What my career in journalism taught me about writer’s block

I’m just going to say it – writer’s block is a myth. Please don’t hurt me. The thing is, having a career in journalism, short though it was, kind of put the whole writer’s block thing into perspective for me. I realized that there has never really been anything stopping me from writing, expect myself.

To be fair, I spent the majority of my younger years buying into this myth the same as anyone else. I would actually ask my college professors for all of the writing assignments at the beginning of each semester (nerd alert). I would start working on those projects months ahead of time in an attempt to sneak past the big, bad writer’s block monster.

This method actually served me pretty well, until I dove headfirst into the journalism pool. All of a sudden, I was lucky when I had a week’s notice on an article. Many nights, I stared at my computer screen trying to think of the right words for an article. I wanted those writers blockstories to be classy, and snappy, and everything I thought good writing was supposed to be. It wasn’t long before I realized that kind of thinking wasn’t getting me anywhere.

Journalism is a fast-paced world and I had to change my entire writing process to keep up. Most importantly, this meant I could no longer afford to stare blankly at my computer until the right words just came to me.

Writing for media does need to be classy and snappy, but, more importantly, it needs to be timely and relevant. Often, I had mere hours to write a suitable article.

I actually did it, though. I ended up teaching myself (with the help of a few mentors) how to write quickly and consistently. Writer’s block became a thing of the past for me.

Honestly, the one single thing that helped me get to that point was a change in my way of thinking. Instead of writer’s block being an inevitable and unstoppable force that happened to me, I began to think of it as an annoyance that I allowed to persist.

This shift in my thoughts allowed me to bust through my self-imposed obstacles, and, ultimately, become a better writer.

I know that the writer’s block phenomenon is an obstacle that many writers face. So, in an effort to help, I’ve gathered three strategies that are helpful to me, even today, when the big, bad writer’s block monster tries to make another appearance.handsonkeyboard

Write through it
This first strategy may seem counter-intuitive to many writers. After all, writer’s block is characterized by an inability to continue your story. However, the only thing blocking you is the fear of not writing something that is perfect the very first time. Just keep moving. What is your next sentence? What is your next idea? Keep reminding yourself that you can always change it later.

Make an outline
Start with the very basics of your story, and write those down. For my journalism articles, this would be the who, what, where, and why. For my fictional short stories, this would be the characters, the conflict, and the solution. Then, go back and fill in the secondary details. With an outline drawn out, you’ll always know what needs to happen next, and you will taylor your writing to continuously head towards that goal.

The list method

If you are well and truly stuck, and absolutely cannot think of any string of words that could continue your story, you can use this method to give yourself a few options. Start with a simple piece of paper and pen. Number the paper from one to ten. Then, list ten possible solutions to your problem. Then, list ten more. Simply continue listing solutions until you find one you like. The important part is to get those ideas out in the open and out of your head. This way, instead of being stuck thinking about the same crappy ideas, you have allowed yourself to move on the the bigger and better ideas. I’ve used the list method for a variety of situations, including plot points, article headlines and ledes, and even planning my wedding.

Hopefully, with these strategies, you shouldn’t have any problems getting through your own writing obstacles. They may even help you tackle other types of issues as well.

I’m sure there are more strategies out there. Let me know in the comments how you combat writer’s block.

writing, writers, rules, elite creative support

5 basic rules for writing

  Yes, you read that correctly, anyone really can be a writer. Writing takes only a basic knowledge of language and a deep pool of creativity. However, many people are stuck in the idea that a writer is so much more. They become intimidated by the image of a writer that they have put on a pedestal, and, instead of being a writer themselves, they spend all their time wishing they could live up to that impossible image. Here are five simple rules to follow to get around that image and start living your creative writing life.

  • Just write
     I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but practice really does make perfect. Just like any other skill, you have to practice getting your thoughts down on paper in a coherent string of words. Many writers put aside a specific time of the day to write. WriterPagesBackgroundOthers set goals, like getting to 3,000 words each day. My own routine changes almost every week. Right now, I bring a notebook to my job at a call center and write between calls. Later, when I’m home for the day, I’ll go through what I’ve written, and, if I still like any of it, I’ll type it into a Google Doc. Usually, this leads to more writing for at least an hour. The important thing is to write, and to keep writing.  When I was in high school, I was constantly writing. Instead of doing homework, I’d be jotting down short stories or adding chapter to my novel. I loved writing so much that I decided to get a bachelor’s degree in English writing. While in college, I was constantly writing for my classes and for the student newspaper. Almost immediately after graduating, I found a job writing for a small daily newspaper. After a few years, my life changed drastically. I married my husband and moved with him to a different city. I was unable to find a job in my field, so I settled for a job at a call center. Overwhelmed by recent events and suddenly faced with no direction and no purpose, my writing sputtered to a stop like a car running out of gas. It took me a while to find my groove again (one and a half years to be exact), and I could tell from the start that my writing had suffered. It was twenty times harder to get back up on my horse than it was to fall off. That is why I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who says writing is the most important thing a writer can do.
  • Don’t be a hermit
      I get it guys. I’m about as introverted as they come. My idea of an exciting night is cracking open a new book by an author I love, and I’ve perfected “Netflix and Chill” into an art form. The idea of initiating a conversation with a stranger gives me chills, but I do it anyway. Why? Because those strangers have the best stories. I’ve met pilots, company CEOs, and all manner of interesting people. A professor of mine described writing as “drawing from the well of your own experiences.” The majority of authors write about people and their interactions with each other. These authors tend to draw on their own personal experiences. They keep their “wells” full by going out with friends, striking up conversations with bartenders, and absorbing everything they see and hear.
  • Keep reading
      This is another way to fill your creative wells. There is such a plethora of wonderful books, witty blogs, and interesting articles in the world. Do you remember the movie “Matilda?” It was about a young girl surrounded by awful adults who found solace in books and learning. At one point in the movie, the narrator describes the girl as a voracious reader who eventually reads every book i

    Matilda reads every book she can find in this movie image from xxx.
    Matilda reads every book she can find in this movie image from readandsurvive.com.

    n her local library. As a kid, that movie inspired me to devour every book I could get my hands on. As an adult, it reminds me to keep reading and to give books from every genre a chance. As writers, sometimes our best inspirations come from what others have created. This does not apply exclusively to books. Experiencing art in all its forms helps fill creative wells. So, take some time to see a movie, walk through an art exhibit, or go to a concert. When I was in college, I’d split my time between hockey games and student theater. Both events showed the best and worst of people through a wide range of emotions that I still use in my writing today.

  • Pump yourself up
      Whether you are already a seasoned writer or a green newbie, I’m sure you’ve already encountered that little voice of self-doubt that resides in the back of your mind. Mine says a lot of pretty mean things. One way to get it to shut up is by getting myself excited about whatever project I have going on. This typically comes in the form of a pep talk to myself. Yes, mirrors are involved, and yes, sometimes I do feel silly. But, in the end, that mean little voice shuts up long enough for me to get some work done.
  • Just sihandwriting-1315768t down, and write already!
      Yes, this one is so important that I included it twice in this post. I’ll probably even include it into my future posts as well. In all seriousness, though, the number one thing that makes a writer a writer is the fact that a writer writes. It doesn’t matter if you’re “good enough” yet, just get your ideas down on paper or typed up in a document. The rest will come later.

Are you ready now? Then what are you still doing on this page? Get going and write!

Or,  you could stick around a bit and share your own rules for being a writer.