We’ve all had those mornings. You turn on your laptop, take a sip of coffee, wiggle your fingers, turn to the blank screen before you and… nothing.
You’ve got the research, you know the subject, but your brain just doesn’t want to play ball. It’s an easy diagnosis, but one that can be hard to shift: writer’s block. A catastrophic reality for the content creators and marketers among us who rely on our writing output on a daily basis to spread news, gain clicks and, at the end of the day, make a living.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Some of the most proficient and celebrated writers from across the years have suffered from the bug: Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway to name a few. This is also proof that writer’s block is not the end of the road – you have to assume Leo managed to overcome it if you look at the length of War and Peace…
Whereas our beloved authors could wait for inspiration to strike, and create erratic writing habits to suit their tastes, if you’re employed as a full-time writer, or a freelancer working to a deadline, such luxuries don’t exist.
Train your brain
Whether it’s a lack of inspiration or a result of your brain not making the right connections, an approved method of beating writer’s block is setting yourself some simple writing tasks that have no connection to the 2,000-word deadline that is looming over you.
Especially useful in the morning, writing exercises are a great way to get your brain in gear. Here are five writing exercises that will hopefully revitalize the wordsmith within.
1) Write a piece of 50-word fiction about shame
The best writing exercises give you restrictions – the harder you have to work to make something fit, the better. Here, you can run wild with the emotion, interpreting it however you want, but the length is non-negotiable.
If you like this, check out this 50-word fiction competition, a monthly contest run by the Scottish Book Trust with a different picture prompt each time. You can enter your ideas, or use the back catalogue for writing exercises whenever you need.
2) Create a character in your mind. Answer as many questions about them as you can in five minutes:
How old are they?
Where were they born?
Where do they live?
Who do they live with?
What do they do for a living?
Describe them physically: hair colour, height, weight etc.
What is their biggest regret?
What is their biggest success?
Who is their best friend?
Who is their enemy?
What is their biggest motivation?
Don’t mull over these questions, just pluck the first thing that comes to your mind – you might be surprised by your own creation.
3) Using your five-minute character, write the introduction to a short story in which they are the protagonist. Time yourself – you have 15 minutes!
Again, don’t hesitate. Use your description to shape a scenario and bring dialogue into it too if you want. It doesn’t have to be a guns-blazing, apocalyptic scenario. Some of the most successful stories ever, like Middlemarch or Mrs Dalloway, are simply written about the everyday.
4) Clown, aeroplane, duck, orchid and hospital
Write five different headlines, using at least three of these words each time. Headlines can be a real struggle when it comes to articles and blog posts, but this can inject a little fun into proceedings whilst also helping you to get into a creative mindset.
5) The dog was barking again, and Lucy was out of whiskey
A good first sentence can really stand the test of time, but what about the aftermath? Use the line above as the first sentence to a piece of writing and free write for as long as you like!
If you like this exercise, check out this Writer’s First Line Generator – it could trigger your writing every morning, or even be the start of your best-selling novel, or best-ranking article…
There are tons of online sources for warm-up writing exercises, not to mention apps such as Brainstormer, which generates exercises for you, or software such as Write or Die, which uses a bunch of terrifying methods to ensure you keep your word count up.
Another almost fool proof way to keep writer’s block at bay? Keep on reading. Stumbling upon new ideas or an interesting turn of phrase might be just what you need to get started on that next piece of content.