[Updated] Anyone can be a writer, it’s true. But sometimes—whether you’re writing for the web, crafting an article, a direct marketing piece or a book—you’re going to get stuck and it can seem as if no amount of rewriting is going to fix your copy.
Don’t wait for that sinking feeling to set in.
Here’s the first thing you must do.
Don’t give in to that feeling that says you need to walk away.
Giving in is easy. It’s what many people do.
There are cases where you need to shift gears for a bit (and I’ll come back to that). But unless you keep working at your craft and your ideas, you’re going to lose any momentum you started with.
There’s an even bigger danger.
Unless you’re in the deadlines business like I am, there is also a good chance that if you put that writing project away, you might not come back to it. Ever.
Stop with the Point-A-to-Point-B thinking. Be more abstract.
Ideas and the business of writing them down is not a linear practice. In fact, it’s rare to be struck by a fully formed thought that’s ready to share. That’s just the low-hanging fruit, my friends. The rest takes time to ripen. And often it’s going to take you in directions that may surprise you as much as your reader.
Here are a few methods I use when I get stuck. You can use any of these, too.
The tangential method
Find a good quote about the subject you are writing about. Don’t just slap that quote into your copy.
The writer’s first devotion is curiosity and you feed it by asking questions.
Who is the speaker behind the quote? Are there any articles posted online about this person? Book reviews?
How might what they have to say about one thing relate to another thing in an entirely unexpected way?
A few minutes of satisfied curiosity can provide you with an entirely new angle on what you’re writing about.
Here’s a secret: it’s one of my most reliable ways of coming up with new topics for my newsletter.
The switching gears method
I said earlier that you have to keep on writing when you’re stuck. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep bashing your head against the wall and wishing for a different result. Some ideas need to simmer. In the meantime, write something else.
Creativity is a weird visitor (click to tweet). It often walks into your house, puts its feet up on the sofa, grabs pen and paper and tells you it’s working on something. Let it do its job. Just don’t let it switch on the TV.
Switching gears means that you might not be working on the thing you started on in the first place, but you’re still producing.
Practice and discipline. These are your best teachers.
The backstory method
This one applies to fiction writing. Having trouble making a character believable? Invent a backstory and write it down. Need help asking the right questions? Go to one of those free online dating sites and look at the questions they ask of people when creating a dating profile. Fill it in. The answers you’re being asked are meant to help other people decide if you’re likeable and compatible. This is a good resource if you’re stumped.
With a fact-filled backstory (okay, made up facts, but I’m sure you get where I’m going with this), you have new ways to approach your subject and write convincingly. After all, you totally know this guy now.
The undoing method
Some ideas are just not ready for primetime. Some are just crappy ideas. A good way to test yours is to turn them inside out. Play devil’s advocate. Write a short piece arguing the opposing point of view.
One of my business lines is speechwriting. I sometimes use this method when I’m finding the copy isn’t as persuasive as I need it to be.
Undo your arguments.
You’ll quickly reveal the cut line that separates the facts you know are true from the rest of the points that you simply feel are true.