How To Write When The Words Don’t Flow
It is said that a professional writer is a writer who writes even when they don’t feel like it. I don’t agree — I think this is tied to the fact that we link having a job with suffering. It is the case for a lot of people, it isn’t actually supposed to be like that. Nor does it have to. Still, I suppose there is still some truth to the adage, because when writing is your bread and butter, you do have to produce that piece, on time, whether you like it or not.
The problem with this is that sometimes, the words just aren’t there. I mean, there are really days where I just can’t string sentences together. Luckily, putting words to paper isn’t all there is to writing — and so there are lots of ways to move your piece forward, even when you know it won’t be a 5,000-word day. Here are just a few.
Sort out pictures and layout
I browse Unsplash when I get tired of writing. I love photography, so it is a guilty pleasure, but then again, having an original, attractive photo really does help get more views, so it isn’t technically wasting time. You can also use the time to decide how you will layout your piece, to write subtitles and section heads. On Medium, you can decide how you want to format and make a start with the text you already have — or just write out Intro, Para…. If you are working on an assignment you will send on a word processing doc, it is even more useful, as formatting is a lot freer and can take a surprising amount of time when left to the end.
Do the Admin stuff
When I was a student, I discovered one of life’s great paradoxes. You will never, never want to do the washing up, unless you have an exam the next day that you should be revising. Suddenly, then, you want to do laundry, clean the bathroom, scrub the floors and do anything but study. The same goes for admin. Us freelance writers generally hate doing that sort of stuff. Sending invoices, following up on invoices, sorting out tax stuff etc. But it is also an important part of the job, and there is no better time to do it then when words are being elusive. If you are on a deadline, you can still do the administrative stuff you know you will have to do with whatever piece of work you are dealing with — writing your invoice, preparing your email to an editor…
Putting words to paper involves spending a lot of time being a contortionist in one's own brain, and if that isn’t what you feel like doing, interviews are great. Because they are pretty much the opposite: you have company, you just ask the questions and the other person has to find answers… Plus, interviews always help make a more interesting piece, so it definitely isn’t wasted time. Think about who you can call to schedule an interview with, or do an interview over the phone.
Read instead of writing. Browse the internet, go wide and look into your topic. Find the things you want to write, once you feel like writing again. If you are on a deadline, this research can instead be fact checking: find those stats, link them properly.
What I love about this is you can do it anywhere. Just take your brain to somewhere you want to be — on a run, in the bath, and let your mind wander into your topic. Let it find new elements. Or find ideas for future pieces.
Go outside, interact with the world, let it inspire you. Just make sure you have a notebook handy to jot down ideas as they float by.