Does your mind go as blank as the page when you sit down to write?
How often does this happen often?
You aren’t alone.
Most of us get blocked or feel like we are out of ideas at some point. Or we have an idea and don’t know where to go with it. These blocks can become immovable if left alone. Then our creative adventures shut down forever.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There are some strategies that might help you.
This strategy is based on having an idea bank to draw from. When you have your idea bank, you can pull out an idea whenever you need one.
This one idea becomes your constraint. You give your focus on that idea and write what you have to say about.
If you don’t know what to say, you ask questions and do research. And finally, to make sure you find your own things to say about that idea with your own style. Don’t copy someone one else, don’t write the same things as they do. You will never stand out that way.
I’ll go through these steps in more detail.
Build your idea bank
I’ve written several articles about becoming an idea source. You can read through those if you haven’t or read them again and write down a few of your own thoughts about where you can find ideas for your writing.
You must read a lot. I spend at least an hour a day just reading what others in my areas of interest have to say. This is not idle surfing or scrolling. I read and take notes. It’s not just for a few ideas that I do this, it’s to be influenced too.
I write down some main points from the article with a black pen, then I write down a few of my own thoughts in a blue pen, so I know which are someone else’s ideas and which are mine. This has turned out to be the source of many articles. Often I expand on a question or theme or I go in a different direction.
The beauty is that you can do this with only one sub-point from an article. This way your article is totally different than the one that inspired yours.
Look everywhere for ideas.
They can be from a novel, from a video about something else, from a conversation about cooking or taking care of the lawn.
In other words, there are lessons to be learned from anything you do. Because some lessons are universal, such as patience, not taking shortcuts, taking small actions, and so on. Those are built into so many human activities. They can easily be applied to your field with a little creativity.
People love metaphors.
They make it easier to feel something in the body when you use a metaphor to explain a point. Above I have spoken of an idea bank. That sounds a lot more interesting than having a lot of ideas. I make something abstract, physical. It’s a great way to think of saving your ideas so you can draw on them whenever you need.
Make up a few metaphors for some of the things you read and put them in your bank for later.
Stories and more stories.
Stories are the latest thing.
In reality, they have been around forever already. Before written word was even invented.
Stories are powerful because they put your audience in a sort of trance. They go back into their own experience while you talk (or write.) If I want you to go back to your childhood and look at where you came from, it might be more effective if I told you about a trip I took back to my childhood home, and what I found. You might make your own discoveries about yourself as you listened to me.
So add a few of your stories to your idea bank. It may not be immediately obvious how you will use them, but later on, you might find the right way to use it.
The stories can be very short. Don’t forget this! Don’t get caught up in writing a whole novel. Your readers are short on time, so respect that and give them the condensed version.
Add your constraint
Now you have your idea bank stuffed full. You can browse through your deposits whenever you need a topic to write about. When it’s time to write something, pull out this idea and now your blank page is not so threatening.
Because you have limited yourself now. You have a focus. This and the next step is the hardest part of writing or any creating.
I sometimes do pick an idea then I still am not sure where to start. There is no secret here.
You must put down a few words, build them into sentences. They can be anything related to your idea. For example…
- What do you want to say?
- How can this idea help someone?
- Why is it important?
- What happens if you don’t do what your idea suggests?
- How can a person do or act on this idea?
- Can it be broken down any?
- What else is important to know?
You see, I just wrote a bunch of questions.
When you aren’t sure what to say about your topic, start with some questions. Write them down on your paper. Then start answering them. Any new questions that pop up, add those. You can edit out the questions later or reform them into subheadings.
If you don’t know the answer to some of your questions, then it’s time to do some research. Do the same thing as with your idea bank. Write down what other’s have said in one color ink, and write down your new ideas in another ink. Blending them together is fine. The important thing is not to copy, and not to just restate something. Add something new and worthwhile.
The questions will easily guide your writing. Make an outline out of the questions if it helps. I personally skip outlines, but I’m used to writing with a lot of flow. I don’t have trouble thinking of stuff to write or where to go with an idea. I make it up as I go, and I like that feeling. I sometimes surprise myself!
I hope at this point you feel more comfortable and are either writing or have your outline and are ready to write. This is the best part. Forming words into sentences that convey your idea. Write all you can. If you don’t believe it’s the best part than that might be part of your block. It’s time to get a new mindset about writing.
Add your own style
This part is just as important as the rest. Often people worry their writing isn’t good enough. I know, I have been there too. It’s hard to even look at it because it doesn’t feel good enough. You are afraid to read the mistakes and feel like you sound terrible.
Throw those worries away.
Any act of creation can fill you with extreme discomfort if you let it.
That’s because creation is doing something you haven’t ever done before and that puts you at your edge. This is where you are really learning something. It makes you grow faster than anything else.
The fabulous part is that you get used to coping with those feelings. And you improve. Quickly if you do it day after day. So facing the blank page is easier and easier. And writing is easier and easier.
And you create your own style as you go. This style allows you to standout and shine. There is no shortcut no quick hack to style development. It is created through many small decisions, and loads of practice.
- Don’t worry about writing with perfection or following that great style guide.
- Write how you write.
- Explain how you explain.
- If it helps, think of having a conversation with someone about a common interest.
- Embrace your way and you will get better at it.
- Write from the heart – this takes practice.
Take a break and return
This step is so critical. I know there are plenty of writers that do everything in one sitting and that is fine, especially when you have a lot of practice. For the rest of us, the break is essential. It gives your ideas time to percolate. You will likely have more thoughts to add to your writing later.
And you come back with fresh eyes. Editing is much easier after a break. Stuff that doesn’t fit in is more obvious. Thoughts that need to be fleshed out more are obvious too.
Be sure to build your own idea bank from many different sources. Ideas can come from anywhere. Keep them in a document or make a recording of them in your phone so they are ready when you need them.
Use one of these ideas as a constraint on your writing. This turns the blank page into a ready-made container for your thoughts on this idea. If you aren’t sure where to start in on your idea, then start with questions.
Make a list of important questions related to the idea. They will guide your writing. You can organize beforehand with an outline or after you have written down your thoughts.
Keep on writing! Feel good about what you have accomplished. Creation isn’t easy, that’s why so many put it off. Learn to handle those uncomfortable feelings and you open everything up for yourself. You have no limits anymore.
Your style will come as you let go of expectations.
Your writing is your own. It doesn’t have to look or sound a certain way. It can be unexpected, playful and emotional. Let it reflect you.
Do you feel free writing? If not, where is your block point and how can you work around it?