Rent is due on the first whether you’re inspired or not. If you’re a freelancer who makes a living copywriting, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike. You have deadlines, and your clients hired you because they need somebody to make the word magic happen.
This means you have to buck up. You can’t give into writer’s block when it hits, and you have to be the master of jump-starting your own creative process.
Proactive tips to beat writer’s block before it happens:
1. Brainstorm offline.
Instead of using that cool new brainstorming app you just downloaded, grab the sidewalk chalk and head outside. Or reach for the dry-erase marker and find a relatively clean window in your home. Or just take out your favorite notebook and pen.
Get away from the computer and put some ideas down analog-style.
2. Just put on your shoes.
My day used to start every day at 6 a.m. The night before, I’d put out all my workout clothes, my water bottle and purse, and I’d set my alarm to go off just 10 minutes before I needed to be out the door. This was mostly so I had no time to talk myself out of going to the gym. If I could just put on my shoes and leave the house, I would exercise.
Show up at the screen (or the page). Getting yourself there is half the work. Once you’re there, your body and mind know what to do.
3. Throw tomatoes.
In this article, Lena Katz talks about the highly effective Pomodoro Technique — 25 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of rest. This is like interval training for your brain and gives you concentrated bursts of focus and creativity.
4. Play with prompts.
Author Stella Terrill Mann said: “Every time we say ‘Let there be!’ in any form, something happens.”
You had prompts for your journal in the fourth grade and you thought they were stupid then, so why use them now? Prompts may have a reputation for being silly or childish, but they also give you permission to play around with words.
Here’s one you can do in 8 minutes:
1. Choose a noun or a verb.
2. Spend 1 minute listing 8-10 words you associate with that word. These don’t have to make sense to anyone but you.
Example: Prince, Pond, Anatomy Lab, Endangered, Green, Leap, Slimy, Tadpole
3. Choose one of these words and spend 7 minutes writing about it.
Example: My essay, born from the original word “frog,” was about dissecting cats in anatomy lab in college.
5. Treat yo’ self.
Set both micro- and macro-goals for yourself. If you’re writing a 60,000-word book, break it down to a daily or weekly goal of a few thousand words.
Reward yourself when you hit certain milestones. Buy yourself a new pen at 10K, that fancy Moleskine at 30K and go on a little staycation when you’ve hit the end.
6. Start in the middle.
The blinky cursor on the stark white Google doc is so impatient. It says “Are you just going to sit there?” and “You really can’t think of anything to write?”
Writing the intro to your story or article is often the hardest part, and it’s likely to change as your article progresses anyway, so skip it. Start right into your points. When you’re finished, go back to the beginning and smooth out the introduction and transitions.
7. Chop it up.
Some writers are fine to rearrange words on the computer screen. If you have trouble seeing where paragraphs fit or where the holes are, get tactile. Print it out, use scissors to cut it up paragraph by paragraph and pretend no pre-existing order exists.
Often, writers put everything chronologically on the first go, but that’s not always ideal for the story. Once you have your piece arranged, stick a big piece of packing tape across it to keep everything in order. Tape it up on your wall and use it to guide your digital rearrangement, or retype.