By Pamela A. Keene
Do you suffer from writer’s block? You’re not alone. At some point every writer faces the challenge of coming up with the right words. If you’re writing an article for a magazine or newsletter, it’s good news that you are dealing with a small chunk of words (usually between 350 to 800) and your writer’s block can be an easy fix.
Here are four ways to crack writer’s block and finish your feature.
1. Identify the Block
First, identify what’s holding you back. Is it your opening sentence or paragraph? Are you concerned you won’t have enough time to complete the writing in one session? Did you allow your notes to go stale because you’ve put off tackling the article? Or perhaps you’re overwhelmed with too many thoughts racing through your head, not allowing you to focus.
Or, is something else hindering your productivity?
Get to the heart of the matter by doing some sentence completion. Pose the question, “I’d write this story if…” and fill in the blanks.
- “I’d write this story if I had a good opening sentence or idea.”
- “I’d write this story if I had more time.”
- “I’d write this story if there were something in my notes worth writing about.”
- “I’d write this story if my house were clean.”
- “I’d write this story if …”
Keep filling in the blanks until you’ve exhausted your excuses. Among the completed sentences, you’ll find the real reason and be able to unlock your first roadblock.
2. Push Past Procrastination
For me, procrastination leads the pack. If I could or would sit down at the keyboard as soon as an interview is complete, the article will flow out of my fingers naturally. The important ideas are right there for the picking, and most of the time, my story lead is obvious.
However, rarely do we have the time to interview, draft, review, then edit all in one sitting. In the best of cases, do the interview and immediately read back through your notes and use a bright-colored highlighter (I like pink or green) to single out notable comments from your source.
If your interview lasts 30 minutes, train yourself to review the notes in the 10 minutes right afterward. Then, if you have to set the notes aside, you’ll have a head start when you are ready to write.
3. Find an Interesting Fact
Coming up with an engaging lead sentence or paragraph can challenge even the best writers.
Here’s a trick: Think about the subject of your article when you’re not at your computer, reflecting on the highlights of the conversation with your source. If you were telling a friend about your interview, what’s the most interesting point? Jot down a note about it—always keep a pen and paper handy—then take that note with you. Once it’s written down, you can free your mind to move on.
The best advice I ever received is when an editor read my opening paragraph, highlighted it and sent me back a succinct email: “So what?” In those two words, she helped me focus on the key to engaging readers.
If someone reads your first paragraph and says, ‘So what,’ you’ve lost them. Don’t state the obvious. Say something that will leave readers wanting more.
4. Start in the Middle
If the lead doesn’t come, go back to your notes and start typing the highlighted parts randomly on the page. Chances are that two things will happen: You’ll capture salient points on paper, and you may actually unearth your lead.
Effectively, you’ve started writing in the middle, but you’re making progress.
Writing at a keyboard is fluid, so you can always move your sentences around, shift thoughts and edit. String some quotes together from your source, then fill in the transitions.
To seasoned writers, these techniques come naturally, but for new or infrequent writers, these tips take practice. It sounds trite, but the best way to complete a project is to start. Friends say it’s like winning the lottery: You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket.
Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is an Atlanta-based journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She regularly writes for more than a dozen newspapers and magazines, including Florida Currents. Learn more about her at www.pamelakeene.com.