Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Drawing a blank

Now, in this blank of things, a harmony,
Home-felt, and home-created, comes to heal
That grief for which the senses still supply
Fresh food.
-- William Wordsworth

Sometimes, no matter what you try, words won't emerge. You're drawing a blank, coming up dry. Trust me, a blogger gets this. Big time.  Here's what I've done when my writing tells me it's Just. Not. Ready.
  • Walk away. Not always a luxury you can afford with a deadline looming, but anyone can walk away from the desk and around the block for a half-hour.  Or, if time isn't of the essence, take time. Wait until the piece comes together in your head--or at least, enough of it to get started.
  • Cast a wider net.  Sometimes, this works when I sense I have an incomplete point, or not enough examples, or more to say--in which case, I start scanning and reading more broadly, to see if I can find the missing pieces to add into the mix.  As I'm always on a hunt for new content, this happens all the time, and I'm less alarmed by it than I might otherwise be. I keep a lot of work-in-progress posts in my blogging platform, ready to go when I have the rest of the goods in hand.
  • Edge into it.  Start a random collection of notes--even a sentence at a time, just stating the point you want to make, without worrying about how it's written. Content is the focus here.  Then organize the points, grouping like items together; you'll soon see what's extraneous or besides the point.  After that, it's an editing task:  Craft the sentences, fix the transitions, add a strong start and finish.
  • Ask about it.  Start a discussion with someone--online, at the water cooler, wherever. "Have you ever thought about...?" might yield an angle you hadn't anticipated, or confirm your perspective. And sometimes that little bit of market research is enough to get your creative juices going.
  • Banish the unicorn.  I always feel for writers (or anyone) who says they can't finish because they're perfectionists. They will never be happy, and may never publish. If your goal is to give me a unicorn, and all I need is a willing horse, consider that all I might want is a ride, not a fairytale.  Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or the finished.
  • Don't avoid the shorter path.  Sometimes, you may find yourself piling on: Needs more detail. Needs four points, not two. Has to be longer.  Ask yourself why, and, more to the point, whether a shorter, more focused piece will do for now.  You can always break a complex piece into more than one related piece--and often, this focuses the writing more and helps you finish, with material for the next effort. (I sometimes fall into this trap in blogging, and have learned that many short related posts are often better than one very long post. Don't let it happen to you.)
What do you do when you hit a blank, block or other barrier to progress? Share your best advice with the rest of us, in the comments.

No comments: