Yesterday I talked about how where to find freelance writing work is the question I receive most often. Managing “blank page syndrome” is the second issue I receive questions about a lot. Writers of every skill level have various opinions about writer’s block. Some believe it doesn’t exist while others think it’s something that plagues them regularly. I’m going to approach this with the opinion that writer’s block is an issue for some, therefore managing it is a priority. We’re going to talk about conquering the blank page and how to manage writer’s block.
Determining What’s Causing the Block
Make a list of things that potentially could be causing your block. For example, you could be experiencing writer’s block because of your:
- Schedule: you may feel like you don’t have enough time alone to write.
- Time management: time is available to write alone, but you’re spending it on other activities.
- Starting points: the words are in your mind, but you don’t know where to start.
- Lack of words: you’re not sure which topics you want to tackle.
- Overwhelming feelings regarding processes: you may have the topic and words in mind, but the process of organizing them and revisions may be overwhelming you.
Every writer faces one or more (or all) of these issues a time or two throughout their career. How to manage them is the difference between freezing and moving through the writing process. Let’s take a look at how to overcome each of these hurdles.
If you believe you don’t have enough time to write, here’s another opportunity to brainstorm. Make a list of what you do during your time off from your primary job or when you’re not tending to family activities. How are you spending your time? What activities can you cut out or reduce? Here are some examples:
- Set your phone aside: you may be spending a lot of time on social media or playing games.
- Turn off your TV: streaming services make it convenient to binge-watch our favorite shows, but it becomes a time-suck without us realizing what’s happening.
- Communicate with family: if your family doesn’t know you need time to write, then they’ll demand more from you when you’re home during you’re “off” times. Talk to them about a writing schedule that everyone can stick to—or at least try.
Here’s where you have plenty of writing time, or your family understands you’ve put aside a schedule to write, but you’re mismanaging the time. Instead of writing, you’re reading social media posts, chatting with friends, talking on the phone, watching YouTube videos, or participating in forum discussions. Before you know it, the time you set aside to write is gone. What can you do to prevent this from happening?
- Use discipline: you’re in charge of which sites you click on when firing up your computer, laptop, or tablet. Therefore, it’s up to you to use discipline and stay away from distracting websites.
- Set a timer: during your writing time, take frequent breaks. During those breaks, check your email, social media, and conduct other activities. When the break is over, return to your work.
You’re not alone when you have ideas but are at a loss regarding where to start putting them down. When this happens to me, I use outlining. You know what you want to write about, but the challenge is organization. So, an outline will help you figure this out. Think about the main points of your piece of writing, and those are ideal sections for your roman numerals. Then, once those are all in place, you can rearrange the content, so it makes better sense. Add relevant content under each roman numeral as subsections.
Lack of Words
In this instance, an outline won’t work because you don’t know which topic to tackle. In this case, brainstorming is your best recourse. When you brainstorm, you’re writing all your ideas in an unorganized manner. You may be brainstorming a list of ideas for future pieces of writing, or you may be brainstorming about one project. Sometimes, I’ll brainstorm about a project and then put all of those ideas into an outline. That way, I’m organizing my thoughts and determine which ones make sense with the piece and eliminating those that would make sense in future work. Elizabeth King Humphrey has an excellent article about brainstorming here. If you’re stuck on blog post ideas, HubSpot also has this tool that will generate some for you—just enter keywords.
Overwhelming Feelings Regarding Processes
Going through each of these processes—time management and organization—can be overwhelming for some writers. Add the revision process to that, and some writers freeze. The main reason is that, when pieces of writing are turned in, it doesn’t stop there. Editors and clients may still request revisions after that. All of those things put together can overwhelm a freelance writer. Kate Hamill has an excellent article about what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed here.
If all else fails and you’re still staring at a blank page, write, “I don’t know what to write about,” over and over. Before long, you’ll write about why you don’t know what to write about and how you’re solving that problem. It may turn into a blog post or other stream of conscious writing. Either way, this exercise will help you break free from the block, and you’ll start writing again!