I teach creative writing and love helping my students improve their technique.
Writer’s Block Can Happen to Anyone
It’s so frustrating when you can’t think of a topic for your next article or story. There are days when no matter what you do, the blank screen in front of your remains just that; empty and unproductive. Writer’s block strikes everyone occasionally, but there are tricks you can learn that will help you overcome these dry periods.
- Write about what you know
- Look for a new angle on an old article
- Read books and newspapers
- What’s Trending Online: Find the Zeitgeist
1. Write About What You Know
I can hear you groan as you read the familiar cliché. However, “write about what you know” is a good way to get creative. Not sure how to begin? I suggest you take a look at a holiday snap or a favorite painting. Study the image for a few moments, taking care to examine small details. Then ask yourself the following, and make some notes as you think about your answers.
Who's in the picture?
What's their relationship to you?
Where is it?
Why were you, or they, there?
What did you like (or not like) about the occasion?
As you write, other memories will come back and you may find you now have the ability to write about something completely different and the unblocking exercise has worked. Or you could write about the picture by creating a story or article around your answers to the questions.
Writer's Block Instant Cure
2. Look For a New Angle on an Old Article
Many topics are “evergreen” meaning that the subject covered never really goes out of fashion. Something you wrote 5 years ago may sound a bit dated now, but the main topic of the article can still be of interest today. For example, the original piece may have described how careful planning reduces the stress of moving house. By careful updating, a new, fresh sounding article can be created. So, how can this be done?
- First, refresh your memory of the topic by rereading the original article. Don’t start rewriting it straight away; take a short break. A short walk or some gardening allows you to relax, and mull over what you have read.
- When you return to your desk, without reviewing the old article, jot down the key points from it from memory.
- To make the new article resonate with current readers you need to include up-to-date experience. This could be either your own if you have recently moved home, or you could refer to a celebrity’s house move. Add some personal details about how stressed or relaxed you (or the star) found the experience.
- Your rewrite can contain the same helpful tips about planning for a stress-free house move, but slightly reworded. These evergreen tips are brought up-to-date by linking them to relevant items added from your (or the famous person’s) personal experience.
3. Read Books and Newspapers
There’s so much happening in the world every day. A good source of inspiration can be news reports; mainstream TV, radio, newspapers, and social media. Many news items are subjective, so take one as your starting point, and try writing an opposing viewpoint. Use an issue you feel strongly about to add emotion to your writing. Readers connect with writers who are enthusiastic and passionate.
You can never read enough books. Not only are they a good source of ideas, but they also improve your grammar and vocabulary. If you’re not sure which one to pick up, I suggest you consult best-seller lists. My favorite ones are Amazon Bestseller Lists and The New York Times Best Sellers. To save money and time you can enjoy them as an e-book, or listen to an audio version using OverDrive: Library eBooks & Audiobooks app.
Seeing what themes top a popularity chart gives a feel for what’s trending. In a recession, escapism and fantasy do well. Biographies tend to peak after someone dies, or on an anniversary of their death. Home in on the ones that pique your interest, rather than on those that occupy the very top chart positions. You’ll find it easier to write about a subject if you’re genuinely engaged with it yourself.
Get up from your chair and open your front door. What do you see? Are you in a busy urban street or are your looking out across acres of grassland? Perhaps you live in an apartment and your front door only opens onto a deserted corridor? When was the last time you spoke with a neighbor? The mailman? The pizza delivery guy? Imagine yourself in their shoes; what kind of problems do they encounter in their lives?
Most of us use personal experiences to enhance our writing. Don’t be shy, staying at home won’t improve your creativity. Socializing is a good way to understand how people interact. Being a writer is a great excuse to go out and meet people, but don’t overdo it. Once you’ve found some new topics to write about, get your ideas down on paper. Successful writers have clear goals; they are disciplined in how much time they spend gathering material, and how much on actually writing.
5. What’s Trending Online: Find the Zeitgeist
If you want to know what everyone is reading and sharing online, google the word “trending”. The search results vary depending which search engine you use and where you live. For example, the top 5 listed results from my UK search via Google brought up the following.
Each of them has a different story as their headliner. Today, both the BBC and YouTube have serious world news stories as the most searched for items. Buzzfeed and WhatsTrending feature popular culture/ celebrity stories and Metro focuses on sport. One of these themes will appeal to you more than the others, and that’s the one you should choose for your article topic.
Whenever you connect to the internet, your physical location is recorded by the search engines. If you have a specific target audience in mind, narrow down the results by looking at trends by location. Google Trends is a good website to use for this. You can search for trending topics by country or subject category. You can also go to your favorite social media, like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Snapchat, and see what’s being shared and liked in your community.
The 5 W’s (Who, What, Why, Where, When) and How of Story Telling
And finally, a reminder of an essential technique that journalists learn early in their training; tell a story by answering six key questions. These are the 5 W’s and How. If you’re unfamiliar with these, take a look at the list below. This way of story-telling increases reader engagement, and piques their interest in the characters.
Who is the story about? Who are the people at the center of the tale, the protagonists?
What is the issue at the heart of the story? What is the problem that needs to be addressed; the dilemma facing the characters?
Why do the characters act in the way they do? What is their motivation?
Where is the story located; the geographic location, and social hierarchy?
When do the events take place; today, in history, or in the future?
How is the issue resolved, or is it left up to the reader to decide? Is there a twist to the tale?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.