my top tips for becoming a prolific producer of words.

  1. Set yourself achievable deadlines. Don’t wait until the big deadline is looming and then panic. Break it up. Something like write 150 words then have some chocolate (I fear I’m giving away too much about my working practices here).
  2. Just write something, anything. Don’t worry about starting off with a perfectly constructed intro, just get something down. Nothing worse than staring at a blank page willing the words to come.
  3. Write for fun. The more you write, about anything, the more it flows. Those with blogs now have a perfect excuse to keep putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
  4. Get busy when the idea is fresh. If you’ve an interview, write it up right away when it is still all clear in your mind. Same goes for any ideas you might have. Even if you end up with a draft or a load of notes. It gives you a good starting point next time you sit down to work on it.
  5. When in doubt, get planning. If you’re really stuck it probably means the idea is not properly formed or you don’t have enough to work with, so instead of staring at the screen, do some research, write a bullet point list of what you want to cover and a get yourself a plan of action.
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